We had to be up and ready for the bus ride back into Tongariro National Park. I had my 20L pack all set from the night before. I got up pretty much before everyone else to get myself all packed and breakfast over with before the rush of people who slept maybe a little bit too long and end up racing around frantically trying to get their stuff together at the last-minute. All loaded up, I got on the bus, sat down and had the feeling “something’s missing.”…..my phone! I had it plugged-in in the kitchen so that it would be fully charged. I jumped out of my seat and ran to the kitchen and got my phone. A huge sense of relief came over me as I got back on the bus with my main source of communication and photography. I would have been furious at myself if I had left it there on the day of this Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike.
We took the “Highway to Hell” road back out of Blue Duck Station and to the main road. No exploration of ditches this time which was good.
The bus dropped us off at Adrift Tongariro, a tour operator for the crossing. We had to check in, they checked to make sure we had the appropriate gear, paid a fee, and then waited for the shuttle to the trailhead. I did some stretching while we waited for the shuttle. My lower back muscles are generally really tight… come to think of it, I’m just tight in general which is why I think I should try yoga. 😀 But that’s off-topic.
Once we got to the trailhead, I quickly used the restroom because they would be few and far between on this long hike. When I came out of the restroom, the group from my bus that was doing the hike had dispersed already and started up the trail. So, I powered up behind them and passed some of them. Our shuttle was going to pick us up at 4:30pm and we started the hike about a half hour later than scheduled. I was worried about going too slowly and getting to the end late. I ended up walking too fast and waiting an hour for the shuttle but that’s getting ahead of myself.
The trail is nicely gradual beginning from the Magatepopo Car Park. But our bus driver told us of the initial intense ascent called “Devils Staircase” so I thought that if this Devils Staircase then goodness, smooth sailing! Hahaha, not so fast. Walking up into this alpine region is like walking into another world. It was the most interesting hike I’ve ever done. We absolutely knew when we reached the Devil’s Staircase because it was definitely super intense. I did not count how many stairs I climbed; I don’t want to know. I was too focused on sucking oxygen and not passing out. It’s not a problem of elevation; it’s not really that high above sea level, it was just all the climbing stairs had me really winded. I had to take a couple of breaks to appreciate the view but also to catch my breath.
As we got up to the top of Devils Staircase, we became engulfed by clouds and couldn’t see very far at all. But it just added to the overall experience of being in another world. A little way from the top of the staircase, you enter this vast expanse of an alpine plain that was completely barren but beautiful. As we crossed this plain, the clouds split and lifted leaving such a beautiful mixture of a view!
As you cross this plain, you can see another ascent in the distance which doesn’t look too big at first but then it grows as you get closer. I had to remind myself that each time we reached a new high point, the views would become more and more incredible.
Looking back at the large plain we just crossed after climbing up the next ascent
As I reached the “top” of this, it revealed that I wasn’t actually at the top yet! More climbing in elevation! But it wasn’t terribly steep and the views just become more “other worldly.”
Once we actually got at the top, I passed by this place called “Red Crater.”
Then, a little way past Red Crater, we started descending and saw the Emerald Pools. Going down this relatively steep slope was a little sketchy. The sand/gravel was slippery and you really had to focus to keep your balance. Going down this slope, someone was playing Lord of the Rings theme music which was really cool so I took a video to help capture the mood.
I had been hiking most of the way with my new friend Nadja (she’s from Switzerland). We were checking our pace to make sure we were on track to reach the car park at the other end. We were half an hour ahead of schedule so we sat down for a rest and some lunch near these Emerald Pools. Absolutely beautiful spot. It wasn’t very warm up there at all, especially if the clouds were covering the sun. But thankfully the sun was out while we ate and only became covered again as we prepared to continue our hike. Nadja and I might meet up in Nepal to do a trek in the Himalayas together if we can get our travel timing right. I really hope that works out! I need to find some way to either stay here in NZ and not spend my whole travel budget or go somewhere else cheaper until February/March/April timeframe.
Anyway, continuing on; about this point, shortly after passing the Emerald Pools, we passed the 9km trail marker. Only 10km more to go!
We began descending gradually, passed by a lake that was mostly hidden by the clouds, passed a clearly defined lava flow which was really cool…
Then, we just kept descending and descending… Through some clouds…
We paused for a break at the Ketetahi Shelter as we were now well ahead of schedule. My feet were really starting to ache and my right knee (the one I overworked during my two Ragnar Relays) started squawking; quietly at first but then after the break and continually going downhill and down stairs, it wasn’t fun. I had to slow my pace a bit but thankfully with my trusty trekking poles, I was able to make it to the car park without too much trouble.
The last 6km seemed really long. The last 3km of those 6 seemed even longer!
At the end, everyone was just either sitting or laying down on the covered patio resting their legs and bodies from such a long trek.
I was doubting whether I could do this hike and was pretty up and down about it. In the end, my friend Romain (the french guy) said I should do it if I really wanted to and so I did! Thinking that with the incredible views, new friends to keep me company, and the will power, I would finish… and I did! Thanks to all involved for encouraging me to do this hike! I loved it!