S: Hiking the mighty Tongariro Crossing
Nov 17, 2004
By ferry to Wellington, North Island
After wrapping up our time on the South Island, we put our campervan aboard a ferry at Picton on the South Island, and headed off on the 3+ hour journey to the capital city of Welllington on the southern tip of the North Island. We spent a few hours walking around Wellington during lunchtime while they had a parade to celebrate the return of a WWI unknown soldier that had recently been discovered in France. Surrounded by hills and water, Wellington struck us as a pleasant city to live and work but wasn't as tourist-focused as many of the cities we'd visited. It had a bit of hustle bustle with actual people working in real city jobs, and as we haven't been actual people in awhile, we decided it best to keep moving before someone spotted us and tricked us into working for the NZ government tax office.
Just north of Wellington, we had dinner with Tom Barkwell, a friend of Dana's dad. Tom and his wife are Americans who've lived in NZ for just over a year. It was fun to hear about his life in NZ, his impressions of the Kiwis, and share a few of our own travel stories. We've had so many adventures along the way which we've shared with you all via this site but haven't gotten to properly artistically embellish using the spoken word medium. Tom heard about the gorillas as tall as skyscrapers, the Italian bullet train that wouldn't let us off for days, and how I haven't worn the same shirt twice on this trip. It was good to try out our stories on new ears and see how much stretching these new tales could bear.
Our journey to Middle Earth - The Tongariro Crossing
The Tangariro National Park lies in the center of the north island and features three striking volcanic mountains, Mt. Tangariro Mt. Ngauruhoe, and Mt. Ruapehu. It is a park full of diversity with sections that are full of lush, green forest, rocky hillsides, volcanic rock, barren rocky fields that span hundreds of meters, and hillsides emitting clouds of eerie thermal steam. It is also now famous for playing the great mountain of 'Mordor' and its environs in the Lord of the Rings movies. It's quite easy while there to feel as though you've slipped through a portal of time and space and resurfaced in Middle Earth hundreds of years ago.
To enjoy the park, we decided to hike the Tangariro Crossing, a one way 6-7 hour hike (17km) which rises steeply to cross between the very desolate and volcanic Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe before descending slowly a lush forest at the base of the trail. It is often cited as the finest one-day hike in NZ and attracted the numbers of global tourists to prove it. But it was far from easy. No single part of the trek was overly challenging or technical but for Dana and me, 7 hours of moutainous hiking is about 7 hours more than we usually do. Needless to say, my legs reminded me I'd done this hike for the next couple of days.
That said, WOW was this hike worth the effort. It boasted some of the most amazing scenery I've ever seen and we were lucky enough to have clear skies for the morning through lunch when we passed the most dramatic vistas. I hope our photos do it justice because it really was a special place along the crestline near the top. The rocks were often a deep red like Mars, the ground was alive with thermal steam, and the Emerald Lakes were a vibrant turquoise contrasted against the browns, blacks and reds of the surrounding terrain. The hike down the mountain then completely changed scenery to be covered with tall grasses and colorful ground cover clinging to the rocks. And at the very base, it all became a deep green forest.
While this hike was heavily touristed, I would guess maybe 200-300 people hiked it the day we did which didn't seem like that many once the rigours of the mountain slowed everyone down a bit. And I would guess there were about 200-300 tired people sitting at cafes the next morning nursing aching muscles they didn't know they had.
Take care everyone,
This entry started at an Aukland, NZ internet cafe for $2/NZ/hour ($1.50 U.S.). We then typed a bit from Rarotonga, Cook Islands at the Telecom telecommunications office for $9/hour. ($7 U.S.) Weird to go to the phone company's main headquarters in town to use the Internet. Suffice it to say, Rarotonga is not in the running to win the "Most Wired City in the World". The folks in Singapore can rest easy on this front. Then finished this entry at a cafe blaring Adam Sandler's Hanukkah song. November in the South Pacific and Hanukkah do not go together in my mind but that's just me.