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Published: March 22nd 2016
R: It started off by me waking Cate up at 7:50. Never a good start. We were staying in Taupo, a town on the side of Lake Taupo, which is about 70km from the start of the walk. We headed off in the drizzle to the starting point, through a very nice road up to Tongariro national park. The weather was looking grey and wet but I was ever hopeful it might clear. By the time we got to the trailhead, it was bright and sunny!
Cate dropped me at the trailhead at about 9:45 and I started the walk about 10am. Its a 19.4km hike over a saddle that sits between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, which was used as the filming location of Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The terrain is volcanic, but the oath has been well made. It cuts through heathery bush at low level, which was all purple and lush. The walk starts out gentle from the Mangatepopo car park, up to Soda springs, a waterfall when it begins to get steep. I motored along and did the first 3-4km in about 40 minutes. After a brief stop to admire the
Aka Mount Doom
waterfalls it was up the steep side to the south crater. It's a popular day walk for tourists in NZ, and legend tells of those who go and do it, and die, mainly as they have the wrong kit, or simply can't walk that far in a day. Well there were plenty of contenders for that on the day. I saw ballet shoes and converse a plenty. One guy was carrying juggling clubs!
Anyway, after puffing up to the edge of south crater on a mainly stepped path, you get a great view over Mount Ngauruhoe, and the valley you just walked up. There is a helpful warning sign on the saddle to describe what to do if the volcanoes erupt, which basically tells you to run as fast as you can along any ridge! At this point, the very steep track to the summit turns off, which I Decided against. As I made my decision and began to walk across the barren volcanic crater, the cloud came in, and shrouded us all. It also began to rain a lot. I climbed up the next steep section to the high point of the walk at Red Crater, where you
are supposed to get great views down and across the craters and lakes that make up this landscape, and I could barely see the fingers on my outstretched hand...!
At this point the summit trail, an extra 3km up to the top of Mount Tongariro, turns off. I debated in my mind, and as I did it, the sun attempted to break through. So I went for it, in the hope that in the time it took me to walk it, the cloud would clear and it would be worth it. This is where it got quiet - few other walkers bothered with this. I was getting soaked and freezing by sideways rain, and eventually I found the top. Or so I thought. After checking the GPS, I still had some way to go. The route is pretty well marked by poles, but there was a significant section where the poles have blown down in the wind, which is not enormously helpful in the cloud! I talked to a German guy who had just come down - he told me there had been a view for a while and it was worth carrying on. When I finally made it,
the cloud broke just for a few seconds so I could see the valley below.
I made it back down to Red Crater and continued on the walk. The Emerald and Blue lakes were largely invisible as I went by due to the cloud surrounding us. Though they were immediately obvious to my nose - the Emerald lakes are sulphurus. I stopped to take a close up look. There was steam issuing from vents around them and they were uniquely coloured - see the photos.
After chatting with some Americans for a bit, I continued down. The terrain was now steep and volcanic-sandy so I practically just slid down. The blue lake was really not possible to see, so sadly I trudged on. I finally exited the cloud about 2 hours later, to a great view over the Rotoaira lake.
On the way down, I overlook many of the same groups of walkers I had overtaken on the way up. They hadn't decided to do the summit. Probably just as well as many of them - especially the younger ones were struggling with the distance. I entered a "700m Lahar danger zone" near the bottom, which said
Run along the ridge, stupid!
"listen for noise from the stream, if you hear anything, do not enter this zone". Quite scary, especially if you cant remember what a Lahar is. Then you could be listening for anything... Monsters? The large rolling sphere from Indiana Zones? Armies of marauding Maori?
The last stop is a waterfall in the centre of a mangrove forest near the bottom, which seems to go on for ever. At the very bottom was the Ketechi car park, where I listened to the park rangers giving out about the youth of today, coming unprepared for the walk, and wondered if a specific incident had sparked his rage today. Cate arrived in not too long a time. Overall, I took 6 Hours 10 minutes to complete the 23km including the summit, so I was pretty pleased with that.
However, one element of the walk was pretty poor. The biscuits! Those who have hiked with me in the UK will know that I Always carry a supply of Penguins on trips up mountains. That way, even if it's tipping down with rain and you are lost in the fog, you can enjoy some crass Penguin humour to lighten the mood. Well
Just before the cloud closed in
in New Zealand they have TimTams. Specifically, I Had "virgin Espresso Martini" TimTams. It's just not the same. And the Penguin jokes I made up in my head just didn't cut it.
Overall, it was a great walk. And I'm glad I did it. But the views could have been better, and I feel like I must have been on bad luck with the weather that day.
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