Walking the Tongariro Crossing

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March 4th 2006
Published: April 6th 2006
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Heading towards Mount Doom 27/02/06-01/03/06

We 're finally leaving Hamilton, it's going to be weird not being at J's Backpackers anymore and we can both heartily recommend it to anybody heading to Hamilton. Trevor and Bruce show their appreciation of our stay there by ignoring our departure, there's more important stuff to be done, like bagging a place on the sofa to sleep on! We say our goodbyes to Fi and head off towards Te Kuiti. The road is fairly flat, I think Peddler's Paradise describes it as "gently rolling" and the weather is kind to us, cloudy so not too hot and a side wind which only occassionally veers to a head wind.
Sadly as we're approaching Otorohanga my knee starts to play up - what a surprise! We decide to stop for the night and get to Te Kuiti tomorrow.
It's only 15 miles to Te Kuiti from Otorohanga, but by the time we reach the town I can barely pedal, we stop for a coffee and discuss our options. In the end we arrange to stay at a backpackers' just out of town and get a train up to National Park tomorrow.
We really should have known that any backpackers' hostel which says it has "great views" is going to be up a hill and this one was no exception, thankfully my knee is no problem when I'm walking! In it's defence Casara Mesa does have cracking views and the cycle back into town the next day was rather easy.

Getting the bikes on a train here is nothing like in Britain, they go in a cargo van whose door is about 1 metre above the platform, so we have to take all the panniers off before we can lift the bikes into the van and the panniers get loaded in afterwards.
The journey to National Park takes us around the Raurimu Spiral which is a fine example of Kiwi ingenuity; the hill from Raurimu to National Park is too steep for a train to get up, so the engineers designed a route with three hairpins, two tunnels and a circle of track to overcome the gradient problem.

Every cloud has a grey lining 02-04/03/06

When we arrived at National Park last night the weather forecast was so bad that we were advised not to do the Tongariro Crossing today; we wake up to blue skies
Mount Ngauruhoe (honest!)Mount Ngauruhoe (honest!)Mount Ngauruhoe (honest!)

It's hiding behind the cloud.
and gentle winds, but we're too late to get the bus to the start point.
The forecast for tomorrow isn't too bad, so we book to go then.

The alarm goes off at 6.30 and we drag ourselves out of bed, breakfast on porage and get on the bus. The cloud is so low that we can't see the weather; at the drop off point we are told that the wind speed is about 80 kph on the tops, oh good! We don our waterproofs and set off.
The route is fairly gentle for the first couple of miles and we are walking on well made paths, then we get to the Devil's Staircase - a steep section of volcanic rock. About half way up the cloud suddenly clears behind us and we get a perfect view of the valley we've just walked up, it's quite astounding; just as suddenly the cloud comes back and we continue climbing in a world of grey. The wind, which is generally behind us, becomes stronger as we reach the ridge leading to the Red Crater and it's a relief to drop down into the crater to get away from it. The views of Mount Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom) are best from the crater, or so we have been told, sadly we just get to see the inside of a cloud.
As we are descending towards the Ketatahi Hut the clouds start to lift and we are treated to views over Lake Taupo. We sit outside the hut and eat our lunch in weak sunshine then head off towards our pick up point. The path is horrible, we've been warned that there are steps in it and we are prepared for the ones which are about the height of your average stair, but when we start having to clamber down steps which are getting on for a metre high our legs begin to complain loudly. We take three hours to get to the bus stop and once there collapse on a seat to wait for our lift.
In the evening we stagger as far as the pub for a pizza and a bit of anaesthetic.

We wake the next morning to beautiful, clear blue skies and stunning views of the mountains. Just as we are bemoaning the fact that we should have done the walk today instead, we are told that the wind speed is over 100kph and the shuttle buses aren't running - glad we went yesterday!
The weather forecast for the next few days is for continuing southerly gales, it's difficult enough to walk into the wind at the moment, let alone cycle so we decide to get the train to Wellington as we are running out of time and need to get to the South Island.


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