Sunday, 27 December 2015

20km Tongariro Volcanic Alpine Crossing - like being on Mars!

So the day started before sunrise, 5am wakeup with everyone in our room groaning. On the bus by 6am hot-footing it out of Whakahoro for an hour and a half journey back to Tongariro National Park. It was freezing cold when we left but it was THE most gorgeous day by far and everyone kept telling us how lucky we all were and that it's very rare to get a day like today. In fact Stijn from our East Bro Tour was coming back to do it with us today because when they went a week ago it snowed and they couldn't see anything! That's how versatile the weather is here!

So, the Tongariro National Park, is the oldest national park in New Zealand, (established in 1887) the fourth National Park in the world, and a UNESCO world heritage site. There are 3 active volcanoes within the centre of the Park; Ruapehu (also known as Whakapapa - Fuck-a-papa, which is a ski resort), Ngauruhoe (also known as Mt Doom from lord of the rings and is magnificent) and Tongariro, which has a flat summit. The Alpine crossing is known as one of the best day hikes in the world and it really is stunning! You feel like you are on another planet while walking over such a diverse terrain. Mt Ruapehu last erupted in 2006/7 and since then there have been several volcanic activity warnings, the last one being 2012 - crazy huh considering its a ski resort?!

So we arrived at the place where we had to register and pay our transfer tickets, we had already paid so just presented our voucher. They also check you have the appropriate attire on - hat, suncream, at least 2 litres of water each, appropriate footwear for the hike you were doing (if you were climbing the volcanoes they were pretty serious about this as there are loose rocks and falling boulders!) They also don't allow you to hike unless you match their checklist - fair enough!

So then we all hopped on the bus at 8.30 and were driven 20minutes to the start of the hike. Then we were left to our own devises! We were given around 7 hours to complete the trek. We started at 9am and our bus picked us up at 5.30pm, if you were late, you have to pay $200 for the priviledge!! Better not be late guys! Also if you wanted to summit the volcanoes you had to do this within the same amount of time, considering it took between 2-3 hours extra there and back you ha ve to be a pretty fit and speedy climber to complete it all in 7-8hours! Needless to say, we skipped on that and just did the main walk, which was hard enough in itself let alone climbing loose rocks and dodging falling boulders as well! Some people from our group summites Mt Doom but they came back with stubbed toes and hellish stories to compensate lol.

So it was me, Pierrick, Stijn (the guy who came back for round two - crazy!) Yosuke (yos-kay) from Tokyo, and Roberto from Italy. We also managed to catch up with Hester from Netherlands, later down the trek (yay a girl for companionship).

The first part of the trek led us through volcanic bush and was a pretty easy hike, we then got to slightly rougher terrain - old Lava fields turned into volcanic rock - rough and rugged and of medium scope to hike up. got to the Devils Stairs...well, let me tell you they were not named lightly, they really were the devil!

Just before this we caught up with Hester and luckily I had a girl with the same ability as me, guys being guys just went off ahead and didn't look back but us girls stuck together!! It reminded me of the Gibbon Experience with another Dutch girl Miaake when we were in Laos - those Dutch girls are awesome hiking buddies! Love yas.

We all had to have several stops along the way up because even though we only climbed 1000 metres, it was a bloody steep climb and quite rugged - obviously because your climbing up a bloody volcanic valley!

At the top held magnificent views over the north island and even into the south island where in the distance you could see the highest mountain in New Zealand - Mt Cook standing at over 5000 metres tall. That's how clear and beautiful this day was guys! It was 28 degrees back on the ground but due to the wind up top probably plummeted around 10-15 degrees so there's me in my bikini under my top with shorts on and a jacket on top of a bloody volcano in piercing winds! But it wasn't too cold, at least I wasn't climbing this volcano in flip flops! Haha.

By the time we reached the plateau at the bottom of Mt Doom we were already about an hour and a half in and about one hour from being half way! It was the next part to come - the halfway point when you can usually sigh a huge sigh of relief that was the goddamn hardest part!! We stopped off partway to have a snack - they tell you bring more than just enough food, because what you think is enough food, is never enough! And they were right, so glad we prepared well and came with like 4 sandwiches, Kiwi fruits, biscuits, crisps etc. It was well needed, even after an eggs, bread and porridge trekkers breakfast!

At this point we passed what was called the red crater and it really did feel like you were walking on Mars! And then the real climb came! To reach the highest point in the trek you basically had to rock climb up loose rocks and huge boulders - the was even rope at some points to pull yourself up! It was horrendous and the poor people who were doing it the opposite way were falling down and slipping so often...little did we know though that at the top, on the way down the other was our fecking turn!!

It was literally what I like to call, rock and sand boarding. All you could do was run, surf and hope that you slide rather than fall, it was practically a 70% incline. The amount of sand and rocks in your shoes after was hilarious - I fell on my arse twice and Hester fell too. The guys were way ahead as always. It was a good solid half hour descent to the crater lakes or Sulphur lakes (Emerald lakes they were called) which were magnificent again - solid turquoise, green and duck-egg blue colours and ahead was a massive blue blue lake! We took tons of pictures obviously then continued down this AWFUL slip and slide route. It acutally was pretty funny taking beta on who was going to fall next. Then it was straight across another plateau to the massive blue lake where you saw the snow capped Mt Ruapehu behind the demonic Mt Doom.

We had lunch here, by now we were just over half way but didn't know that the longest part was yet to come. We'd been trekking for 4 hours and had at least another two to go.

So the last leg was around 10km. It took us round the side of a mountain where you had views of lake Taupo just below as it was super close to the Tongariro National Park. And then the route descended down to the end carpark and took you through some Forrest. But my God, it took FOREVER!! Winding then going up to come down again then winding round and round and round! Just get me down this goddamn volcano! We stopped at the Campsite area for another quick break and then the final 6km started which was the worst and pretty boring as most of it is through volcanic bush. Nothing to see and round every corner you kept thinking...this is it, this is the end...nope another 1km maybe? Nope, 15mins maybe? NOPE! Omg it was AWFUL especially when by this point you are tired and hungry and all your water is gone and you just want to sit down and not walk ever again.

Eventually at 4.15pm we FINISHED!! We had completed Tongariro in just over 6 hours - woohoo! But we had missed the early bus by a few! So we had a good hour before our bus would come to collect us so we all sat on some grass chilling and catching a few others from our group and swapped stories - apparently a few people had nasty falls up there breaking arms etc - happens every day the Park rangers say! Not from our group though. But we did have two injuries, one a very swollen ankle and the other was Stijns busted toe! I pulled the ligaments/muscles behind one of my knees but after a few days it died down.

When the bus came one of the girls had managed to get lost and wasn't back yet. She had tried to climb the summit of Mt Doom but her and another girl had turned around and not been seen since. Turns out the girl she was with had called to get a pickup from the start as she couldn't complete it and she had continued on but taken a bit longer to come back so she ended up coming back on another bus that was waiting for her. Our bus driver gave us a load of ice cold beers to celebrate the end of our hike and then we were driven back to the hostel.

We then had showers, dinner and played a few round of card games before calling it a nnight. Needless to say we were all pretty shattered and achy! Next stop; Wellington!

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