Day 95: The Tongariro Crossing

I am reliably informed that there was some disappointment in the UK on Wednesday morning when readers did not wake up to the latest exciting instalment of my adventures.

(My Stepdad has been whinging).

The reason for this break in service was because I was too tired to write about the Tongariro Crossing which I had successfully walked that day.

Attentive readers, or at least those with a memory, will know that I based myself in National Park with the intention of completing the Crossing.

Yesterday was the one day this week where the forecast looked remotely favourable.

I would strongly recommend reading up on the Crossing before you do it. It is not a casual stroll and the inappropriately dressed will be sent back to put on warmer clothes before being allowed on the Shuttle Buses to the start of the walk.

This happened to a girl who I walked with.

If you drive yourself to the Crossing I doubt there is anyone to advise on suitable attire as I passed several young men wearing shorts or jeggings. It was 12°C at the bottom of the volcano but in the crater, the temperature can drop by 10°C.

The Crossing is 19.4km and climbs to almost 2,000m crossing the Red Crater of a volcano and passing the stunning Emerald Lake. Details of the route are here.

Advice on what to wear can be found here and here.

If you’re in the area I’d also suggest popping into the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre in Whakapapa to find out more about the immediate weather conditions and risks. The staff are knowledgeable, informed and friendly though the ten minute video is mildly terrifying.

On arrival at the start of the Crossing, we were confronted by signs saying that the route was closed, though this did not deter the hundreds of people setting off on the trail.

“If we get stuck, will our insurance pay for the helicopter rescue?” asked Katy.

“As we have just walked past the huge sign that says ‘Do not enter’, I think we’ve just blown our insurance claims,” I said.

“Do we still want to do this?”

Yes, we did. We set of up the first couple of kilometres of the hike. Cloud cover was so low that any hopes I had of spotting Mount Doom in the distance were dashed.

The incline took us up to the start of the lava field where melted rocks covered the slopes.

We found our first warning sign.

As you can see, the view in front of us looked rather like the second photograph on the sign.

We really should have turned back according to the guidance and I would not recommend anyone blindly follow what I did.

After a discussion about how we were feeling and looking ahead, we decided to continue. Jessica trashed her travel insurance with a selfie next to the sign.

At this stage, the path was sheltered by the hills on both sides. The cloud obscured these but they moved aside often enough to provide some eerie views of the landscape and assurance that the second photo on the warning sign was not a permanent position.

We were not alone in doing this walk. There were lots of hikers on this trail.

We reached the first key decision point with a spookily effective cut out figure. The first climb was just beyond this point.

On reaching the sign that indicated we had reached a third of the way and we were feeling confident. The weather had been kind to us: no rain, the clouds parting to allow the sunshine through and temperatures were comfortable.

Walking through this crater was like being on the surface of another planet.

We reached the next key decision point.

The next stage would see us scrambling up the scree to the summit of the Red Crater and the cloud was shifting. The route was obscured at times, though never less than twenty metres in front of us.

Were we going to do this?

People around us were pressing on.

We did likewise.

That climb was frightening. Gusts of wind tugged at our legs and I found myself calculating the likelihood of my surface area giving the wind something to sweep away, in comparison with how heavy I am.

The only way to progress was to pause during a gust and move when the wind dropped.

I checked in with Katy and Jessica. Going back meant walking further through the wind and the summit was closer. The wind was behind us, rather than coming over the summit so we thought we’d be walking back into worse weather rather than toward.

We kept going and we reached the summit where the wind had dropped and the sun was shining.

It was worth it.

This was not the half way point.

The half way point was by the Blue Lake up ahead, past the Emerald Lakes and a couple of snow patches.

From where she summoned the energy to run towards the snow I will never know, but Jessica was unfeasibly excited about the white stuff.

I suppose that’s Australians for you.

After lunch, we set off on the ling descent which is around one third of the route. The views across the Tongariro National park are incredible, even if I didn’t see Mount Doom.

By now, Katy was anticipating the celebratory food and drink she was going to consume when she got back to her accommodation. Nachos, melted mozzarella with a gin and tonic featured heavily, though once we got level with Ketetahi Hot Springs where the smell of sulphur was strong, she lost her appetite.

The Tongariro Crossing is an incredible hike. We felt a great sense of achievement that we completed it.

While there were people of all ages up there – a special award to the teachers who took a gang of teenagers up and over the Crater – this is a walk where you should consider your fitness levels before you do it.

I regularly hike in the Peak District back home. I am used to long hikes that involve some climbs. I’m also used to (and prefer) walking in cooler weather.

This is not a stroll to be taken wearing flipflops.

It’s not a circular route and you need transport to the start and from the end. This cost 40NZD.

Daylight robbery but I have never been so happy to see the bus that would take me home.

The drivers also sign you back onto the bus so if anything were to go wrong and you can’t call for help, someone would know you were missing.

The shuttle bus company I used was Tongariro Crossing Shuttles.

One thing to note, their travel advice may not tally with the information on arrival at the Crossing. The service was still running in the day I was walking the Crossing, even though we were dropped off in front of a big sign that advised against walking that day.

Categories: Environment, New Zealand, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


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