Day 7: Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Or as Kiwis say, the best tramping (hiking) you can do in one day.
Up bright and early to catch our shuttle.
Our driver points out Mount Ngauruhoe (better known as Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings, the very volcano where Frodo throws in the ring and gets rescued by huge birds), which is very near the crossing track but not part of it. And then he says, "You're Americans ... you'll climb it." I'm thinking a few things: 1. Why do only Americans climb it? 2. Does no one else like Lord of the Rings? And 3. not all Americans are crazy diehard fans. That is not why we came to NZ. Plus I was sold on this hike by one little picture I saw on someone's blog and I just knew we had to do it. Once I saw that picture, I researched the hike and found out it was an ALL-day 19- km (12 miles) hike and sounded really hard. So no way was I taking a detour to climb that thing just because I was American. I wanted to make sure I had energy for the hike alone, and since we had to shuttle in and out, we had a time limit. Our shuttle was picking us up on the other side of all those mountains at 3:30 pm and they made it very clear that if we weren't there we were out of luck. Deep down, I knew Matt was hankering to do it.
The start of our epic day
Matt made fast friends with a Dutchman named Bert. He loved to tell us how stubborn and proud Americans are. Made for a real fun first part of the journey. Oh yes - he could not stop talking about Lord of the Rings. He even wanted to do some clever reenactment pictures of him posing and pretending to be Gollum . I'm not lying when I said he was fun, in his own special way.
The scenery was so varied from waterfalls to wasteland, and all so mindblowingly beautiful against that blue blue sky.
As soon as that sun came out we lost a few layers. We were very prepared for any weather - they even suggest you look up the current volcanic alert status before tramping. Which, last I checked, Mount Ngauruhoe last erupted in 1975. Better safe than sorry I guess.
Matt, dreaming the impossible dream
Stepping upward, ever upward on the Devil's Staircase.
Halfway done with one of the greatest glute workouts I've ever done.
Silly me. I thought I would be just happy to walk on by the charred sides of Ngauruhoe. But when I got to the bottom of it, I couldn't just walk on by. When am I going to be at the bottom of this beast again, and why be at the bottom when I could rule from up top?!! Matt could not have been happier. But this does mean no dilly-daddling whatsoever. I am not missing my shuttle and I'm not going home without this under my belt! So up we go.
Those poor souls who thought the stairs were bad.
Leading my group to the top! At the very beginning it looked like there was some kind of trail, but, there's not. You can go up anyway you would like. We went with a slight horizontal to the top. You would see others who would go straight up. Their progress however, was very slow.
Things changed pretty quick. Matt and I were a little quicker than our friends (I forgot to tell you we made very nice new friends from Houston). I was tired, wiped. I don't know how to put it. This beast was getting the best of me!! And my love was quicker than I and for the life of me I couldn't catch up. Matt later told me he did it on purpose because he was afraid I would give up - which is not in my nature. But I'll be honest, I was thinking it. I never seemed to get any closer to that darn top. Steep volcanic mountains are very deceiving. And it doesn't help that every step you take you sink a step back.
It is hard to get a good picture of how steep it actually is, but the one thing that shows it in this picture - we are all using our hands to help us up and we are not bending over, I'm not flexible enough for that.
My sneaky sly guy
After what seemed like FOREVER (two hours) I was just feet away from the top. I was so done though. The only thing that saved me was getting a good breeze that had been blocked before.
Sweet sweet VICTORY!! It felt amazing and was so worth it. We took a baby break on those steamy rocks and took it all in. The rest of our starting group made it and those smarties had brought their lunches with them. Matt and I had left everything at the bottom to try and help us be quick but after those grueling hours of about wasting away to nothing we needed food. I could see them all energizing with each bite.
Getting steamed clean
One last look. Our destination awaits on the other side, next to the lake, the big one.
Our tolkien shot - ha ha. Get it? Tolkien?!
Those little furry hobbits had those birds rescue them, but little did they know. You can ski down this mountain in ten seconds flat. Okay, maybe it was 10 or 20 minutes. But it felt like the blink of an eye compared to going up. The hard part - not killing those below you. Almost everything is loose on this bad boy, even big boulders. So you need to try and step on everything small because it all comes tumbling down with you. There were a few close calls for some. You would hear someone call "heads up" or "watch out" and sure enough everyone stops in their tracks and looks and then watches the big ole rock tumble by and then follow it to the next lucky customer till it stops at the bottom. When we got to the bottom we ravished some food and dumped buckets of soot, sand, and rocks from our shoes.
Have a drink on me volcano. Just joking. Just adjusting, adjusting, you know.
THIS!!!! This is what sold me when I said I saw one photo on someone's blog. The vivid Emerald Lakes!!! This truly is the greatest day hike EVER. I was so pleased when I got to the top of this mountain because I knew the Emerald Lakes were just on the other side. I wanted to record this magic moment. So as soon as I got to the top I got out my camera and started recording and walking so quickly to have them come into view. I rejoiced so much when they did appear that I slipped and fell flat on my back. It's a really great recording by the way (we'll show it some day).
Matt next to the smallest of lakes. I don't know why I love them so much. It's just pure beauty. Here we are on some lunar kind of landscape and then pow! Emerald-colored lakes. The contrast between the two are like I said - PURE BEAUTY!
Looking back, I hate to admit it, but this hike was actually rather easy breezy (besides the detour - I was worried I wouldn't be able to finish this hike on time, but I was feeling pretty pumped from the detour and it made everything else seem easy) . Just long and wondrous.
My lakes are hiding. No time to sit and ponder, at the time we really didn't know if we would make it to the shuttle on time.
Another natural wonder. The gleaming Blue Lake, also known as Te Rangihiroa's mirror.
The perfect place to refuel
I love this photo. I love the colors and I love that looking at it brings me right back there. Really - best hike ever. Plus I think I had an extra dose of thankfulness being that it was Thursday - Thanksgiving back at home. This was just what we needed if we were going to be away from the kids and miss Thanksgiving with the family.
"One aspect of a love of nature that we need to foster is experiential. Nature - and in particular, the wild - feeds our spirit, and a direct encounter with it is vital in helping us appreciate and care for it. For unless we see it, smell it, or touch it, we tend to forget it, and our souls wither." - Wangari Maathai
Last part of the day was just dreamy with long soft golden grass bending in the wind, pockets of waterfalls.
Crossing streams and knowing exactly why I love life. The earth spoke to me.
And with that clarity of vision I could recognize the abundance of God's provision of manna surrounding me. A glimpse of divinity.
"We can love ourselves by loving the earth" - Wangari Maathai
Matt with another friend, Stefan from Austria. I didn't mind. I tuned into some music (Andrew Bird) that just seemed to play in with my surroundings, I felt as though I was floating away into the earth. I didn't feel the weight of my body or my aching heels. I felt one with the wind. My memories of this day are very special, it's always nice to reawaken and become aware of how much you have to be grateful for. Miracles and blessings abound and surround us. Just open your eyes and see.
Leaving. We made our shuttle with time to spare. I watched this new friend of mine till he was out of sight.
We headed to Taupo to stay for the night, celebrated our day in a nicer Thai eatery. All we wanted was real food. The real treat - watching the sunset over Lake Taupo (largest in NZ).
Our home for the night was just up the block and around this blossom bush to our doorway.
At Rainbow Lodge, the perfect place to end such a magical day.
-- more NZ 2010 --
Day 1: Auckland
Day 2: Orewa to Paihia
Day 3: Paihia to Kaitaia
Day 4: Ninety Mile Beach to Rawene
Day 5: Rawene to Hamilton
Day 6: Hamilton to National Park
Day 7: Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Day 8: Taupo to Rotorua
Day 9: Rotorua
Day 10: Thames to Hahei
Day 11: Coromandel