I am supposed to give you a write up about the NZ trip which I did few months back, but things didn’t materialize… yet. (The contents have been sitting quietly in my draft folder though).
Instead, I’d like to share my own personal experience, what it feels like having to trek at one of the toughest tracks for me under such unforgiving weather.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing is located in North Island and it is part of Tongariro National Park. It is New Zealand’s oldest national park and a dual World Heritage area. This park has a deep Maori cultural references and stunning volcanic structures plus also houses three active volcanoes – Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the most popular hikes among seasoned trampers and tourists alike. The full distance of the hike is about 19.4km end to end. It starts at Mangatepopo and ends at Ketetahi. Similarly, the hike can also be done the other way round. The hike is opened to all, meaning people like you and me can easily hike without getting a guide. However, during winter months, it is advisable to get a guide because the terrain will most likely covered with snow and therefore markings can be quite difficult to trace. Nonetheless, always check the weather condition prior to the hike as safety always come first.
There were three of us. We camped at Top 10 Taupo Holiday Park the night before. We engaged with Tongariro Expeditions and paid a small sum of money for the shuttle service. Due to winter months where daytime is shorter, we had to start the hike earlier.
The bus dropped us at Mangatepopo as the starting point. It was an extremely cold morning. The sights of Mount Ruapehu greets us from afar. It was already 8am and we wasted no time to get started. Our aim was to get to Ketetahi by 4pm.
The first 4km was purely on flat ground. It wasn’t hard but the strong wind didn’t help our quest. We took slightly more than an hour to reach our first checkpoint, Soda Springs.
My level of fitness definitely not helping as I constantly had to stop for small breaks. It got me worried that I wouldn’t be able to complete the hike.
The next checkpoint after Soda Springs is South Crater. The hike to South Crater took another hour and a half, gaining an elevation of about 340m. It was a torturous climb and I had to stop after every few steps. On a bright side, the weather was very good, and I could see the majestic Mount Taranaki from afar.
Upon reaching South Crater, the sight of Mount Ngauruhoe gets closer, the melting snow greeted us instead. I thought this was the last of the ascent but I was wrong.
Nonetheless, as we inched towards Red Crater, we feasted our eyes with the landscapes which we have never seen before.
It was surreal. I was speechless.
There were few more climbs before we reached Red Crater. The views were getting crazier and ridiculously awesome and they are just way beyond words. Of course, the climbs were torturous as hell. I stopped far more than I walked. Plus the strong winds didn’t subside and was getting stronger at times.
It felt strange because I did not know we have reached the highest point at 1886m. It took me a while to regain my composure and slowly but surely, I took a swipe at the surrounding.
I began my ritual of taking hundreds of photos and videos whilst cursing the cold weather – the wind chill was at 4°C.
We couldn’t spend much longer time as we were running out of time. Now, here’s another challenge – the descent. At first, it looked easy-peasy. But few steps later, we realized the terrain has too much of loose stones (which they are called scree) and this made the descent difficult and dangerous. I was practically “surf-sliding” all the way down to Emerald Lakes. It was steep and one wrong footing could send you tumbling down the mountain.
I came seeking refuge from the strong winds at Emerald Lakes while finally getting to have a wonderfully prepared lunch to replenish all the lost energy.
We didn’t manage to stay long as we were running out of time. It was 1pm when we walked past Central Crater to arrive at Blue Lake and mind you, we only completed 9km, which left us just about 3 hours to complete another 10km.
The journey past Blue Lake was much more bearable, mostly descent which made the walk easier and enjoyable. About an hour and 15 minutes later, we came to Ketetahi shelter, our last checkpoint before attempting our final 6km push to the finish line.
Our last 2km was extremely torturous as we hobbled to the finish line.
We made it at Ketetahi car park at exactly 4pm and were the last few persons to arrive. Thankfully, the shuttle bus was still waiting for our arrival and we duly boarded the bus for a safe journey back to our holiday park in Taupo.