We awoke a little late this morning and managed to miss all the local shuttles that would tale us out to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The only real benefits of getting on a shuttle would be to have it drop us off at one end of the 7-9 hours hike and pick us up on the other side, as the trail was not a loop. We were kind of bummed at our sleepiness, but decided to take our car out there anyway and thought perhaps we could at least go halfway and turn back!
We were driving along and driving along and then came to a town that we looked up on the map and realized we had gone too far! We just totally missed the turn off. Turned back, found the road, drove a while longer then almost missed the second turn off! We did manage to find it by the early afternoon and got on a 4km gravel road to get to the car park for the crossing. We made some lunch and packed lots of water and made sure not to leave valuables in the car and headed out!
The beginning of the trail was relatively easy, pretty much slowly curving gravel paths with a very slight incline. Then we got to a more uneven patch of the trail that was mostly dirt with a few boards places around it in some areas. This part started taking us slightly more up and also took us along a stream with waterfalls and cool rock formations along a large rocky hill. All the while during the hike we could clearly see Mount Doom in the distance slowly getting closer and closer!
It was a very beautiful tramp. There was then a really long section of ever so slightly inclined flat planes with lots of very rich mineral streams running through it. The path here actually turned into an upraised wooden walkway at least 3-4 feet off the ground with the streams running under and around the path. The streams looked like they had a high concentration of iron in them and it even seemed as though you could see thick patches of rusted iron peeling away from the stream, a geographers dream!
We kept on and finally came to a portion of the trail that had a sign at the base of it stating something along the lines of “Consider turning back” and had a list of questions to ask yourself to make sure you were prepared such as “Do you have enough drinking water, food, sun protection, adequate attire, etc.” At first Just reading the bottom having the sign tell me to go back was kind of terrorizing, but then we looked at each other and said “We can do this. We are totally prepared.” We also had a first aide kit and survival kit just in case. So we continued onward and this was the part of the trail that became very steep very quickly, but as we would come to find out later, would not be the steepest portion of the trail. The trail had stairs built into some areas to accommodate the incline and we took many short breaks along the way before FINALLY reaching the next level area. This was the base of Mount Doom where the trail split off and you could either continue the Tongariro Crossing or ascend the actual volcano itself and reach the top to see the craters! The sign said it was 3 hours each way to reach the top, plus tack on the fact that it looked like a nearly vertical incline. We passed, but we did take a longer break here and look at the tiny specs of people treading up and down Mount Doom. We could also see a little bit of steam coming off the side of the volcano. In the picture below you can make out a small little nearly transparent white thingy coming off the mountain just near the top left. Also, if you look really hard you can see some people on the trail up the mountain, however they are harder to see in this compressed version of the actual photo. There is a small little spec of a person near the base of the mountain, he is in red. In the original you can just barely make out a few near the top. Incredible.
Maybe one day we will hike it :) Also, Mount Doom is actually called Mount Ngauruhoe in New Zealand, it is just the volcano that the Lord of the Rings movie makers used as their set for Mount Doom. We were wondering if some of the more tailored parts of the trail were built for the sake of the film makers years ago while filming.
Just a bit further from this point we came to a gigantic flat crater. It was a long stretch of flat trail leading to the other end of the crater. The distance looks deceiving and actually is about a 1 or 2km long!
In the picture above, Mount Doom is off to the right of us. And here is a picture of the same flat crater but from the other end looking back at the trail.
Now as soon as we got to this incline, this is where it got really steep and with no help from the stairs before. At some points we were literally climbing with our hands to help us up along the trail. It was very physically taxing, but we made sure to take lots of small breaks to give our muscles a quick rejuvenation before continuing onward. The map we had also indicated that this leg of the trail was the steepest going in our direction so we both knew once we passed this threshold the rest would mostly be cake. If you look at the picture with Steve standing in front of the long flat trail through the crater, you can look at the landscape to his left and that is basically this leg of the trail. Where you see that first darker rock area to his left that extends from the bottom of the crater up to the top of the ridge, that’s the highest point (that you can see in that picture) of this leg of the trail. And then finally, this picture below is when we reached the top! And yes, there was still a little bit to go, haha.
This small peak just up ahead in the photo was the actual high point of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, but there was another trail that veered off that was 2 hours each way that would take you to the top of Mount Tongariro. We passed on that one as well for the sake of getting back to the car before dark. At this point in the trail there were some really fantastic geographical things going on. To the right of the photo there was this large red area of rock with a huge grey gash in the side of it. I do not know what it is or how it got there or why, but it was amazing to look at. It reminded me of the strange powers the earth has when it slowly moves and changes the landscapes. You can also see Mount Doom behind that as well.
We finally ventured to the top of the high point of the crossing and saw before us bodies of water! We saw Emerald Lake, known for its emerald green waters, and then we saw some brightly colored pools of sulfuric acid! At least I think they were sulfuric acid. If we had been able to hitch a ride back to the car park on the end of the trail we started at, we would have continued onward down this side of the mountain and along the acid pools and the lake. At least we got to witness their beauty while we were up there.
It was a truly amazing experience. I honestly can’t say I’ve ever been on a real hike or tramp in my life, and boy did I pick a doozy for my first time. Not was it beautiful and incredibly interesting geographically, but it was probably the hardest I will ever attempt…unless we go back and try out Mount Doom! See you at the bottom!