One Does Not Simply Walk Into Tongariro

All of you who know me are likely getting tired of my New Zealand stories. That said I’m sure a few of my readers (OK maybe two or three) haven’t heard this one yet.

As I have stated earlier, in the spring of 2011 I found myself in New Zealand. Before my trip I had never really done much hiking, in fact the only real hiking I did previously would be more accurately described as a drunken stumble home from the bar… Either way hydration was still a factor. While I was preparing for my trip I was informed of just how important good footwear is. I originally intended to just pack along some slip on skateboarding shoes, since hiking shoes in size 14 are hard to find and a bit on the expensive side. I was luckily persuaded to stop being so cheap and just buy a pair. They proved to come in very handy.

Once I arrived in NZ I was informed that we were going to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing needless to say I was not exactly excited to do a 20 km hike. I was persuaded when Erin told me that the national park was used as the setting of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings movies. Also I’m not a particularly smart man but, I know better than to say no to a woman when we’re on vacation.

We first went to the town of Taupo, got a hostel and got settled in. It was a nice place, big kitchen, sauna, private room, and central heating. I had to laugh that the worker at the hostel felt the need to explain central heating to two Canadians “hot air come out of these holes in the floor, so don’t cover them”  “tell me more about your magic Mr. Wizardman” I though in my head, but I’m Canadian so I just listened patiently, nodded and said “thank you.”

The next morning we jumped on an early morning bus which took us out to the trail head. Our journey began and naturally, as per usual, I had a wicked stomach ache, I was glad to find that there was a washroom at the trail head.

Ok so its not 20km but very close

The first bit of trail resembled the prairies with which I am very familiar, however this was a bit rockier and had an amazing view of the mountains. We reached the edge of the first mountain and before the climb began I spotted another washroom… bonus… no wait that’s a no go on the bonus, they were out of toilet paper. I opted to wait for the next washroom since I like my socks and my bandanna a little too much.

View from the top of the first climb

Of course we did some more uphill climbing until we reached a plateau where the trail separated: one way was to continue to trail to the end, the other was to climb to the top of Mt. Ngauruhoe (also known as Mt. Doom for LOTR fans). Sadly given how long it had taken me and my out of shape body to get to this point, climbing to the top of a nearby mountain didn’t seem feasible. I would be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally lose sleep regretting not being able to see the top of Mt. Doom, maybe someday Ill get another chance. At the plateau there were a lot of people taking a break, grabbing a snack from packs, and taking photographs. Erin and I took a few pictures of ourselves until a kind stranger offered to take a photo for us. He snapped one, looked a it and said “wait let me try again” he did this a few times until he got one he was happy with. I am eternally grateful to this kind stranger because it got me this.

I can’t think of a photo I like more

We then continued along the plateau as it dipped down into a large geological dish as we approached the far side I saw a rather narrow uphill path covered with snow. I noticed something kinda funny, there were a lot of people struggling up the center of the path on the snow that had been trampled into ice and nearly no footprints on the light powder along the edges. As a woman slipped and struggled on the ice I walked past her and politely mentioned that the snow, despite being deeper, would be easier and safer. I felt kinda like a jerk offering tips to a grown woman but I get the impression she wasn’t too familiar with the dynamics of snow. The top of this portion of the trail rewarded us with a beautiful view of most of the trail.

Emerald lakes and seemingly endless mountain ranges

From here the trail continued as a snowy downhill path, I glanced at the snow-challenged hiker, then at Erin and decided to ride down on the snow as though I were tobogganing, at first I tried just sitting and going, and that worked well, but then I realized my backpack had a toboggan feature… the salesman never mentioned that and it sure worked well. Naturally everyone who saw assumed I was crazy, and who am I to say they’re wrong.

It was so fun I almost went back up to do it again

We then continued along another gentle flat portion toward yet another emerald coloured lake. Along the way something in the ground caught my eye, a funny looking white rock that just seemed out of place, naturally I picked it up, to my surprise it was actually a necklace. That’s right folks I found jewellery in Mordor! Its not a ring, but Ill still take it. Here’s a photo of it after I cleaned it off a bit.

My precious

We then found our way to the lake on the far side, me still talking about how cool it is to find a necklace. We opted to stop for some photos and some lunch.

This photo took more tries than you would think
Kind looks like a weatherman in front of a green screen
Ham sandwiches taste better at higher altitude (I might make that my new catch phrase)

Our hike now lead us downhill… about time I say! It lead us along a narrow mountain ledge where we encountered people doing to trek in the opposite direction, I’m told this takes longer and is harder to do. This led to a few slight traffic jams as the trail get a bit narrow at points, but everyone survived so that’s good.

Erin’s on the edge!

The path eventually led us to another set of bathrooms, that were again devoid of toilet paper… I now pack my own everywhere I hike for fear of repeating this event. We continued on our way and eventually the narrow mountain trail turned into what resembled a tropical rain forest… oh wait… is it actually a tropical rain forest in New Zealand? Ill look into that later. Either way there was a lot of vegetation and it was beautiful.

Nearly at the end, very encouraging
Here, let me open that for you

We eventually reached the end of the trail and I was “relieved” to find they had fully stocked washrooms.

          This is the first actual hike I had ever taken, especially one of this length. At the time I enjoyed it immensely but had no real appreciation or scope of how lucky I was to get a chance at this hike, many hikers, especially those in North America, would consider this a life’s dream, and here I was able to do it on a whim as a first time hiker. Even stranger, between my stomach ache and distance of the hike itself I nearly opted not to go, but Erin made me, and I’m certainly glad she did.
            The bus shuttled us all back to our respective hostels, Erin and I reheated some pasta from the night before and promptly passed out… I guess in some respects this hike was like my drunken hikes home from the bar, but I wont be telling those stories here. To my shock, luck and amazement the only thing that hurt the next day was my shins. Good thing too, since we had a lot more adventuring to do while we were there. Next up was caving in Waitomo, but that’s another long winded story for another time.

Posted in Hiking, Travelwith no comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *