26/02: After a rough night waking up every hour scared that I slept through my alarm, at 04.30 my alarm clock went off for real. My bag already packed I slipped into my clothes, went to the kitchen to prepare myself some power food: eggs on toast. Quite an accomplishment to eat that at 05.00 am, but I would need it today. It’s a big day, I’m doing the Tongariro Crossing. A 19k hike through a volcanic terrain of the multi-cratered active volcano Mount Tongariro passing the Mount Ngauruhoe – which you can climb as well, adding another 3 hours to the hike. We’ll see about that.
At 05.15 am the bus from Tongariro Expeditions picked us up from our hostel in Taupo and at 06.45 am we arrived at Mangatepopo, the starting point. “The last bus leaves at 5.30 pm, 2 minutes late and you’ll be walking another couple of hours to Taupo. And one more thing: never walk directly behind someone, or you might need an helicopter to bring you to the hospital because of all the falling rocks!” Okaaaay, no pressure at all. Thanks for that mate!
A German guy Frederic – if I remember correctly – sat next to me in the bus and at 07.00 am we started the hike. Already after 5 minutes the views were amazing. In front of us the green and rocky landscape with a great sight of the Mount Ngauruhoe (or Mount Doom as the Lord of the Rings fans would know it), and behind us a big layer of clouds with just some mountain tips sticking out in the pink morning sky. And those views kept on coming. After an hour Frederic left me, apparently I was going too slow ;). Another 45 minutes passed by – going step by step – when the sun came through behind the mountains. A perfect moment for my first little break. A sip of water, getting rid of the long sleeves and putting on loads of sunscreen. It was the hottest day with almost no wind at all.
Continuing the hike I arrived at the top of the first climb. “Caution! Falling rocks”. Okey, I will. Not really looking towards what I was walking I just followed the mainstream. It became less green and more rocky by the minute till there was no more green at all. Only rocks, black little rocks. “You’d better not take the path!” a girl told me, “you’ll slide right down where you started.” Okey, so I’ll just go straight ahead then, on to the rocky part. The bus driver had a good point there, as well as the caution-sign. With every step rocks slipped away under my feet, rolling down fast. Using my hands and feet I climbed rock by rock. Oh my god, what did I get myself into! On my way I already passed some older woman and I asked another girl how they would be able to do this. “This is optional, you’re climbing the Mt Doom right now!” Ha! Didn’t know that. And maybe better that I didn’t 🙂 I had a mission now: getting on the very top of this rocky volcano. Halfway I sat down, my legs started to shake and I felt a bit nauseous. I ate my banana, drank enough water and just sat there for a few minutes. The views are truly stunning, but looking next to me I thought “Damn that’s steep!” I climbed for another 5 minutes and my legs were still shaking. A power bar and another sip of water got me back on my feet again.
I was on a roll. Finding the steady rocks where I could lean on or hold onto was my goal. Passing some other girls I felt strong. “How far till the top?” I asked a guy passing me. Ah, he appeared to be Dutch as well, Sander. He thought that point where a green pole was sticking out of the mountain. Good! I can do that. We walked up, swearing once in a while when the rocks slipped away again but when we reached the green pole it wasn’t the end yet. Almost though.
Reaching the top was great! The views are gorgeous. Black and red rocks and a Blue Lake all the way in the distance. “That’s where we’re going next,” Sander said. Haha, I was so glad that I didn’t really think too much about this whole hike or I might have chickened out at some point earlier already. There was no way back. After another little side track to the crater of the volcano (going down and up again with rocks that were even more unstable than before), I started my way back down. Another mission: figuring out how. A German guy ran down behind me and screamed “Just put your heels into the rocks like this and go!” while he almost bumped into me and a rock hit my ankle. “AU!!” I screamed in return. After a quick ‘sorry, are you okay’ he kept on going. Luckily my ankle was okay. Just a little scratch, nothing to be worried about. Tip: never do such a thing on a freakin’ volcano!
Meanwhile it was about 11.30 am. Sander saw it happening and he was kind enough to walk in front of me to lead the way. Talking, laughing and of course tired I wasn’t really focused anymore and I slipped. Shit, that rock was sharp. I cut my hand. Used some water to clean it, and tried to not use that hand anymore. And we were still almost at the top. Quite difficult sliding downhill on those rocks I can tell you! But once you figured out what the best way is, going down was actually really nice 🙂 It was exactly how the German dude described it: put your heals into it and just slide your way down! My shoes were completely filled with little rocks and sand (or ash), felt like there was no profile left under my shoes. Back down Sanders mate from Denmark was already waiting. We emptied our shoes, had some lunch and continued our journey to the Blue Lake.
After about 500 meters of flat land, we went uphill again. Quite steep, but with lots of (solid) stones to stand on luckily. Reaching the top there was another stunning view waiting for us. Beautiful rock formations and lakes with the brightest green and blue water. Wauw! Looking back we saw Mount Ngauruhoe in a distance already. Can’t believe I stood on that mountain like one hour ago!!
Being experts at sliding down, we reached the lakes within a couple of minutes. Well, that would have been the case if we didn’t stop for the touristic pictures of course :). We said our goodbyes as they were heading back to their camp, and I had to go to the car park in Ketetahi.
I emptied my shoes again and walked on. Still 13 kilometers to go! Since we came down from Mount Ngauruhoe I just went on autopilot. I had to go a little bit up and down still, but nothing in comparison with the big volcano I just climbed. I passed a bunch of people until there was a traffic jam of pedestrians on the path. Luckily two guys in front of me passed them and I went along. They walked quite fast, but I just hold on to their pace. My left knee started to hurt, so I decided to walk it without any breaks before it would get too stiff to walk on. After a long walk on a regular path, all of a sudden there was a rain forest. Finally, at 3.45 pm there was the car park. No water, only tired-looking hikers that wanted to be picked up. There was already a bus from Tongariro Expedition waiting, and it left 10 minutes later. What a timing!! A bottle of water entering the bus would have been really nice (I would even have paid 5 NZ$, they could actually make good money with that!), but I was glad that I could sit after almost 9 hours of hiking.
Because of some girls that didn’t pay attention where they had to get out, we drove 40 minutes longer to get home. Luckily they dropped me of in front of the hostel again, cause I could barely walk anymore, my knee completely stiff. After a good shower I sat down with my food at the balcony of the hostel and saw Mount Ngauruhoe in the distance. Completely satisfied we opened a bottle of beer and saluted to the achievements of the day!