We awoke to mist and light rain!
All the wet weather gear was being worn as we boarded the bus transport to the start, some thirty minutes away. Wow, the number of people who shared the kilometerage with us was astounding. We thought there would be fewer doing it today given it was Christmas Day. How wrong we were?
Tar seal turned into gravel still with wipers criss-crossing the windshield of the bus. The words of advice from the driver just before we disembarked on 8am was that our pick-up time on the other side was 4pm. It would be sufficient time to do the crossing and if adventurous, summit Mount Doom as well.
Here we were greeted by Mike and Karen from the US. We meet these two at Waitomo YHA where they shared a piece of dirt tenting just along from us for two nights. Only a couple of years married, they were still in their honeymoon period and being in their early sixties, there was a lot of life left if you know what I mean! Mike was joining us to do the crossing together, Karen who recently had a knee operation wasn’t able to. Christmas salutations were exchanged and then we stepped off.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is considered New Zealand’s best one day hike for both cultural significance and dramatic, awe inspiring natural scenery. Climbs can be steep and the weather unpredictable.
It is a highway path when compared to the trail tracks we have encountered and made the crossing unbelievably enjoyable. The foot traffic was dumbfounding in the volume of fellow crossers. It was a global multi-cultural day out for tourists as the different languages reverberated on wooden boardwalks and climbing steps. Bugger all New Zealander’s except for one family doing the non-traditional celebratory thing. Lucy their youngest protesting that her parents had ruined her day by making her do the crossing!
Approximately three kilometres into the thing, the shroud of cloud went ‘poof’ and evaporated to reveal Mt Ngauruhoe’s scree covered cone. It was stunning. We could make out bodies ascending to its peak and when we reached the marker pointing us in the direction of up, we thought staying with Mike the better option so as to respect our elders and be there for him in case of need!
Crossing the crater floors where dormant lava flows lay at peace was eerie. The trail was well formed and wisps of cloud would swoop up and over the crater wall to immerse the trail of walkers. Then lift to reveal the colony of ant sized figurines. We ascended to a further marker pointing to the Tongariro summit. Here walkers were resting. The views as far as the eyes could see were remarkable.
To then descend down an internal crater face, we were exposed to a crevasse that was a sheer drop off into the centre of the earth. We had never before seen such redness colour soil. Vapour escaped from vents and the emerald green lakes were breath-taking. We sat beside one to eat lunch. They are warm, acidic lakes fed by snow melt and beautiful. The smell of sulphur although pungent, added to the ambience of the environment atmosphere. We sat and watched other walkers descend in the hundreds.
Once across a second crater floor, we were up and over onto the outer face and could see Lake Taupo off yonder. Other folk like us were wearing Santa Hats with having gotten into the spirit. Their redness in the faces though wasn’t through sun burn but from a bottle of bubbly they had humped and consumed to celebrate a 43year dream to do the crossing. It was so cool. And smart … why didn’t we think of that?
8kms up from the end, Karen (Mike’s wife) had walked up to greet us and this was amazing. She wanted to test out her new bionic knee and had done well given the trail steepness and all. We are a creature of habit to push the body boundaries and it was lovely to descend the pathway down swapping life as re-marrieds with life goals.
A temporary hut not allowed for overnight stopping displayed holes in its roof and floor from where the rocks landed after an eruption from the Te Maari crater back in 2012. Vapour clouds rose from the direction and was enough for us to make pace down to our waiting transport back to our accommodation.
Not before crossing over a 700metre point of the track that is designated for lahar (mud flow) from a collapsed crater lake wall; nor bidding farewell to Mike and Karen who arrived just as we embarked onto the bus.
The evening back at the YHA hostel was just a buzz of people. The kitchen was alive with aroma of cuisine being cooked; bottles of wine and beer being charged as new friendships choreographed and the merriness of Christmas conversation eminent to background sounds of festive song.
Thank goodness the South Korean arrived back long after the bus had left the end of the crossing trail. He had missed the cut off time and therefore had to find his own way home. We thought he decided to walk to North Korea! Nope, he summited Mt Doom and it took longer than anticipated. The smile on his face was one of elated exhaustion. He’s seeing the world before his compulsory two-year conscription into military service that he isn’t motivated to want to do. Especially with the neighbours they have. Not the doom he wants to be ever summit.
We are so lucky to have our paradise so far removed. By the streams of people numbers visiting our slice of heaven today, you can have all the Christmas pudding you ever want. And more.
Another day come and gone with diversity.
See you again next year Snoopy. Where ever that may be!