Departing Kapiti we headed north to National Park, an actual village on the edge of the Tongariro National Park, the first National Park in NZ and the sixth in the world. The attraction is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – more on that.
Firstly, however, we must mention that NZ is the land of the road works. Every day we were slowed down to 30 to pass some section of road being resurfaced or rerouted or just a few pot holes repaired. We both commented that to be the supplier of witches hats in NZ would be a fantastic business.
Through contacts of Ros’ we were recommended a side trip, avoiding the highway and driving along the Whanganui River valley.
A sublime road winding along the river with many tight turns, one way stretches and fantastic views over the river and hills.
Along the way we passed towns, often with two name, Matahiwi, Ranana and Pipiriki however sometimes the name post also subtitled these with Athens, Jerusalem and London! Not to worry, the trip was great as these photos show.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the great one day walks and on Luke’s recommendation, John was keen. It was here that we separated for the day with Ros looking for some more leisurely walks.
There was some concern the night before as to whether or not my walk would go ahead: of the eight people booked, five had cancelled and two did not reconfirm. However at 6pm it was agreed we would go, even if the others did not turn up. They didn’t, and so the next morning I had my own guide for the day, Hiro, from Japan, who has made the crossing 110 times since he started in August last year! Hiro was very helpful, it meant that I did not need to think as I was told when to take my jumper off (before the big climb up the hill) when to out it on (when we were on an exposed ridge) and when to have lunch (by the Emerald lakes). We left town at 8am, with the sun just behind the peaks
The walk is 19.4 km in length, starts at 1,000 m, goes up to 1,800 and finishes at 700 m: hence everyone walks one way. The first part of the walk goes through low scrub and rises slowly towards the volcanic scree from Mt Ngauruhoe which erupted in 1954 when the lava swept down the side of the mountain. We covered 4km in an hour.
We then turned towards the giant staircase: not too sure how many stairs but I’d guess 800, and up we climbed. These two kilometres took an hour!
Then over the ridge and we were in the crater of a volcano, very flat and so enjoyable to walk along at a good pace.
But there was a steep climb to come: up the ridge line to the highest point on the walk, between Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro. From here we had a fabulous view of red crater, an old volcano which the iron has weathered red.
From here is was down a terrible slope of loose rocks, scree and dirt to the shores of the Emerald Lakes (3 in all) which really are emerald/green.
At last lunch, even if it was only 11:45, but I was ready. At this point we were only 8 km into the walk, but Hiro indicated half way in terms of exertion. Thanks heavens.
I guess one advantage of being only one person was that we made quite good time. Hiro said we were about one hour ahead of the usual. He also told me that they often send people back. There are lots of signs up to this point reminding walkers that it’s not an easy walk: go back if you are fatigued or cold. On walks with a lot of people they will often have an extra guide in order to accompany less strong walkers back to the start.
We then walked across a plain for 1 km and up onto the edge of Blue Lake.
After that is was then the long trip to the end: 10 km slowly descending, at times along rock strewn tracks,
at other times zigzagging across the slope or just walking along never ending raised tracks across heather with steam venting in places.
At one point I got a cramp in the hamy, but lots of water and 5 jelly frogs seemed to fix it. However, I was now on a mission not to stop and get cold for fear of more cramps.
Then into a treed area (I estimate that the trees only grow to around 1,000 m in this part of NZ).
Finally the end is in sight.
We finished around an hour and a half earlier than Hiro would normally expect – not sure if it’s because I am a great sportsman or if the lack of stragglers helped.
(Lucky John booked for Saturday because bad weather on Sunday resulted in the Parks advising walkers not to go).
And now over to Ros for her day….