Friday, March 28, 2014

New Zealand Day 40: Hilary's Much Less Enjoyable Tongariro Crossing

After Alex's spectacular hike of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, I had been hoping to have a chance to do this walk as well. I watched the weather for the last week of our trip and it looked like today, Friday, would be the best. There's a hiker shuttle from Taupo, almost an hour and a half away, so I reserved a spot on that so that B and my parents wouldn't have to spend several hours taking me to and from the trailhead and would have the car for the day.

The shuttle was supposed to pick me up at 5:30 in front of our holiday park. When it got to be 5:55 with no shuttle, I was starting to think about going back to bed! But then it showed up and we had a quiet drive into Tongariro National Park. Much quicker than with the campervan last month!

When we arrived at the trailhead, I was pleased to see that the volcanic risk was normal.

It was spitting a little bit of rain and therefore was a bit chilly when I hit the trail at 8 AM. Some of the other folks in the parking lot were wearing quite...interesting ensembles for something called an Alpine crossing, including shorts, Converse sneakers, jeans, and cotton sweatshirts. Seriously—just because the logo on the sweatshirt says North Face doesn't mean it's safe for hiking!

As I started up the trail, I saw that the valley below was bright and sunny.

Looking up was cloudy...

...but I was hopeful that after climbing a bit I'd break through the cloud and there would be sun above.

Like Alex, I was really impressed by the trail work!

Sadly, it turned out that once I hiked into the cloud, I never came out of it. Eventually I topped out at Red Crater, but couldn't see anything but cloud in every direction. I had planned to hike up Ngaruhoe, but decided that heading off into a white-out to climb an unmarked trail up a volcano was perhaps not a very good idea. Plus, why bother with no view? If I'd had a car at the trailhead, I probably would have turned around at this point, or sooner, as it was clearly not my day either weather-wise or health-wise. I'd felt a bit sick to my stomach overnight and hadn't slept well at all. It was cold and rainy and there was no view. I was not happy.

But, on I tramped, slow and steady. Eventually I headed down a steep scree slope and saw my first view of the day. Look! The Emerald Lakes!

Even prettier once I got closer:

It was a good thing Alex had taken all of those photos, as at least I could imagine all the awesome stuff that was off in the clouds somewhere.

Eventually I came down onto the shoulder of the mountain and got out from underneath the clouds. Then it got lovely!

This area had some beautifully colored rock, mineral-stained I think, as well as some steam vents.

And this is the steam vent left over from the eruption in 2012.

I took a lunch break at the Ketetahi Hut and was able to warm up now that the sun had returned. Then I headed down the long run-out, eventually ending up in the woods for the last few kilometers. 

Once at the trailhead, I settled down to wait for the shuttle to return. Happily, I had packed my Kindle and had a good book to read. The shuttle came back a little early and everyone booked on it was already off the mountain (probably because the weather had been so crummy that no one did the side hikes up Ngaruhoe or Tongariro). I got back to Taupo just after 4 and ran into the final issue with my not-very-good hiking day...the public showers had just closed. Arrgh!

So, all in all, not a spectacular day. I will hope to return on a lovely day in the future! Sometimes you just need to chance it, though...the risk just didn't pay off today.

B had a great day with my folks in Taupo, including lunch at L'Arte Cafe and mini-golf. Once I returned we headed towards Rotorua, our destination for the night. On the way, we stopped to show my parents Huka Falls and the blurbling Mud Pool, favorites from earlier in our trip! The mud was just as entertaining the second time. I love that place.

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