From now on, I will be sharing my past travels as part of my Travel Throwback Thursday #TTBT series.
The plan was to drive from Wellington to Whakapapa’s DOC camping sites. However, it was full, so we found a trailhead and decided to camp there instead. At least it was free! Since we arrived in Whakapapa in the evening, we woke up to a beautiful scenic surprise.
I never really pay much attention to where movie scenes are filmed. However, I did know that New Zealand was a prime filming location for the Lord of the Rings. Most LOTR fans visiting New Zealand find Hobbiton and hike Mount Doom (aka Mount Tongariro). We were on a short vacation, so there wasn’t time to do most of the LOTR attractions.
We reserved a Mountain Shuttle to take us to the trailhead from Whakapapa. Hoani took us to the Mangatepopo trailhead, where we joined the flocks of tourists lacing up their hiking shoes to start this alpine hike. It would actually be my first alpine hike. I didn’t know there were different hiking types. However, alpine hiking means hiking above tree line and being fully exposed to weather. Along with being exposed, the climate can be dry with few water sources.
It was time to succumb to the masses and start our hike. We hiked through the lava covered planes before reaching a sign warning the dangers of traveling through the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The volcanic rock and dust made me feel like I was hiking on Mars or the Moon. Too bad gravity was keeping me on the ground instead of doing a moon walk.
The elevation would start to increase after the alpine warning sign. As we left the rocky lava valley below, the wind increased. As we climbed the trail steps, we became part of a long bottleneck until we ran out of stairs to climb. Once the steeper elevation climb began, the hikers became spread out. It didn’t feel as if we were on a overpopulated trail anymore.
One foot in front of another with my head down and rain coat hood cinched close around my face, I trudged along the remaining crater of Mount Tongariro. The wind was so strong, it was hard to stand upright. I knew moving was my only option to get out of the wind, so I took mental pictures without wanting to use energy to get my camera out of my pack.
Approaching the peak was unreal with views into the Red Crater. Looking into the remains of the previous eruptions–one being the year prior. Danielle laid down on edge to get a better look to find out the rocks were hot–even with the cold winds. I bent down and warmed my hands by picking up handfuls before continuing on.
The clouds covered Mount Ruapehu in the distance. While looking at the remaining portion of the track, the aqua blue, sulfuric Emerald Lakes were visible. From the peak, it looked like a straight down slide to get to the lakes. How was I going to go down the steep and loose rocky terrain?
After watching other brave souls descend, it was my turn. I started plunge stepping down the loose rocky remains of the volcano. Stepping one foot than the other until enough gravel-like rocks piled up to stop my momentum, I continued the rhythm until reaching Emerald Lakes.
The four of us regrouped before leaving the rotten egg smelling, yet gorgeous, Emerald Lakes. The strong sulfuric smells made us leave faster than normal. Finally being protected from the wind exposure, it was time to lose elevation.
Taking time to look back at Mount Ngauruhoe and Red Crater (Mount Tongariro), I couldn’t believe I had just hiked it. Looking close at the mountain, I could see the tiny ant-sized hikers. It is easy to underestimate the scale without seeing the hikers.
The last elevation climb was to Blue Lake. Again, looking back, we could see the trail taken. The wind was finally blowing the clouds away for a beautiful blue sky to brighten up the black and brown hue.
Lake Rotoaira appeared in the distance while hiking towards Ketetahi Hut. Hiking around the geothermic pools, steam released from the ground wherever possible giving off strong odors. The last stretch consisted of switchbacks and finally reached bushes and plant-life. After 6.5 hours, we had completed the Tongariro Crossing.
What is the hardest hike you have done?
More in this series:
- Two and a Half Weeks through New Zealand
- Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula
- Milford Sound – A Photo Essay
- Kayaking the Doubtful Sound
- Queenstown – Trekking and Celebrating a New Year
- Wanaka – Tramping Rob Roy Peak and Glacier
- Touring the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers for Free
- Exploring New Zealand’s West Coast
- Nelson, New Zealand
- Mountain Biking above the Queen Charlotte Sound
- Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry