Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Today was a day I both dreaded and looked forward to for the last few months – it was finally time to complete the 20km Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It’s a pretty popular hike (about 1,000 people do it a day in good weather), because it takes you by the mountain used as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. You can actually climb it (it’s an additional 3 hours, with an almost vertical climb), but I didn’t know if I’d even be able to finish the path’s 20km, let alone an additional climb. Janetta is active and fit, and hikes for fun, so we split early on so she’d have time to do the summit and I could complete the original hike. We finished only 20 minutes apart, so let’s not think about how much longer my hike took then her hike + addition; instead let’s focus on the fact that we both accomplished what we set off to!

The first stage was the path to Soda Springs. This was not super elevated (Janetta would probably say it was barely hilly), but because it was the first bit (and I hadn’t been active for awhile), I was still forced to take lots of breaks. Good thing about this hike, is that I learnt to understand when I just need a rest, and when I needed water. It’s nice to be able to provide your body with what it needs! Also, the nice thing about my breaks along this whole trek is that I always had something nice to stare at.

The next bit was called the Devil’s Staircase, and they weren’t lying! Tons of wooden and stone stairs, with some steep climbs, filled my next hour and a bit. They were not lying when they called it the Devil’s Staircase, that’s for sure.

When you get to the top, you have to decide if you want to continue on to Mount Doom (officially named Mt. Ngauruhoe), or if you want to carry on. With some encouragement from a couple Americans, Janetta did climb to the top, and while the views were nice, they were not worth the 3 (tough!) hour detour for me.  You’ll continue to see this mountain pop up in the background of many photos to come.

My hike continued on from here to the South Crater. It was a lovely spot to take a break and just soak in the view.

The next climb to the Red Crater was not fun. There were some super steep bits where they had a steel rope to use to help pull yourself up, and then really narrow bits where they had a rope for you to hold. I’m not super amazing with heights, so those slowed me down a lot. Thankfully the rest of the hike had decent sized boulders to rest on, so my breaks were all pretty comfortable.

When I made it to the top I relaxed, big time! Enjoyed my peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and chatted with the folk who were going at my slow pace (we took turns passing each other on the way). The view was phenomenal (and also marked the half way point).

I thought the hard part would be over with most of the ‘up’ being done, but the ‘down’ was even more difficult! Super steep shale (light rock/dirt) that you had to ski down. It was not fun. I literally sat on my bum three times and slid down on purpose because it was easier. I wish I had a picture to show you because it was hilarious. When you were standing it just felt like you were going to fall, and I don’t like that feeling (considering you are on top of a mountain), so bum sliding was my favourite method of getting down.

And when you did get down it was gorgeous! You were at the Emerald Lakes (which smelt of sulfur so less pleasant), but so beautiful. I’d smelt sulfur a lot these last few days, so I didn’t mind sitting by the lakes for a little bit. I guess I was more used to it at this point. Just lovely!

As I moved on I saw a mountain in the distance and was not too pleased. I thought I was done with them already! But it was easier than the last few, and featured Crater Lake, so another beautiful spot to take a rest.

Eventually I made it to the top of this mountain, and got to start my 4 hour descent. My legs were shaking by the end, that’s for sure! Every time I thought I was close to finishing, I’d see a ‘2 more hours to go’ sign, and had to try and find the energy to keep going.

Our shuttle was coming at 3:30 and 5, and at some point I just accepted that I wouldn’t make the 3:30 one as planned. I ended up finishing around 4:15 which was the perfect amount of time to relax before the shuttle came.

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We could both barely walk for 5 days after, but at least I wasn’t the only one who was sore! 100% worth it, but not something I’m probably going to do again should I be back in New Zealand one day. Once was enough for me!

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