Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tongariro Crossing - One of the best one day walks in the world

10 April 2009

The alarm was set for 5 am. Today we start the Tongariro Crossing and the Northern Circuit. Unlike the weather forecast, it is cold and rainy (as it was yesterday, causing us to postpone our trip to today). It is the Easter Holiday Weekend, so the place is packed with people wanting to do the famous Tongariro Crossing. At 7:15 am the shuttle bus, an old school bus, is ready to go. Quite a collection of people board, including an Asian girl who brings: a day pack, a computer bag, and a huge silver pocketbook/bag containing her kitchen sink. And, we’re off! About 30 minutes later we arrive at the end of Mangatepopo Road and the start of the “Crossing”. Many other shuttles are there also, dropping off hundreds of people. The track is starts at alpine elevations (no trees).

Climbing slowly upward, the first sight to visit is Soda Springs, a small waterfall. The track continues up the Mangatepopo Valley. We cross a large flat area surrounded by mountains, and everything is covered with snow.

The weather seems to be clearing up. At the far end, the trail climbs up the side of the mountain. Suddenly, the weather turns worse, with dark clouds moving in behind us. The wind strengthens considerably and the temperature drops, getting cold. Frostbite is a possibility. We are well prepared, and our hiking sticks help us balance against the wind. Others are in shorts, sandals, open running shoes, and other less than ideal gear. For them, the situation is getting tougher. The trail climbs a ridgeline and people are lined up, moving slowly. Eventually, we reach the top, Red Crater.

At 1,886 meters, it is the highest point on the crossing. Our reward is a spectacular view including the Emerald Lakes. Volcanic hillsides vent sulphur smelling fumes. Far below, a volcanic “moonscape”. It is still cold and people move on quickly, descending a narrow ridge made of course sand and loose rocks. At the lakes, many stop for lunch, including ourselves. From here The Crossing continues left and we turn right onto the Northern Circuit around the volcano Mt. Ngauruhoe. That night, the sky is clear and temperature cool. A full moon rises, and the stars are bright. Walking outside at night does not require additional light, the moon and stars are enough. It is peaceful at the Oturere Hut, the masses of people who achieved the Tongariro Crossing are elsewhere. Tomorrow we continue walking around this huge volcano.

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