Saturday, January 26, 2013

Tongariro Crossing...But Not Really (Day 4)

For months and months, we had been looking forward to what is proclaimed all over the internet as "the best day hike in the world." I had seen pictures, but I didn't get it. I mean, it looked cool, but with no snow capped mountains, no trees, and no just didn't seem like the best day hike ever. Obviously, we had to check this place out and determine whether this claim is true. We reserved a campsite at Discovery Lodge for the night before because it is the closest lodge to the start of the crossing and provides the earliest shuttles to get to it (it's a crossing so you typically have a shuttle service take you to the start and pick you up at the end.)

When we got to the lodge the night before, the host asks us "so you are aware of the eruptions right?" Unfortunately, we were unaware that Mt Tongariro had erupted twice in the last six months, the second time being 3 weeks before we got there. Because of this, we were not allowed to hike the whole crossing. After having done the section we were allowed to hike (and after reading this article from National Geographic), I actually can't believe we were allowed up there! We were basically on Mt. Tongariro and the article states that scientists predicted another eruption within the few weeks following the last one.

Anyway, we're home and in one piece so obviously no eruption happened while we were hiking. We were allowed to hike out and back, basically to the viewpoint of the Emerald Pools and Blue Lake, making our out-and-back hike a similar distance to the point-to-point crossing (19.4km). We would have loved to hike to the top of either Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom from LotR) or Mt. Tongariro, but the fog/clouds were so thick this day we knew we wouldn't have seen anything up there anyway.

We got to the trailhead at 6am, right when it opened. Thank goodness we did. We were already heading back down the trail when mobs of inexperienced hikers were making their way up. Our hike was quite peaceful, with only a few additional insane morning people!

It wasn't green or full of wildflowers, but this hike was incredible and unique and the changing weather added to the excitement. 

Wow. Not sure I've seen a sign like this before on any hike we've done. Consider turning back! Glad we didn't, but feel like a lot of the people we saw probably should have. 

 Where we had just come from. 

 Don't let the flat landscape shots fool you. There are two sections of this hike that have some SERIOUS climbing. First section between Soda Springs and the South Crater (1,740 feet elevation gain) and the second (much scarier) section from the South Crater to the Red Crater summit (almost 800 ft elevation gain.) The highest point on the trail is Red Crater summit (1,886m/6,188ft).

 The weather was absolutely insane this day. We'd have a clear view of the whole crater, and then only be able to see 3 feet in front of us, within a matter of seconds. 

 Same crater as the photo above (South crater)
 Red Crater. My photos don't really show this, but this part of the hike was ridiculously treacherous. I can't believe so many inexperienced hikers take this crossing on every day. It was especially scary with the strong winds blowing us toward the drop off. And it was freezing!

 Highest Point on the crossing (Red Crater Summit)

One guy who had gone up right before us came back down and said he saw only one of the Emerald Lakes in the right hand corner for second. If he had waited patiently for the clouds to blow through, this is what he would've seen. It was worth the wait!

We completed our hike right before noon and were exhausted! Although I wouldn't say this was the best day hike we've ever been on (Highline Trail in Glacier National Park might win that one), it was one of the best hikes. We took it easy in our campervan for awhile and drank some more tea before heading out for our next destination. We stopped in Wanganui for dinner before making our way down to Waikawa campground, a free DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite about an hour north of Wellington. We soaked our tired feet in the glacier cold stream right next to the campsite and enjoyed the songs of many birds before falling asleep. 

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