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The Tongariro Crossing – Day 26
Friday 22nd April 2005
With part of the reason for visiting New Zealand being my love of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films, it was pencilled into my pre-travel plans to try and see as much of the locations and sets used in the film as possible. It was inevitable, therefor, that this day would come, and I was thoroughly excited at the prospect. Today I would be hiking through ‘Orc’ territory as I decided to complete the Tongariro Crossing.
I had booked this trip a day or two ago, and was a little anxious at the thought of an 8 hour hike high up into the mountains, but I knew I would be seeing many incredible sights, and I was sure my legs were up to it. It did mean waking up at 5am this morning though, which is an ungodly hour in my opinion.
Having lifted my body out of bed – which is fairly difficult, and I’m not the strongest person in the world – I readied myself for the day ahead. All provisions were previously purchased and were now nestled into my backpack, bumping shoulders with my camera, spare clothes, phone, plasters, band-aids etc. It seemed a lot to be taking – and the chances are I wouldn’t use half of it – but it’s always better to be safe than sorry, as my Mum always says. She is the type of person who packs a large suitcase for a weekend away, yet always has everything you could ever need. You gotta love that!!
The coach picked me up in the darkness and I half wondered if it was the coach that I should be getting as I starred at all the misfits already occupying most seats. I am perhaps being very harsh here. The people simply looked tired, as I’m sure I did to all the others on board. A glance over at a middle-aged couple with their walking sticks was reassurance I was in the right place. But then doubt set into my mind about whether I would need a walking stick, as it turns out most people here had one. I sat in my seat pondering my state, then looked out my window as the world began to wake up and the light slowly pushed the darkness away. Somehow the light brought renewed hope, and I felt strangely capable and confident that this hike would be simple. Was I a little over-confident?
We reached the trail and set off at around 7:30am. Other people were arriving in their coaches and cars, and it suddenly dawned on me that it might get a little busy up on the mountain trail, as tourists alike stumbled and tripped along the pathway.
It took around 1 hour to reach the foot of the first mountain, and we had to negotiate rocks and a pretty little stream in order to get there. I found my rhythm by this point, and managed to separate myself from the packs of tourists, and was happy to be marching on at my own pace, taking in the stunning surroundings as I went. The mountains loomed over the horizon, and it wouldn’t be long before we were alongside ‘Mount Doom’, the mountain used in ‘Lord of the Rings’. It looked very familiar, and I imagined Frodo and Sam at the summit, mouths dry from the days spent travelling, and from the climb up the slippery slopes of the mountain. I wondered if I would look similar after this hike. I had plenty of water nonetheless.
Devil’s staircase stood tall in front of us at this point, and we would have to climb it. From here it looked like an impossible task, as huge jagged rocks stuck out in all directions, scraping my legs as I stumbled upwards. It seemed like it would never end, and my energy was seeping out of my body as I pawed my way up the rock face. It took only 45 minutes to reach the top in the end, but it was a nightmare.
The trail next led us through the valley and up towards ‘Red Crater’. This part took around 1 hour, but wasn’t particularly strenuous. Once at Red Crater, there was the option of taking a small detour to the Mount Tongariro Summit. It seemed an obvious decision to make, I would take the detour with stunning views promised as my reward. But not until I had something to eat of course.
I arrived at the summit not long after, and the views of all around were breathtaking. Mountains, lakes, fields and valleys filled my line of sight in all directions. You could see for miles everywhere that you looked. I was mesmerised. But alas, I had to retrace my steps back to Red Crater, and carry on with the main trail.
As I walked back around, I was stopped by an English guy who asked me if it was far to the summit. I replied “No”, and pointed to the rocks that marked the summit no more than 100 meters away. I explained in detail the stunning views he would be seeing, but was amazed at his decision to bypass the last steps and not to bother seeing it for himself. Instead he chose to come back with me. I couldn’t really understand why he wouldn’t take the remaining steps having already come most of the way, but was more annoyed now at the fact that he was now ‘tagging along’, when really I wanted to be left by myself.
Having arrived back at the Red Crater, I was now extremely frustrated having listened to this guy going on and on about himself and all the things he had done, or was going to do, and suddenly I was unable to enjoy anything. I couldn’t look at the scenery without this annoying voice in one ear droning on continuously. I quickened my pace in the vein hope that he might get the message and fall back, but he kept up, and still there was no let up in his banter. Was this guy really going to follow me the rest of the way??
Emerald Lakes were next to greet us as we began a decline in altitude, and beautiful they were as we scrambled down some extremely loose sand and rock to reach them. The path was steep, and it was hard to stop in one place to admire the beauty, yet the idiot that had stuck to me was still blabbering on about something, not even looking at the lakes. Had he even seen them? Was he even interested in this hike at all? Or is he here simply to annoy the heck out of me? I said to him “Those lakes are beautiful, aren’t they?”. He replied, “I’ve already seen lakes like these a hundred times, they all look the same to me”, then he continued his life story, and by now I had reached the end of my patience. I asked him to leave me, and told him that I wanted to go the rest of the way on my own. With this I walked off leaving a speechless fool behind me. I felt free again.
It took a further 2 hours to negotiate more rocks past the Emerald Lakes, and another sweeping valley, over a ridge and down a winding path towards the hut where I could finally use the bathroom. What a relief!! A lot of people had gathered here, evidently exhausted, and refuelling with anything left in their backpacks. Oddly enough I was full of energy, or possibly adrenaline, and wanted to continue right away, although by this point my feet were aching from the decent beforehand. So onwards I trekked, leaving the masses behind me, although I was by no means out in front.
The path through the forest was long, and the constant stepping down along the path’s numerous steps began to take its toll on my toes. The steps were big, and you almost had to jump down each one. This went on for another 2 hours before finally reaching the finishing line. I passed a girl on the way down who looked in a lot of pain. I asked her friend if she was OK, but the friendly German girl explained that her friend had migraine, and was in agony. I felt sorry for her and offered my help, but there was nothing I could do. A ‘thank you’ was received as I walked on towards the car park at the end of the trail.
A large grassy area around the car park was already occupied by masses of tired bodies. Some lay on their backs, others sat with their head in their hands, some even collapsed right where they were standing, and found themselves in a heap on the grass. I lay on my back after finishing off the water and sat watching more people emerge from the trail, victorious in their accomplishment. A while passed before I saw the English guy emerge. He walked right past me and didn’t return my greeting. Instead he ignored me and sat elsewhere. Oh well, I can’t say this upset me. In fact, I was thankful he didn’t sit next to me and start his jibber jabber all over again.
We didn’t see our coach until 3.30, an hour after I had completed the hike. This was due to a fallen hiker on one of the mountains who had to be airlifted to hospital. His friend had walked back to the start of the trail where our coach had picked him up. Hence being late to pick us up. It sounded like a nasty fall and I hoped he was OK.
The hike had taken around 7 hours to complete, and I was glad to be on the coach back to the hostel. On the coach across the isle from me were the two German girls I had passed. One had her head in her hands and looked visibly ill with her migraine. I smiled at the girl sympathetically, and this was all I could do.
The journey back was about an hour long, and it was a good chance to see many parts of New Zealand that I don’t get to see when I’m driving. We went through more residential places and it was good to see people living their lives. I like this country.
After arriving back at the hostel, I had a McDonalds, showered, then went to bed. I was completely exhausted but very glad I had completed the Tongariro Crossing.
Written by Daniel Stevens,
Founder of Roundtheworldtrip.org.
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