After the forest shenanigans of the 42 Traverse we booked ourselves a couple of unpowered sites at Tongariro Holiday Park. A nice little spot with all you’d expect from a holiday park – powered/unpowered sites, a well-equipped camp kitchen, cabins and laundry; plus a few extras such as a TV/games room, drying room and a hot tub/spa.
The night had us sleeping through another alpine thunderstorm and drying out our tents the following day. We took some time to recover somewhat by attending to our blisters and resting the legs, eating through a bunch of our heavier foods such as lentils and rice and generally getting ready for the upcoming Tongariro Crossing. I paid for the luxury of a spa to massage my ageing, sore legs which are still becoming accustomed to this thru-hiking business.
We heard mixed reports about the crossing from others staying at the campground who had done the day visit. Some said it was quite windy and misty at times, with poor visibility, whilst others said they were blessed to have clear skies and wonderful views of the Blue and Emerald Lakes and surrounding volcanoes, with relatively few tourists – one of the benefits of doing the crossing on Boxing Day. Whatever the case, all reports were that the crossing was spectacular and unlike anything the majority of them had ever seen. We were itching to go and see it for ourselves.
Night time brought much clearer skies, with incredible views of the Milky Way, accompanied by the repetitive howls of Morepork owls. Reports in the morning were of clear skies, relatively low winds and a near perfect hiking high temperature of 15°C. Without further delay, we made our way to the trail.
We made relatively short work of the 9 kilometre hike from the holiday park to the crossing. It was mostly flat road walking with a more or less steady flow of traffic heading in and out of the park. It probably took us about an hour and forty five minutes.
Similarly, we wasted no time in making our way up to the crossing. The trail had us undertaking a steady climb up to the crossing, negotiating a mix of fairly degraded tramping tracks, well defined boardwalks, and mountain trails; as well as stairs – lots of stairs. It was evident at the lowest sections of the track that the steadily flowing stream, which stems from the volcanic craters above, at times becomes a torrent and takes its toll on the stairs and trail, forging trails of its own. As we made our way further up we were greeted with ever expanding views of the Rotopounamu and Otamangakau Lakes gradually appearing behind us.
As the TA (Te Araroa) Trail would have it, we actually traversed the hike from north to south, which is the opposite to which most people approach it. This had us negotiating the trail with a steady flow of traffic coming in the opposite direction, which made ‘sharing’ the trail a bit frustrating at times. I know that if I was making my way down a trail and I saw someone carrying a substantial rucksack up in the opposite direction, I’d try to ensure to give them the right of way or at least adequate room; it appears not everyone thinks this way.
Anyway, these crowded mountain trails soon gave way to a desolate, volcanic landscape, more akin to how I’d imagine the surface of Mars than anything here at home, except for the snow. We took some snaps of the Blue and Emerald Lakes, noting how lucky we were to have such marvellous clear skies and low winds, checked out the trail of people negotiating their way down the daunting scree slope that we were about to tackle (it must be close to a 75° gradient of loose sand and gravel, and we were yet to make our way up it), and took a quick selfie for family back home. The standard cliche is true that none of the photos could possibly do justice to the views IRL.
We then made our way up the Dune of Doom!
Whilst very challenging, the fact that the scree slope was relatively short in length in comparison to its sharp incline meant that the task was over within a short time when compared to the rest of the hike. It was tough, though, and I did have a slip along the way, falling into the scree with the weight of my pack. We shuffled our way down the other side, with me managing a few more minor tumbles along the way, and gradually made our way through the varying alpine terrain to follow. We ended up making our way 600 or so metres from the side of the track and setting up camp among the birch forest, not far from a stream so we could gather water for dinner and breakfast.
One of the things I’ve learned from my distance running days (which I plan to take up again when I return to Sydney) is that if it’s been some time between runs, it’s always a good idea to let your legs some time to recover after the first initial run back. I’ve backed up long runs after a hiatus previously and it has lead to injury and further time out. After five to six days of continuous hiking under heavy weight, I’ve decided to stay in town for a few days while Jayke takes on the Round the Mountain Trail. From experience, and knowing the way my body recovers, allocating this recovery time will reap dividends down the track. We’ll meet up again around New Years and make our way down to the Whanganui River access point in Whakahoro. It’s also good to have access to a servo/grocery store with some fresh fruit and veges, in fact, that’s where I’m heading right now!