New Zealand. Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Tongariro Alpine Crossing ascending Mt.Doom (Lord of the Rings)

My fellow traveller Dutchie Maureen from Rotterdam, next to me in the bus asked me if I had the guts to sign up to  the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.  The answer wasn’t easy for me. I saw some of my travel mates that had posted photos on social media about their Tongariro Crossing experiences which lasts 7 hour and 30 minutes hiking. My eyes bulged out of their sockets and I threw my hands up in the air whilst thinking, “fair play guys, but this kind of shizzle is not for me.” I’m not afraid to admit that with my 107 Kg, my perfect drinking and smokings skills I’m not the fittest person strolling on Earth and I honestly didn’t think I was capable of conquering the most beautiful one day hike in the world.  I must say, the scenic photos were already urging my mind to think differently, but being the strong minded person I am, I stuck with the, “it’s not for me,” mentality.IMG_0529.jpg

I was snuggled up whilst sitting on my window seat on the coach listening to my Muse playlist. I had already been finding the short scenic walks in New Zealand quite heavy so the fact that I was still thinking about possibly adding my name to the clipboard for a 6-8 hour hike was beyond me! I couldn’t ignore the fact that a part of me wanted to accomplish this.IMG_0527.jpgI knew it would be a challenge, I knew I would love it and hate it at the same time, I knew that if I did complete it I would feel proud (as well as relieved). But you can not compare a 6-8 hour hike with hanging out in a pub for 6-8 hours which I manage easily with two fingers in my nose. As the clipboard came back around, I got hold of it before it got back to the coach driver and I signed myself up! Yeahh ! I was IN…..and that meant a lot to me. The hike is 19.6 kilometers and ascends 765 meter and descends 1126 meters. Wtf !IMG_0528.jpgThe transport picked us up at 5:00am the next day. It was a 1 hour drive from our hotel to the starting point of the hike. On the way there I reread messages from my friends who wished me the best whilst listening to Muse until my phone battery expectedly died. I thought I would have been snoozing at that time of the morning,IMG_7890.jpegI guess the excitement and nerves were more than kicking in. We were only the two of us and I  had already made a pact to stick together, take regular breaks and enjoy the experience to the max. I had my snacks, lunch, 3 liters of water, my old school camera as well as my nerves at the ready. I was all set (well, just about).IMG_7880.jpegWe arrived at the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing at 6:30am. We did a quick toilet stop, gear check and exchanged words of encouragement before setting off. The start of the trail was like the beginning of a great movie: it left a long lasting impression and created excitement for what was yet to come.IMG_0526.jpg There was a traffic light with the signal green. That traffic light warned the hikers for volcanic activity. But we checked the activity on this site before we left https://www.geonet.org.nz/volcano/tongariro. Also, in this part of New Zealand they register almost every day an earthquake. When you want to do this hike: check this site for nearby earthquakes https://www.geonet.org.nz/volcano/eqstats/tongariroIMG_7882.jpegThere was no path at all? There was a peg in the ground every 20 meters. There was no path at all? There was a peg in the ground every 20 meters. Here you had to walk to. How you got there did not matter. The two of us reached the part called “the Devil’s staircase” it has an uninviting name for a reason: it was a tough obstacle to defeat!IMG_7889.jpegAlthough it felt great to overcome that section of the hike, Tongariro Crossing was taking its toll on me. There was no path at all ? There was a peg in the ground every 20 meters. Here you had to walk to. How you got there did not matter.I was damp because of sweating, I had a slight stitch in my lower back and my calf muscles cried for a long break.IMG_7903.jpegThe beautiful views soften the pain. My eyes were spoiled by my surroundings. Pain and sweat were no longer in my mind. This hike definitely had its ups and downs, not just because of the nature of the trail itself, but because of the physical and emotional demand it came with.IMG_7888.jpegThe part I found most difficult was the steep, never ending slope that I very ungracefully stepped/ almost slid down (I felt like Bambi, who knows what I actually looked like!). I nervously watched others fall on their butts and one lady managed to full forwards onto loose rocks.IMG_0530.jpegI found all of this very unsettling, but I actually felt a lot better after I took my first drop backwards. It reminded me that I am human and that it’s ok to fall as long as I get back up. After making it down the slope, the eggy sulphate smell combined with our setting was indescribable.IMG_7892.jpeg Seeing the three volcanoes with different characteristics married with vibrantly colored lakes, assorted rocks and moody candy floss clouds gave a whole new meaning to natural beauty. I felt like the worst of the hike was over and the rest would be easier to manage from that point onwards, a little presumptuous of me, right?IMG_7886.jpegThe hike continued to be visually stimulating and the trail seemed to be a lot kinder on my mind and body compared to before. From now on it went downhill. We walked over volcanic rocks and at each step we slipped down the mountain for a quarter of a meter. This was so nice. Soon we found out that you could also run down the mountain instead of walking.IMG_7875.jpegWith every step we put down our feet disappeared into the volcanic ash.For some strange reason Maureen and I had assumed that we were a lot closer to the end of the trail than we actually were. We realized the reality of our position when we reached the lodge. Our facial expressions were exhaustedly shocked. One of the sign posts stated that we had an estimated 1 hour and 30 minutes left!IMG_7909.jpegAlthough we took regular breaks, ate lunch and drank water frequently, the hike had been extremely challenging. So challenging to the point we had built up a false hope of it being over shortly. Reality check completed. It was time to stop whining and complete the hike! I clumsily rolled my ankle whilst stepping down on to a mesh type fixture on the path. I stopped briefly to review the situation and apply some numbing cream that Maureen had at hand. The people that were passing had stopped to make sure that I was ok and were ready to step in. I reassured everyone that I was alright and able to continue – and that I did.IMG_0525.jpegActually, we had nothing to complain about. The weather was fantastic. We fully enjoyed the sun. I have a number of friends who have done this hike. They did not see anything because of the rain and the misty weather. Still other friends were standing in front of a red traffic light. They were not allowed to walk because of the volcanic activity.IMG_7906.jpegMaureen occasionally kept looking at me every now and then to make sure everything went well with me. I was as good as I could and sooo ready to see the end of the course. Right, left, right, left … a lot of muddy steps later, we made it! IMG_0524.jpgThe Tongariro Alpine Crossing took  about 9 hours to complete (including many short breaks and a lunch break). The feeling of relief and pride was much greater than I had predicted and my smile went from faded to marked. In the evening we took a few beers to celebrate this day. Cheerz ! IMG_7893.jpegIMG_7906.jpegMount Ngauruhoe (volcano) is the real name for Mount Doom. Mt.Doom is a fictional volcano in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth legendarium. It is located in the northwest of the Black Land of Mordor and close to Barad-dûr.IMG_0692.jpeg

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Occasionally the volcano emits stones. Here, just before we entered the lodge, a stone fell through the roof.

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