Sunday, May 4, 2014
I rearranged a lot of plans to make today happen, and I am so happy I did. The Tongariro Crossing far exceeded any of my expectations. This hike was one of my best NZ experiences, let alone one of the best day hikes I have ever completed. I hate that some of the best things I have done here are the same things that everyone else has too, but I reckon they are great for a reason.
Our German friend “Dumbledore” and I met back up with Omri in Taupo to tackle this 19.4km trek together. The views from the Mangatepopo car park alone were incredibly stunning, and by far the most beautiful I have seen on the North Island. Mount Ngauruhoe, or Mount Doom from “Lord of the Rings,” towered before us with traces of snow all around. There was no civilization as far as the eye could see, just these semi ominous volcanoes before us. At the start of the track, there was a sign classifying the current volcanic activity as normal, but warned us to be aware that the status could always change at any given minute.
By the time I finally staggered to the peak of the first crater, the surrounding views left me in awe. Omri treated us to tea at the top, and introduced me to the “Tim Tam Challenge,” which ended in my chocolate cookie crumbled and melted in my freshly brewed hot beverage. The snow on the crossing certainly added a special element to the day, and it was fun to share it with someone from the desert land. I showed Omri how to craft the perfect snowball and even taught him how to make a snow angel.
During our play time, we met a Canadian chick named Caitlin who joined us for the rest of the day. As we exited the first giant crater, the melting snow and unstable volcanic rock on the steep terrain of the ridge made it an uneasy climb up two more ascents, but the reward was indescribable. Mount Doom now stood behind us with the white crater below. Red rock ash covered the nearby mountainous walls, and before us a huge lake surrounded by snow appeared to our left with the Emerald Lakes on our right. The only obstacle in our way was another volcano warning sign and a very steep and slippery slope down.
At this point, we had found vapors ventilating from the ground below us, and we wondered if it would be better to navigate this narrow path alongside the steam on our left or the cliff’s edge to our right. I attempted to descend in the middle, but failed miserably as I slid down the muddy slush on my bum, and arrived ever so gracefully at the base of the first emerald lake. I could imagine this would make for a good swim spot in the summer, but seeing as the other lake was frozen over, I wasn’t about to go splashing about.
About half way through, we parked it for lunch at the last large lake. Up until that point, everything felt like immense scenery overload. This picture does not even attempt to do the Tongariro Crossing any justice, but here we are, Me, Omri, Dumbledore and Caitlin, with the good stuff behind us.