Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

After all our stable weather it seemed the right time to be thinking about doing the Tongariro Crossing, one of New Zealand's best one-day walks - definitely on the "things to do before you die" list. That's a cheery thought... The walk is 18.5 km and is scheduled to take 7-9 hours depending on the brochure you read.

I decided that the track highlight should be 'visited-link" colour.

The Chateau on Mt Ruapehu

The plan was to drive down on the Friday night after work, and stay at the Chateau, on Mt Ruapehu, then up early for the 7:00AM pickup to the Mangetepopo end of the trail. After a very slow exit from the city with peak hour traffic adding an hour to the trip, we were underway, with friends Peter and Claire an hour ahead of us. Its a good road down through the back roads to Otorohanga, through Te Kuiti (where we had takeaways - but not again) and through to Hwy 4 down to the mountains.

We stayed at the Chateau 2 nights - it was great - I recommend it (booked via, whatever you are doing in the National Park region.

The weather had ideas of its own however. The Saturday walk was cancelled due to gale force winds and rain. Not so bad as we could therefore afford a sleep-in ;-) There are a couple of walks available from quite close to the Chateau, so we decided to 'road-test' our gear on a couple of them - The Silica Rapids walk and the Taranaki Falls walk - both around the 5km / 2hours and family friendly. Boy did we get soaked - Viv had on her new North Face wet weather overpants and she was dry - I had a nylon coat and spray pants and was saturated. That's why you need to spend more money and get good gear. Great walks through varied terrain which we survived - at what would be about half the distance of the Tongariro Crossing, without any damage.

The Tongariro Crossing

By late Saturday afternoon the Crossing was scheduled open for Sunday, with the winds and rain dying out overnight. And so they did, with an overcast day with little wind greeting us at 5:45AM Sunday morning.

Looking South: Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe, and Mt Ruapehu from the edge of the Blue Lake.

The overcast weather was very welcome - I can imagine that a clear hot summer day would be hell-on-earth - truly walking in Mordor! Of course Mt Ngauruhoe IS Mt Doom from the Lord of the Rings trilogy and alot of the landscape is reminiscent of the movie.

The bus took us to the Mangetepopo carpark where the trail starts for most people - this is the preferred starting direction. The driver said there would be approx 400 people on the trail that day. The first part of the journey is quite flat, and includes a board walk to the bottom of the Devil's Staircase. You ascend the stairs for nearly an hour, with great views to the West towards Mt Taranaki in the distance, which we could see quite clearly. At the top you can choose to go up Ngauruhoe for another 2 hours to the summit - which we didn't do, but which I will do on another trip. 2 hours up, half an hour down - it looks impossibly steep.

Then across the Tongariro South Crater and up to the top to overlook the Red Crater, where we stopped for morning tea. Truly majestic scenery - and quite harsh - and yet as we sat there we noticed lady-birds on the rocks eating moss - very unexpected.

Down to Ketetahi

As we started our descent the sun came out and it started to get very hot - just as well we were going downhill! Even so, we were all shedding layers as we approached the Ketetahi DOC hut - and starting to think about lunch. I was thinking - "Why did I carry all this food up the mountain?"

We stopped for an hour, took boots off, and had lunch. What a fantastic vista North across Lake Rotoaira to Lake Taupo in the distance.

Then the last leg of the walk - down over the tussock to the bush, and the Ketetahi carpark. As we entered the bush the air cooled and it was at first very pleasant. After a while though it was muggy and close and a bit of breeze would have been most welcome. We arrived at 10 minutes to 3:00 - and the buses were all there waiting to take us back to the Chateau - or wherever you might be staying. I noted that a few people with cars and campervans had parked at the Base Camp and bused from there - a safer alternative to leaving a car in the end-of-trail carparks.

This walk is just fantastic and you have to do it. Given that we started early and completed by 3:00PM - and only moderately fit - I think that it is within the grasp of alot of people.


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