Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Russ and Lauren picked us up from Wellington in their 20-year-old Nissan rental that has seen better days. However it has got them around the south island of New Zealand for the past 3 weeks for about a third of what it would have cost to have a new rental car, so totally worth it in my eyes!

On the way to our accommodation we had to stop in the nearest ‘big’ town to get some groceries for dinner and lunch the next day, as we were staying in the middle of a national park. Needless to say, it was pretty difficult to find anything healthy, definitely no whole wheat pasta or bread! Lauren and Russ told us they have pretty much survived the last 6 months of backpacking on a diet of pasta, which they must be pretty sick of by now. Our accommodation was called Plateau Lodge, and was $70 per night for a double room, with a communal bathroom and kitchen. We got a taste of the backpacker life, making some pretty bland pasta with broccoli, mushrooms, green peppers and tomatoes (the only nice looking vegetables at the grocery store we stopped at), pesto and shredded ‘tasty’ cheese (whatever that is, it seems to be the go-to cheese in Australia and NZ. I think its like a mild cheddar. It is really not that tasty). 

We woke up at 6am the next day to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 19.4km hike, which is allegedly ‘the best one-day walk in NZ’. The lodge has shuttle bus that dropped us off at the starting point, at Mangatepopo carpark at 7:30 am. Pick up was from the Ketetahi carpark at either 3:30 or 5pm. If we missed the 5pm pick-up, we would have to pay extra to get them to come out and get us later. Although we are all in pretty good shape, Andy and I were a bit worried as it is recommended you do the hike in proper hiking boots, but all we had were our barefoot running shoes! We briefly discussed the idea of renting some boots from a nearby shop, but decided we'd just risk it. After all, it is summer here so we weren't expecting any snow or ice to trek through. In the end doing it in trainers was ok, but we were lucky that we had pretty good weather conditions with no rain. The only time it was a bit annoying was a shallow river crossing at the end where our feet got soaked. 


The hike traverses an active volcano called Mount Ngauruhoe, which Lord of the Rings fans will recognise as Mount Doom in Mordor. The first couple of kilometers were pretty easy, and for the most part we were walking with lots of other hikers. The first challenging bit is aptly named 'The Devil's Staircase' up to the South and Red craters. This was a pretty challenging part of the hike, and served to thin out the crowds as the less fit hikers fell behind. We managed to get to the top with just one small break, and were rewarded with spectacular views of the craters and volcanos. 



After passing the red crater you descend on loose scree to the Emerald lakes. The key here is to almost 'ski' your way down, and at this point hiking boots would have been welcome as we ended up with lots of little rocks in our shoes by the end. The Emerald Lakes are turquoise crater springs, and their brillant colour comes from various dissolved minerals from the Red Crater. The contrast between the barren volcanic landscape and the lakes is pretty impressive, and we stopped to take lots of pictures before continuing on with our trek.

Lauren, Russ and I making our way to the Emerald Lakes



From the Emerald Lakes you enter the active volcanic zone, and pass steamy bubbling springs as you wind your way through the mountains. The landscape starts to become greener and lusher, until you enter a rainforest for the final few kilometres of the hike. 

In the end we made it in about 6.5 hours including our breaks and stop for lunch. We were pretty pleased with hour time, although we found out later that the record for completing the trek is 1 hour and 45 mins! When we got back we had a hot tub at the lodge to soothe our sore legs which was nice, although the hot tub didn’t have any bubbles which we were all disappointed with. More of a shared hot bath. When we asked the owner if there was a button we needed to push to get some bubbles she replied, rather rudely: “it’s NOT a Jacuzzi!” Ok, then. Andy and I opted to forgo the backpacker dinner that evening and eat out at a nearby lodge, although we nearly fell asleep in our dinner! We had an early night and a very deep sleep before getting up to drive to our next destination, Rotorua.

On the way we stopped to see the Aratiatia Rapids. The rapids are formed four times a day when a hydroelectric dam opens its floodgates to release water from the Waikato river through the rocks. It’s incredible to watch the waterfalls form over about 10-15 minutes, and it really makes you appreciate the true force of water.
Aratita rapids prior to the dam openeing
Aratiatia Rapids after the dam has opened

We also went Jet Boating on the Waikato River from the base of the Aratiatia rapids to the Huka falls. This was the first time I’d been jet boating, and it was pretty thrilling! First of all the sceneary there is spectacular, and whizzing around on a jet boat, doing 360 degree turns  and jumping through rapids is pretty thrilling. It was a bit pricey, $105 for a 35 minute boat ride, but it was worth it!

Our Jet Boat

After that we left the Taupo region, a bit disappointed we weren’t staying in the area longer. I suppose that means we will have to return at some point!

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