Tongariro - Part One
(back to Whakatane)
Friday, March 10, 2006 (continued)
As I drove to Tongariro I drove along the line of volcanoes the Captain mentioned in the Whakatane dolphin swim. I saw more and more thermals along the road as I drove but I didn't stop to look until I got to the Craters of the Moon - which is an area with a concentrated number of thermals with trails going through them. The photo below shows a majority of the area... to give you a sense of scale, those black dots on the facing hillside in the middle of the photo... are cows!
There were several signs aggressively warning people to stay on the trails. I could see how someone could easily get hurt here. The steam softens the ground until it eventually breaks down allowing the steam to escape. If someone walked on the soft ground, they could easily fall through into the thermal and be seriously burned by the scalding hot steam... ouch! I didn't need to be warned twice. To the right is a photo of me with the steam of a few thermals behind me.
As pressure is released in one area and builds in another, the location of the thermals is constantly changing. It was easy to see where the trails had been redirected to adjust to these changes.
There was the smell of sulfur and hissing sounds in the air all around me in this place. Here's a photo of a thermal with accumulated water... you can see the water is bubbling slightly - heat from the core of the Earth is heating it that much.
After visiting this place I felt satisfied that I had seen Mordor... (a place in the Lord of the Rings movies) I could almost see Frodo and Sam climbing up the rocks here, struggling to return the ring to Mordor. :-) As it turned out I saw more of 'Mordor' the next day... sorta.
As I got closer to Tongariro National Park I had to start thinking about where I was going to stay. I wasn't sure where I was going to sleep that night and I was a bit nervous about that. But when I started to have an idea of where I would be at bedtime, I pulled out my handy campground directory, flipped through and found a place that looked good - The Discovery Lodge. I called and they said the front desk was closing soon, but I could go ahead and set up my tent and settle with them in the morning.
As it turned out the manager, Callum, was still up at the front desk when I got there at about 9 pm so I was able to easily get a tent site, and make arrangements for transport to the Tongariro Crossing trailhead the next morning... very early in the morning. I had to be ready to load a bus at 6:30 am... eshk! I said I wasn't sure I would wake up that early and I didn't have an alarm clock... Callum pulled one out from under the desk before I could even finish my sentence. He was very nice, patient and made it all so easy! It was a good start to my adventure of traveling all on my own.
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Not only did I managed to wake up, but I also managed to actually GET up and make the bus. I was really getting into the swing of this early rising thing... before we loaded the bus, Callum gave us a weather forecast. He said it was very cloudy & rainy, and viability on the trail was very bad. He said it may clear up, it may not, there was no way to know. He said we only paid for the transport if we actually got on the bus... and we could all decide for ourselves if we wanted to risk it or not. I was undecided until Callum pointed out that we weren't going to anything if we stayed at the campground... so I went.
Early on in the hike I met Brian, a British guy traveling for his work as a geologist. He was doing The Crossing for fun and had a pace I could not keep up with. He needed to go fast because he was planning on take a side trail up to the top of Mount Ngauruhoe... I was not even going to attempt that. Eventually, we parted (which was fine) and I slowed down my pace significantly.
At the beginning of the trail I couldn't see much at all along the trail because of the fog. The trail was marked by six foot poles stuck into the ground. There were several points where I got to a pole and couldn't see the next one! And the rain continued.. and got a bit worse. I was wearing Gortex rain gear but the water had gotten through it. And then the trail started going up very steeply, and that's when the wind really picked up. I won't lie... I was miserable. Cold, wet, tired, and even a bit scared because the wind was unbelievable! And maybe it was because of my runs on the beach in Whakatane, but my arches were KILLING me... every step was becoming more and more torturous..
As I reached the peak of the crossing,. there were areas of the trail that were soft, fine gravel (volcanic ash?) and it was like surfing down the trail... I felt like I had very little control over my footing. AND there were exposed areas of the trail with drop offs on both sides. I thought I might be blown right off the trail and down into who-knew-what... I couldn't see the bottom of whatever was down there because of the fog. And as I said the fog was blocking all the views which was frustrating... all this work and pain... and nothing to see.
Here's a photo of Mount Ngauruhoe.... but all I saw was fog...
And here's a photo of the red crater... but all I saw was fog...
Here's a photo looking back on the valley I climbed up out of... but all I saw was fog... you get the idea.
After I made it over the highest point of The Crossing the weather started to break and the trail stopped going up and starting going down. I was able to see the emerald pools, and the blue lake... but by then I was in no mood to stop and dig out my camera. And then I met up with Brian again. He caught up with me after trying to reach the Ngauruhoe peak. Turns out he never quite got to the top because of the wind... plus he decided he wouldn't see much even if he DID get to the top, so he turned back to the main trail.
We had very nice trail conversation as it slowly got more and more sunny, and it got warmer... We rested at a hiking hut and had a snack... that helped my mood quite a bit - so did going down instead of up. As we continued on we passed a couple thermals and walked through a very nice valley... and saw a series of HUGE lakes off in the distance below us. All the while we were having very interesting conversation that improved my mood drastically. Also, Brain had a really nice digital camera with changeable lenses and was snapping like crazy as we went along. He inspired me so that towards the end of the trail, as we went through a rainforest, I finally started taking photos. None of my photos did the scenery justice, but the photo to the left was what the trail looked like when we first went into the rainforest. Further in to the forest, the trail took us along a creek with lovely waterfalls, but it was too dark for good photos.
As we went through the rainforest I actually was getting hot from all my layers... it felt good. I was finally getting comfortable, except my feet were still killing me... and I did something to my knee when I stepped up and over a boulder...
Below are two postcard photos of rainforests that show what it really looks like. They're much better photos than I could ever hope to take... (Photo at left Copyright: Craig Potton Publishing) (Photo at right Copyright: Colourview Publications 2004 Ltd.) They show the height of the big trees, the various shades of green, etc. (I was interested to find out that the native rainforest doesn't change in the fall and winter. It stays green.) They show how the rainforests had mosses and ferns and palms and hardwoods... the diversity was just amazing... and that was just the plants! I didn't see many insects, but I heard plenty of them. And the birds were flitting overhead and chirping... Oh, by the way, New Zealand is often represented by ferns... the silver fern in particular. The underside of the silver fern is a pretty silvery color. I'm not sure why ferns are singled out, but you often saw them on publications, billboards, signs, team uniforms, etc.
The photo at the left show the end of The Crossing where we sat with other hikers and waited for buses to come and take us back to our campgrounds/hostels/hotels. It felt so good to sit down, take off my shoes and munch on the last of my trail mix. Callum was there right on time to pick us up!
Below is a photo of the sign at the end of the trail. Most people did it the direction I did because the ash portion (where I described the sensation of surfing down the trail) of the trail is really difficult to do going uphill. But there were some folks going in just to hike the rainforest part.
After The Crossing I had a long, hot shower and treated myself to a nice steak dinner at The Discovery Lodge restaurant - complete with a glass of wine and a warm apple cobbler dessert. (The Discovery Lodge is a campground and resort in one.) I swear no food ever tasted better.
After dinner I went into the lounge and watched the second half of ' The Return of the King' that someone had playing on the DVD player. That was fun to be watching that in New Zealand. :-) When that was over I was heading back to my tent, but I stopped off to say goodnight to Callum. We got to talking and he asked where I was planning to go in New Zealand. Out came the map and, just like Theresa in Whakatane, he was very helpful in making suggestions and giving me travel tips. In return I tried to help him with the lounge's computer. It was so slow and bogged down with pop-ups. I did what I could to try and clean it up for him and explain how he could keep it clean. That felt good to be able to repay his kindness.
Sunday, March 12, 2006
The next morning I got up early, settled my bill with Callum and got on the road to Wellington to catch the ferry to the south island. I had reserved ferry tickets for a certain time so I had to get there.
To the left is a photo of Callum I took just before I left. What a pleasant face, don't you think? The trail I hiked the day before is in the area of the mountains on the poster behind him. That's what I was supposed to see... Oh well... as I was leaving I was already thinking about coming back through this area on my way back to Auckland to fly out... (go to Tongariro Part Two)
(on to Abel Tasman National Park )