I’m thrilled to present another Guest Blog entry, this time from my good friend Mikaela, who’s agreed to write about the famous Tongariro Crossing. (You can read the first Guest Blog from Fabio here.)
I met Mikaela in Nelson, where we bonded over endless games of cards, terrible frozen yoghurt and ORPHAN BLACK THE BEST SHOW EVER. Our road trips ended at midnight because we couldn’t stop looking at sunsets, and we were often the only non-Germans in a sea of, well, Germans. Mikaela is Swedish but speaks English better than everyone, except for her inability to say the word three. In order to get her to write a blog entry, I had to look after her in Wellington for three days and agree to… well, you’ll find out on Wednesday. Anyway, thanks Mikaela!
I’m Mikaela, a friend of JTan and he’s asked me to do a guest blog entry. Somehow I managed to make a deal with him and he’s gonna write a blog entry about hostel life… It will probably be more exciting and unexpected than how I made it sound, but I don’t want to give anything away. 😉 So stay tuned for that!
I will be writing about the Tongariro crossing that I accomplished a few months ago, but before that I’ll do a quick history debriefing.
Me and JTan met at Almond House where we both worked on reception for accommodation. I was the first one to greet him when he arrived, this was probably on my second day of working there. Thinking back now he came off as very typically sarcastically English and I wasn’t sure what to make out of him at first. It also probably didn’t help that I barely saw him for the first 5 days since he stayed in the extension house and me in the main house.
Being English though, he had an automatic + point since I have an affinity for English and British people. When he moved into the main house I quickly realised that underneath the sarcasm was a really funny, sweet guy and he’s turned out to be one of my favourites on this Kiwiland adventure. Yeah I said it!
Now, on to the hike.
“The Tongariro crossing! One of the best one-day hikes in New Zealand!”
That’s what the ads say. Amazingly, the ads don’t lie for this one.
Let’s preface this by saying that I do not hike. Or walk long distances unless I must, and even then I try to find easier ways around it. The Tongariro is the only hike I’ve done in NZ and it might remain so.
Sure, I’ve done hikes here and there but nothing that’s lasted me over half a day.
The idea of having to lug around both camping gear and food to last me for days just does not appeal. If you’re the same as me then you would definitely enjoy the Tongariro. And if you do love hiking and camping you might like it even more because I think you can camp on the actual plateau – even though I’m sure the DOC does not recommend it.
I decided to not hike up Mount Doom (which has another actual name but I’ve forgotten that one and lezbereal, we’ll all still call it Mount Doom) because:
A, you’d have to wake up even earlier
B, going on a 19,4km hike as my first real hike ever, I decided that was well long enough
It was a good call because when I did it, the summit was shrouded in clouds anyway and meeting some people that came down, they said you couldn’t see anything. On a clear day though I would bet it’s fabulous!
You can either take a shuttle, which is what I did and they pick you up/drop you off at your hostel, I stayed at The Lazy Dog in Turangi which I can recommend. If you have a car you can bring it to the start of the track and pay someone to move it to the end of the track for you.
The shuttle eventually drops us off after driving on a gravel road in nowhere for about half an hour, and it’s a slightly daunting feeling when you see it turn around and leave and you realise you’ve got no choice but to walk. You can start it from whichever end you want but most common is to start it from Mangatepopo because it means less altitude to climb.
The first bit is fairly easy, I have a pamphlet with me that tells me that Soda springs is 1-1,5h from Mangatepopo car park and of course I want to be faster or at least up to speed with the pamphlet. Sure enough, I am.
There are a LOT of people doing it when I’m there, back in February. The weather was neither too warm nor too cold, I did it in shorts and a light jumper.
There’s a school class of kids who all look to be at most 11 years old, and they’re fast too. Picking up the pace because I don’t want to be slower than kids.
In doing this I end up behind 4 German youngsters instead – and honestly, I do love you Germans but I don’t want to hear German for the next 8 hours. Pick up the pace again. Almost time for the first meal break.
Sitting on a rock in the sunshine with Mount Doom behind me, eating breakfast. It’s not a bad life, the one of a backpacker.
When you’ve passed Soda Springs it is quite a way up, lots of climbing, until you get to a flat plateau and you suddenly realise what a joy it is to walk on a flat surface. You’re not supposed to linger there though, signs will tell you, because of the possibility of volcanic action.
At the end of the flat plateau you’ve suddenly arrived at the last real climb, going up to the highest point and halfway up is where you’ll be thinking “why did I decide to do this again?”. You might be wanting to turn around and go back but you realise you can’t because the shuttle won’t be there and also you don’t want to quit.
Best to sit down on a rock and have sandwich #2, some more water and look down on all the lucky people still on the flat plateau, mmmmm, flat surface…
You’re so close now though! It’s probably only another 100m climb but oh, it will make you question your sanity in deciding to do this.
Alright, I ain’t no quitter! Backpack on again (definitely have a small backpack and not any kind of bag that you’d have to carry in your hands because you’ll be needing your hands), try not to look up too much. One rock at a time, okay, okay we can do this!
Suddenly you walk around a big rock and realise you’ve made it up there!
At this point you can decide to go to the Tongariro, which looks like there’s barely no elevation, but it’s also ~1h one way. I’m skipping that one too.
Walking forth and seeing the red crater with Mount Doom behind it, you realise why you decide to go here in the first place.
It looks like another planet, with smoke coming out of crevasses and colours of the landscape which definitely look like from another planet. The red crater in particular, which turned out to be my favourite spot.
Just next to red crater is your first DESCENT! Hell yeah. Descending down to the iconic emerald lakes. They look bigger in pictures but none the less very cool. There’s a faint smell of sulphur, maybe I was lucky with the wind, you can smell more sulphur in Rotorua than what I did.
The blue lake is in the background, it is also the last climb, but it’s a tiny one and the walk over there is flat!
If you’re doing it by yourself, dare to be a tourist and ask someone else to take pictures of you. Everyone’s holding a camera anyway.
When you pass the blue lake and start descending down to the car park you’ve got about 2-3 hours to go. It also looks like you’ve stepped right into a Lord of the Rings scene.
The winding path down will deceive you, at least once. It’ll lead up, which is currently the last thing you want to be doing.
Don’t stray off the path even though it looks very tempting to jump straight down instead of doing very long zig-zags.
Cyclonic action and all that! No wait, that’s something else. I mean volcanic.
Going round a corner you’ll suddenly be in a forest. The forest deceives you multiple times. Not in any massive way though.
You’ll also think that you can hear cars and that you’ve made it but it’ll be rivers instead. This happens more than once.
Seeing as how I started out with loads of people, it’s very eerie to find yourself in the forest with no one in front and no one behind, and all you can hear is nature.
This is where I start thinking that maybe this forest is like the one from Hansel and Gretel and I’ve gotten lost and I’m dreaming and really I’m kidnapped by a witch who’s keeping me in a dream-state while she’s making soup out of my blood.
A hike this long will give you more than enough to daydream about.
I can hear cars! I’ve made it! No, it’s a damned stream again.
There’s also the fun deal of trying to get to the car park before 4pm because there’s a shuttle leaving then and the next one and last one is at 5pm, while having no idea how long there is left.
And then suddenly, just as suddenly as you’ve reached the top, the path bends through the thick forest and in an instant you can hear people, you’ve made it through and you’re not the last one out!
It starts raining the second I get on the shuttle and I’m prouder than I’ve been in a long time.
Unless you’re very fit and hike a lot, a very kind thing you can do for yourself is taking a “day off” the day after you’ve done the hike. There is a chance that you’ll be walking around like a pregnant penguin for a day or two. But a very happy one!
I just realised this blog entry suddenly become as long as the hike, so if you made it all the way here good on you, you’re now officially qualified to do the actual hike!
Thank you Jonathan for letting me invade this space for a bit, hopefully I didn’t make all your subscribers go away.
Snapshots of NZ (by Mikaela!)