1055-1168 kmTaumaruni to National Park, including Tongariro Crossing, one of NZ’s Great Walks
As one can imagine, this was a section I was looking forward to. It included one of NZ’s most renown tracks, the Tongariro Crossing, and one that, when the weather is good, boasts exceptional views. It’s a volcanic landscape, one that reminds me much of my hometown of Bend, Oregon, especially the area up below Broken Top and the aquamarine lake that is nestled beneath the extinct volcano. It has a beautiful trail, gentle grade (for a thru-hiker) and will leave you with impressionable memories. Well, upon leaving Taumaruni and connecting my footsteps with first a 20k road walk followed by pleasant hikes along a multi-use track and then hiker-specific track, I met the base of Tongariro National Park. A big cloud hung across it’s profile, and overhead they seemed to only race toward the mountain. What timing, right? I considered waiting out the storm, but that would have been at least four days. I would have spent loads of money in one of the nearby towns and I’m sure I would have been anxious wondering about all the what-if’s. What if there is some sort of inversion and its spectacular up top? What if it turns out to be a similar experience to my ascent up Mt Flora in Colorado where I was caught in a dreary climb of freezing temperatures, howling wind and a frost that glued to my right side only to vanish at the top and yield the most spectacular summit and one of the most beautiful, enjoyable days along my 2011 CDT thru-hike. What if? So, I pushed on.
It didn’t yield views. It didn’t yield the most beautiful, enjoyable days. Instead I was met with a misty, foggy ascent in which I honestly didn’t even know I was standing at the top until I saw a sign saying that I was at the top. I never saw Blue Lake or the turquoise emerald pools, nor mars-like craters or any of the nearby peaks, Ngauruhoe, Tongariro or Ruapeho. What a shame, right? Yes I know, and what’s been more of a shame is how many people have said its a shame. It makes me depressed. The experience did make me laugh, though, especially since I was going “against traffic” and even on such a dismal day (which is not atypical on the crossing) there were HEAPS of people coming at me. I was in high spirits knowing I wasn’t the only one with such bad luck. As I found the energy and spirit to run down the western flanks, at least a hundred people climbed up, eager to reach the crossing and eager to get down and back to the warm shuttle bus waiting for them. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the amount of unfit and unprepared folks coming up. Gym shoes, no rain wear, cotton shorts and even one young woman wrapped up in a blanket.
That afternoon I stayed at one of the huts on the mountain. There I warmed my spirit with a bit of wine and a game of yatzee with some other travelers. It was good to be in the company of them, and to again know that I am not alone out here. It’s much harder to hike solo through hard times than it is to have company and the ability to laugh it off. Regardless, the Tongariro would be a learning lesson that I would spend days trying to sort out. It would be something that would reshape my outlook on life and that would have a lasting effect on the decisions I would make.
One of the highlights of this section was meeting another traveler, Silva. He was a young man, about my age, from France. He was cycle touring New Zealand, which was starting to seem like the better way to travel this northern island. We met at a very hiker/biker friendly Holiday Park, in which we both pitched our tents in the back lawn. We both arrived a bit late (after 7) and as I threw up my tent, he came over to ask about my gear and hike. Before evening knowing each others names, we were full swing into conversation talking gear and travel. I miss this so much. I miss a sense of community and I miss being around like-minds. That night, we met up in the community kitchen and cooked up a nice big pasta with mushrooms, onion and courgette, which is actually a french word, but one that the kiwi’s have embraced and means squash. We added some fresh herbs from the garden and a little blue cheese and ahhhh…lovely. By morning I was hiking south, but a few kilometer’s before I turned off the main road and back into the woods, Silva road up behind me. He hopped off the bike and walked with me for an hour. It was so nice to have someone to walk with and we shared the reasons as to why we did these journeys. Me for a sense of adventure, to attain a simpler form of life and to be grateful for what life can offer, to discover my inner-self and to find compassion, and because I love to eat. For him, thinking. Which, I could tell he wanted to explain more with an emotional context, but because of the language barrier, he couldn’t find words. At the junction of our routes, we took a few photos and shook hands goodbye. We joked about meeting up again in our travels, in some hut way down south. Who knows, it would be fun though.