I need to thank all those who kept their fingers crossed and prayed for me to have good weather along the Tongariro Crossing and Northern Circuit. It was exceptionally good weather, one boasting with unlimited visibility.
By heading back to the Tongariro Crossing, I was able to tack on more miles to my journey, as I hiked not just the crossing, but the 43km Northern Circuit, which walks up alongside and then back down around Mt Ngaurahoe, a 2,287-meter volcano. It was nothing short of spectacular.
To begin, I hitchhiked back up from Whanganui, catching rides easily. I started from the Mangatepopo Carpark, having hiked the lower section 10 days earlier. As I stood at the trailhead, I chatted with some Kiwis. Compared to the week before where I felt like I was a broken record telling the same, mundane story, I now was beaming with optimism, excited for the days to come and a new found sense of self. And this time, even though I was telling the story of adventure and pursuit, I happily did so, very proud of myself.
From the carpark I walked a short 30-minutes to the first hut. The clouds from the morning/early afternoon almost evaporated as I neared the hut. Wow. What an amazing feeling to be standing back there, with views I honestly couldn’t have even imaged a week before. Mountains looming above, tussock grass swaying in the calm wind, the sun warm on my skin.
At the hut, I set up my tent and enjoyed a conversation with other hikers. Some coming, some going. It was here that I first met Annelie, a woman from Quebec who like me is on a working-holiday visa. I had much enjoyment spending time with her, both of us eager for a good adventure. We also shared other similarities, from being creative types with graphic design backgrounds (tho she actually uses her degree while I just seem to hike farther away from it), as well as having a fond appreciation for wine and chocolate.
That night, after camping outside under a sky dense with stars, I awoke early like a kid on Christmas morning. A shooting star flew overhead just as I opened my eyes. By 6:15, after a nice hot cup of coffee and a breakfast to kick the gears into action, I left from the hut before any of the 15 other hikers even stirred from their sleeping bags.
Walking up, I was giddy by the sight of the mountain. As morning light crept it’s way up the valley, shadows shrinking by the mile, I ascended up to the junction that would take me to Ngaurahoe’s 2,287-meter summit. There I dropped my pack and carried just a small bag of water, snacks and a jacket. The ascent climbed up steep scree rock, which wasn’t as hard as others had mentioned, but of course I’ve been hiking for quite some time and instead of taking two steps up, one step back like most described, I negotiated my ascent using sturdier rocks.
At the top, I was dazed by the sweeping beauty. Having started well ahead of the crowd, I had the summit to myself for the first hour. 360-degree views unveiled a beautiful landscape. To the north, I looked down over Tongariro and across the Taupo Valley where an abundance of steam vents, lakes and volcanic features lay. To the east sat chains of unspoiled mountains, seemingly untouched, nearly impenetrable. To the west, I could see all the way to the ocean, including Mt Taranaki. And to the south, views across the Waihohonu Valley and two pristine lakes, appropriately named Teal Lakes.
Once the crowds arrived, I headed back down. There I joined the crowd and climbed up to the crossing and Red Crater. As I stood there taking in the landscape, a fella came up beside me. Before I could mutter the word, he said it first. “Spectacular.” I laughed, still totally giddy for an absolutely amazing day.
The day grew even more better when I ran into Annelie. Together we hiked down and around the Emerald Lakes, and then a side trip to Blue Lake. We had so much fun trying to describe the water’s color and taking photos of just about everything and anything. After we hiked on to the hut, where we joined several other hikers and Rachel, the volunteer hut warden. We watched the sun slowly set, drank wine and after dinner, ate our chocolate.
The next morning, I slept in, awaking just before 7. My thighs were noticeably sore from the summit, but nothing a few miles couldn’t shake off. After a relaxing morning chatting with other hikers and enjoying a cup of coffee, Annelie and I started back out onto the trail. I can’t tell you how much I miss hiking with others, especially those you get along with so well and those you have similar paces with. And I love meeting other women on the trail, or road(cyclists), because they are simply inspiring and its a contagious attitude of happiness, hope and optimism that seems to circulate when within their company. Annelie was definitely a highlight to the hike, and I hope we one day cross paths again.
Our paths separated by noon, when I continued on while she remained at one of the last huts on the Northern Circuit. The day kept getting better as the beauty kept evolving, transforming with each passing mile. And, before the trip came to an end, I had one more awesome experience, a cherry on the top: a nice rejuvenating soak in a cool creek winding down from Mt Ruapeho. What a great ending to the trip, and what a great way to celebrate my 30th birthday.
From the end of the hike, I hitched out of Whakapapa Village and back down to Whanganui. En route, I met Trevor, a man who lived in Ohakune and he offered me a place to stay. He treated me to a birthday dinner, fried scallops, a nice salad and a few beers. By morning, I was hitching south again and on to the next stage of the adventure: From “sea to sea” via bike. I’ll write more on this one later, all I can say is that my $100 police impound bike has gotten me 100 k’s and that my tush is quite sore as I am biking with my pack on my back. I am very much looking forward to a day off to rest my legs, my tush and to have a crisp, cool beer from one of the Wellington breweries.