Is the weather okay? Its winter, but it seems fine, then again who knows which way it could turn. Do I have the right equipment and clothing? I have a few cookies, walking pants and walking shoes. Am I healthy enough? I hardly exercise and I’m an ex-smoker, probably not.
These were the questions presented to me upon a rather intimidating sign at the beginning of the trek, alongside the word “STOP” in bold lettering. Taking my answers into account, I probably should have considered turning back then. This ought to have been my first indication that I was not prepared for the 19.6-kilometre Tongariro Alpline Crossing trek.
Nonetheless, we decided to proceed regardless. By the time we reached Soda Spings I was already wondering if we’d completed The Devils Staircase. I would soon come to realise that it would reveal itself soon enough.
Flights of wooden stairs have been built right into the mountainside. The incline was too big for this shorty, but as J.R.R. Tolkien once said: “even the smallest person can change the course of the future”. The stairs climb from 1400 to 1600 metres above sea level. We were told it takes around 40 minutes to reach the top, but it took us well over an hour.
1. (noun) rung, level, stair, stairs (ngā kaupae), stairway, staircase.
As you reach the top you take in the final views over Mangatepopo Valley. This is where those with a death wish can take the track to the summit of Mount Ngauruhoe, aka “Mount Doom’, adding an addition three hours to their trek. Although I’m sure the views from the top are spectacular, we had been advised today’s weather permitted it unsafe. However, if your name is Frodo Baggins and you have a ring to destroy, this is where we would go our separate ways.
The key thing to remember throughout this trek is that when you think the hard work is over, it isn’t, it’s just a different, new and improved kind of difficult. The next challenge came on the south crater. The path in front had become thin and uneven. As you make your way to the highest point, your feet are slipping beneath you and the ground has turned to ice. Crampons would have definitely come in handy right about now. Here, you are a little bit more exposed to the elements; this means your lips have turned numb and you’re being hit in the face by strong winds. This makes it a bit of a scramble to get to the top as unharmed as possible.
We saw a guided tour in front and thought it best to ask the guide some much needed advice before someone died. She told me to walk beside one of our taller, much stronger friends in case I blew off the edge. Thanks for the great advice, but that wasn’t the motivation I was looking for.
A big strong friend in hand, we crawled up. She was probably right, the wind was so strong and the floor kept getting tougher to manoeuvre on our way up. I started to worry about Beth, she’s fairly small too. I looked back; she seemed to be doing okay. I felt bad she didn’t have a big strong person to protect her like I did.
After finally crossing the ridge and escaping the wind, we came into view of the blue and green lakes. It was beautiful, but what goes up must come down; we bent our knees, which helped us keep our footing. It seemed to work with only a few near miss haps.
We continued on, enjoying the rolling terrain. Watching as the landscape gradually become greener, until we finally descended into a humid forest. Here, the decent is slow and steady. This should be easy, but it’s not. After about an hour your knees knock with each step down. It’s agonising and it doesn’t stop. This torture continues for about three hours.
From out of the blue you pop out at the parking lot. The finish line is a bit disappointing. After everything I’ve just been through I was expecting a standing ovation, followed by a Blue Peter Badge (that’s not too much to ask). We rested and waited for our shuttle back to civilisation. We hopped on and I fell straight asleep, nursing my aching muscles, but feeling like I accomplished something great.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a challenging one day/one way trek, often described as New Zealand’s greatest one day hike. I can see why, it feels as though you’ve walked through many diverse seasons and landscapes all in one day. Completing this trek is definitely huge accomplishment. A truly unforgettable experience, and to my surprise no one died.
See here for more information on the Tongariro Crossing.