Tongariro Tramp

The mythical people of They weren’t wrong, this truly is the most spectacular one day hike I have ever done. The views you get are just the most incredible, wide eye, soul filling, indelibly memorable brain images I have ever had the fortune to capture. These are the sort of days I wish I was a professional photographer with a super amazing camera and skills to match so I could capture just a 10th of the scenery to share with you guys. Alas, my modest phone snaps are all I can provide to whet your imagination.

The day started at a ridiculous 5:15 am, figuring that 45 mins was as late as I could leave getting ready for the bus at 6:00. We had a short trip to the start of the trail with a load of other bleary eyed walkers. As we got closer, the mountains loomed above us looking surprisingly larger than from the picture postcard distance of the hostel. After a warning about navigating the paths on the mountains and not missing the final bus, we were off.

It started easy enough with a hard packed gravel track winding gently upwards between the scrub. We had been told that there are two special orchids that can be found only on this mountain. A purple one that might just be coming into bloom and a tiny white one that’s really hard to spot. These orchids and the Maori significance of the mountain contribute to the dual world heritage status of this park.

We turned a corner and found ourselves on a wide plateau covered thinly with dribbling water. The colours of the rock were washed clean and popped out of the water surrounded by more delicate mosses and flowering plants. The path was now a raised wooden walkway to preserve the environment, and to stop our feet getting wet (this is how I like my natural conservation the most: practical)

I was walking along chatting to a small Chinese/American girl called Grace. She did her best to keep up with my gigantic gait but when the conversation naturally ended she fell behind to her own pace. It’s nice to share the experience with someone but that can be done in rapturous silence. For the most part, this walk needed no commentary as the scenery provided stimulation enough.

The first big climb appeared and the high quality track turned into wooden steps infilled with gavel. These are convenient and improve the durability of the trail, but take something from the experience… the raw nature and wildness of the terrain, tempered for our ease of passage. It certainly made the climb easier but I was glad when the steps ran out and it was onto the natural earth and rock my feet fell. Bit by bit, inching up this really steep track.

There were even chains and wire ropes bolted into the rock. More for winter climbers I suspect, but still useful today as the wind was doing its best to push us off the steep ridge. At times the clouds whipped over the top so strongly I’m sure I was walking 45 degrees to the ground.

I can’t decide whether I like climbing in cloud or not. On one hand you get no view so there is nothing but the dreary task of walking to occupy your mind. But also you don’t get demoralised by seeing the summit (or false summit as its often the case) so far away from you that the task seems insurmountable. The weather provided a thin cloud cover so at the top there was nothing but white to see all around. It was also bitterly cold so I crested the top of the pass and came down a few metres before resting.

Suddenly a break in the clouds rolled out infront of us and gave a sneak glimpse of the view to be had. I have no words to describe the magnificence. The clouds cleared further and then completely, as if revealing the view slowly so it could be enjoyed piece by piece. Had it been revealed at once, I would probably have cried in my exhausted state, as happened on Killimanjaro. The cumulative effort and determination to reach that point being overwhelming.

The view looks down across a plateau with pools of sulfurous water gleaming green and blue. I’m glad I had taken the early bus at this point, for when the cloud lifted, I saw just how many people there were encamped around me. I made my way down towards the pools, skidding on scree skillfully, staying upright, just. Here I had myself a view almost interrupted by people to enjoy my lunch. I made sure to set off before the throng caught me up.

Across the highest plateau and after the last short climb came the descent. This was another reason for setting off early, to give me plenty of time. After my knee injuries, surgeries and recoveries, climbing a mountain seems to be fine, but descending one hurts after a while.

Luckily the view was something that deserved to be enjoyed for as long as possible. It stretched so far into the distance it almost made me believe the world was flat (almost). The cloud was basically gone and just the most spectacular view was laid out in front of me.

The walk down did get steadily more uncomfortable but I was careful and made it in one piece. The whole walk had taken me 6 hours with 4 hours 40 mins of moving time, the remaining being rests and photo stops. After a shower I enjoyed a few beers I had carefully stored in the fridge for just this moment.

That evening we watched the Lord Of The Rings movie, whooping each time Mt Doom (actually called Mt Ngāuruhoe) came on screen or was barely referenced.