Sunday 25 May 2014

Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand: Twice crossed

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing in Tongariro National Park is one of New Zealand's most spectacular tramping tracks, and is considered the most popular one-day tramp in New Zealand. The crossing passes over the volcanic terrain of the multi-cratered active volcano Mt Tongariro, passing the eastern base of Mt Ngauruhoe which can optionally be climbed as a side trip. The full distance of the track is usually 19.4 kilometre with optional side trails (via Wiki).

I booked a hostel at Turangi which was supposed to be the nearest town to the national park. The hostel owner, Ian was extremely helpful and he introduced me to the other two girls (one French and a German) in my room so that we could become hiking buddies. I spent the first day in Turangi walking around the town, along the rivers with my French roomie. Then we consulted Ian about the weather, he said that judging from the forecast, the rain would come around noon so it would be good if we could start the hike early. So the three of us and a group of five German girls who reached the hostel at 2/3am set off in Ian's car at 4am. We reached the carpark close to 5am under a blanket of stars. It was pitch dark and Ian very kindly provided us with torch lights plus a down jacket and scarf for me. And thus the journey began...

It was extremely calming for the soul to do a hike so early in the morning. But the clouds gathered at rapid speed and soon the mountains were shrouded by clouds.

After climbing up the Devil's Staircase which seemed to go on forever, we reached what looked like a sand-less desert. Visibility was awful and my fingers were numb with cold. When we were climbing up to the Red Crater, the wind was so horrifyingly strong that I felt I was going to get blown off the cliff. The three of us huddled together and braved through the wind. I couldn't really see what's in front of me nor behind me and the slope was extremely slippery with nowhere to hold on to. And since we were in the clouds,  our pants and sock-gloves (we used my extra socks as gloves) got wet due to condensation. We were desperate to get out of this dangerous ascent so when we finally reached the top of the mountain, we were so so relieved.

Since what goes up, must come down, we had to descent soon after, and by descent I mean sliding down the slope. We managed to catch a glimpse of the Emerald Lakes and our hearts swelled with happiness and hope, just for a while.

This marked the start of a super long descent down to the forest/car park. The track is one way so there are two car parks (carpark 1 where you start and carpark 2 where you end), so if you go there with your own transport, you need to find a way back to car park 1.

We kept pushing ourselves forward without stopping and all I could think of was "Please let us get out of here safely" because there was nobody else around to help us if anything happened. Thankfully, really really fortunately, we finished the hike without any injuries and we managed to beat the heavy downpour! It started raining cats and dogs right after we reached the shelter of carpark2. We took 6+ hours to finish the hike but we spent another 2 hours shivering in the car park waiting for Ian to pick us up. I spent the rest of the day washing my shoes and clothes and watching movies with my roomie.

However, I was really upset that my trip to one of the most beautiful hikes in NZ turned out so bad so when I reached Taupo and met my French friends, I decided to go again with them. When we reached the car park, it was drizzling slightly.. Imagine my disappointment. But thankfully it wasn't as cold as the previous time because I brought another jacket along. It was quite funny because there was a guy from Alaska with us and he was only in two thick shirts while I was wrapped up from head to toe.. -_- When we were nearing the Red Crater, the clouds suddenly started to clear!!

See the difference when the clouds were blown away?? It was like a whole new world~~~ a dazzling place I never knew!!! Seriously! I didn't know why the Red Crater was called the Red Crater on the first hike because I couldn't see anything, but this time I knew. It was breathtaking to see the scenery unfold before your eyes and I finally understood why people call it one of the most beautiful hike in NZ.

Emerald lakes in their full glory. The previous photo did no justice. The colours were so vibrant! Really spectacular.

This photo somehow reminds me of Lord of The Rings haha. It got pretty hot once the clouds cleared and being on a mountain means being closer to skin cancer the sun, so all of us started packing up our down jackets.

This time we took 7.5hours because we stopped for lunch and lots of photo-taking. It's definitely one of the most memorable day in my NZ trip.

How to get there?
You can take the shuttle bus from Turangi (I can't remember how much the pickup from Turangi was but definitely cheaper than from Taupo) or Taupo (NZD65). There are a few timings to choose from. The bus will drop you at car park 1 then it will pick you up from car park 2. The driver will tell you what time the bus leaves so you have to watch the time.

1. Weather is unpredictable so be prepared for both summer and winter climate (down jacket, gloves, sunblock, shades)
2. Bring enough water and food!
3. Ian advised us not to wear jeans so I will pass the advice along. Wear comfortable long pants or trekking pants.
4. You don't really need trekking shoes. Sport shoes will do fine.
5. Always check the weather forecast before deciding to go because once you start, you have to finish it! (no transport to pick you up from car park 1!)

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