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New Zealand – Napier / Tongariro Alpine Crossing – 26th/27th November

After a spot of skyping home from Hastings and a drive out to some of the beaches south of Napier at midday we got in touch with Roam located in Tongariro to see if the park shuttle service was operating for the next day. They answered with a yes and so we booked ourselves onto the 8am bus with the knowledge that the weather forecast was looking good for our hike.

The drive to Tongariro from Napier is via highway 60 which led us through some fantastic views across to the volcanic park and snow-peaked mountains. It took us 4+ hours or so to reach the campground in Mangahuia with a road-side picnic stop along the way. The DOC campground was already looking full and we found the last van spot. It’s only $4 per person at this campground but it does fill up quickly and by 7pm more and more people were driving in for the hike the next day. We ended up sharing our space with another van as they couldn’t get a spot. In anticipation of a very early start we were in bed by 9pm and wrapped up warm as we could tell it was going to be a chilly one.

It was freezing in the van over night and we did have frost on the windows in the morning for the first time too. We quickly changed from thermals to thermal layering and decided to get to Whakapapa village so we could get a parking spot early and have breakfast there. The campsite was packed so we figured it made sense to get out before the rest of the campground did the same. So we enjoyed breakfast as the sun was warming us up and we overheard locals talking about how good the weather would be today. Yes! We had picked a good day to do the walk which was confirmed when we got on the 8am shuttle bus and they kept going on about how it was the best day yet. After 30 minutes or so in the bus we arrived at the start of the track at Mangatepopo car-park and had a few safety briefings which took another 10 minutes or so. By which time more and more shuttles were turning up full of hikers so we could tell it was going to be a busy walk.

The crossing starts a little like the Miners path at Snowdon; very steady gravel paths and it’s pretty much like this until we reached the Soda Springs. We had both peaks surrounding us; the Mount Ngauruhoe Volcano aka Mordor in Lord of the Rings and the Mount Tongariro. We took the path out to the springs to get a few photos and then re-joined the main path along with what seemed to be around several hundred other hikers. It was busy! We zipped up the steps which has the name Devil’s staircase and at times does feel very devilish, passing by hikers along the way. It does get annoying as the paths aren’t that wide so we ended up backing up behind hikers who didn’t really let us by which annoyed Dave immensely. It took us around 2 hours to reach the first summit area which then gives you the opportunity to take the path up to the volcano. We decided to do the Mt Tongiriro Summit instead and so continued onwards along the plains below the two peaks. Its a flat muddy plain which leads you unto another steep path. This is where it starts getting volcanic. At the next rest stop we took the path toward the Mt Tongiriro Summit which is around an hour and twenty detour, not everyone does this so we got to avoid the busy paths and enjoyed less tourists making this crossing. We hiked along rocky to very unstable ash like terrain before eventually walking up the path on snow. The snow then led us back onto a rocky ridge and we enjoyed a little cereal bar break whilst taking in the views. We could see the car-park where we started from and across the valley to the mountain ranges.

On making our way back to the main path we skidded down the snow as others went down on their bums and rejoined the main path. At this point we came to the red craters which were different from the surrounding landscape and then along a very scree-rocky path which with the amount of hikers going down was really dusty. This path led us down to the Emerald lakes; a group of small aqua pools with sulphur smoking out from the rocks behind. We enjoyed another tuna lunch and then set off past the Blue Lake. This is the most volcanic and active part of the hike bringing in spectacular views all around. When we left the lake area we were on our way down.

It was a long path back to the car-park at Ketetahi and the terrain went from volcanic to grassy meadows and had a very Scottish highland feel to it all. We could see out to Lake Taupo and were really blown away by the contrast in landscapes from the start of the walk. We got down to the car-park at 3.45pm ready for the 4pm bus, the last bus was leaving at 5pm so we had given ourselves plenty of time. On the bus back to the main village we felt very satisfied with our hike, it goes on the list of epic hikes we’ve down so far. The shuttle service with Roam cost $35 each for a 2-way service. We didn’t really want to use the shuttle both ways but it’s difficult getting back to the car-park where the hike starts and its supposedly not as secure as leaving your car at the main car-park in Whakapapa so we decided to go for the easier option.

Back at the van we freshened up and decided to make our way to Wanganui which is around 100km south of the park. It took us a couple of hours to reach Wanganui and we stayed at Avro Motel and holiday park which cost us a measly $20, not bad with free showers and kitchen use. This was our second night of eating out since we made it to New Zealand and we opted for Thai Villa in the centre of town, the food was reasonable and it was nice to have someone else cook for us.

(Leica M9, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.0, Leica 90mm f/2.8, Zeiss 18mm f/4 ZM processed in Lightroom 3)

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