|The day of the crossing!
What an absolutely amazing, awesome and fantastic day. Possible the best thing I've seen here!
Mind you, had to get up at 5.30 for the privilege. We had a quick breakfast (we'd made sandwiches for lunch last night). A small bus picked us up at 7.00. There were quite a few people going from our campsite (about 20), but apparently in summer and with good weather (which was forecast) the crossing was never going to be anything other than busy, so we just had to suck it up.
The bus took the same route in reverse that we had cycled from Whakapapa, which was great to see. Already the skies were completely clear and we got the best views yet of the volcanoes from the road.
We got to the start point at 7.45. There were probably around 30 people all starting at that time, with more buses arriving all the time, and people the whole way up the walkways we could see. The first buses leave Turangi at 5.30! The speed you do the walk is mainly based on what time your bus is picking you up at the other end. Our bus was coming at 15.00, which was half an hour earlier than we were expecting, so we didn't have much time. The walk is supposed to take about 7 and a half hours, so we had no time to hang around and started off at full charge up the walkway.
The first hour and a half was on a fairly gradual incline, over rocks, scree and boardwalks. The next hour or so was steep – very steep – mostly up man made steps built to protect the ground. It's called the Devil's Staircase. It made me think of the scenes you see of people climbing everest, where there are just hoards of people, kind of queuing up to go up the ropes. It was really busy. I stopped about half way up and looked up to the top and back down all the way back to the car park and I reckon there were a few hundred people I could see.
It was very slow going here. Very hot too, no wind at all. All the time climbing closer to the peak of the volcano!
We got a view of Mount Taranaki (Egmont) too, which is about 200 miles away, which demonstrates how clear a day it was.
At last we reached the top, the South Crater, and then crossed a huge flat open area that was completely covered in soft, yellow sand. It's from here the path that goes up to the crater of Mount Ng splits off. I say path, it's not really, you just climb up the mountain which looked like it was all scree and it was very, very, very steep. The sign said it was a 3 hour round trip, but I thought that looked pretty optimistic, given the heat. In any event, we didn't have the time for the trip, which in a way was a shame, because we wanted to look in a crater, but on the other hand, the walk was hard enough as it was, I think it would have been too much.
So we continued along the flats to the other side, and then started to climb again, to the highest point of the climb, scampering over big rocks.
At the top here lots of people had stopped for lunch, but quite frankly, we didn't have time for that. We were just stuffing food as we walked along.
Nick took a quick detour up to the summit of Mount Tongariro. The sign said half an hour, but again I thought that was optimistic, so I carried on to the Red Crater. It was one of the moments, where you see something you can't quite believe you are seeing. It was amazing. Too hard to describe, you'll have to look at the photos. I spent ages looking at that, and taking some photos. In fact I hadn't really made much progress when Nick caught me up. I'd seen the Emerald Lakes (amazing) and was making my way very, very slowly down a steep, steep, scree slope. Sand really. With every step the ground just shifted below you. I fell over twice in fact, loss my footing. It took me about 40 minutes to get down, and it was only about 500 meters.
At the bottom were the Emerald Lakes. They stank!
Then we saw a sign that said we had 4 hours to go to the car park. Bit worrying as it was about 12 o'clock! We'd been told that it would take 2 hours to get from the last hut to the car park, so we knew we just had to get to the hut by 14.00. I thought we'd already been going really fast, but we had to up the ante again.
There was one last flat bit, which involved walking across a couple of snow fields, one last climb of about 15 minutes, and then it was down, down, down all the way. 3 hours of down to be precise. Fortunately it wasn't too extreme, although there were some big steps which put pressure on the knees, but 3 hours of downhill is a lot.
We made the hut by 12.45, so were back on target.
We were zooming past people left, right and centre. Then, we came up behind some people we knew. We'd met them in Picton, and as they came from Holland and we have no clue of their names, we called them The Duchies. Two couples, slightly older, touring in campers. We'd had a good chat with the two men in the kitchen on the campsite in Picton, mostly about cycling. Then we kept bumping into them – at the ferry port, on the ferry, in Wellington town centre, and then again here, halfway down a volcano!
We walked with them for a bit, chatted, then as we had a deadline, we charged onwards again.
We hit the bush at 13.40 when there was about one hour to go. The last hour was just through bush, and seemed to go on and on, but eventually, at 14.15 we made it to the end and out into the car park. Six and a quarter hours and 19.5 km. Absolutely knackered.
There was a small shelter at the bottom, where all the people who had completed the walk rested, sheltering from the strong sun, waiting for the buses. We joined them. Mostly it was very quiet. Everyone who came round the corner had the same relieved expression on their faces. I felt like we should be applauding them. One funny chap came round and shouted 'yeah, I did it in 3 hours'! Obviously impossible, but very funny.
Fortunately our bus got there early, although we had to wait for enough people to fill it up. We left just after 15.00 and made it back to the camp site by 16.00.
There was a bicycle race today around Lake Taupo, the whole 160 km round! As if that's not enough, some people actually go round two, three and even four times. Mad! Although the majority of cyclists started at 8am (from Taupo) there were still some going past Taurangi when we got back there.
After showers, we grabbed some beers and cheered a few cyclists on, and then after a quick dinner of pasta, we collapsed into bed.
With happy memories of a wonderful day.