Day 36. The roof drummer came again, practising hard into the night. Out on the road heading to our next stop Whakapapa Holiday Park things did not improve, frequent showers followed us south to Tongariro National Park.
Once there we did manage the Ridge Track a short 35 minute return in mist and rain views incredibly limited!
Long-suffering had been keeping tabs on any bad weather systems in the park over the past week. The shuttle service – for the one way Tongariro Alpine Crossing, our planned day walk – had been cancelled for 10 days previous to our arrival. On check in we were pleased to hear the next day they were planning to run the shuttle, we booked ours for 7am to make an early start.
Day 37. Tongarriro Alpine Crossing 6-8 hours 12 miles one way. Weather – glorious sunshine but very cold.
The full shuttle bus left camp at 7am, 20 mins later we were dropped at Mangatepopo Road End Shelter. Our driver gave us all a personal safety brief – all essentials, we should be carrying was in our rucksacks weighing us both down along with all the extra layers on our bodies. Actually joking aside this is a serious and potentially unpredictable walk across the crater of an active volcano, open to the elements and not for the feint hearted!
A gentle start along a well marked gravel track got all the muscles well oiled for the terrain to come.
Already even at a lower altitude overnight ice had formed over any wet areas as we and hundreds of others, tramped along boardwalks and track through a flat and brown tussocked landscape.
Soon wooden steps marked the start of our steeper ascent, all the while Mount Doom from LOTR fame looked down from our right.
The track snaked left and right up and down over black volcanic rock, where the track was unclear marker poles showed the way forward.
Tracking down to the first crater we were met with ice and slush covering this vast, flat, grey and barren lunar landscape like nothing we had experienced thus far. On the far side of the crater we could see the climb to come.
In front and behind 1000s of walkers tramping single file in ant like lines all taking advantage of the fine conditions – weather systems change rapidly here.
Mount Doom loomed over us in its snow capped entirety on this almost cloud free day.
From the welcome flat, decision time, last chance to turn back if conditions had changed for the worse!
Long-suffering eager to carry on…little did he know what was to come!
Conditions the same it was onwards and upwards, a slippery steep assent up a rocky slope – many feet before us had turned any foot surface into sheet ice. Our feet slid wildly, in a split leg approach as we desperately tried to find any grip possible. Sensibly I had for the first time attached my hiking pole and here it was put to good use as Long-suffering for once was less stable than his muse!
There were breaks some flat areas for sustenance and rest, strategically placed toilets provided for comfort breaks along the route.
So much to see, much tripping went on from us and those around us, as our heads swivelled Dalek like above rugged terrain, too late to avoid the dip or uneven rock.
The muse posing still in one piece just…..
Eventually we made it up to the top of Red Crater, as high as we could go on this walk -some 6,159ft high. From many fumaroles – vents on the side of a volcano – steam and gases billowed out. Sulphur the smell like rotten eggs – assaulted our senses.
Here we stopped for lunch perched on the crater edge volcanic rock beneath us, overlooking Emerald Lakes.
From here an impossibly steep scree – part of the track – had us all slipping and sliding through the loose volcanic gravel. Momentum propelled our feet ski like, many including us hit the deck. I slid, landed coccyx first onto a rock, luckily my rucksack took the brunt of the impact.
Relieved to still be in one piece we took a slight detour around the beautiful Emerald Lakes tiptoeing nimbly across a stream….
…..and then up and down to central crater overlooking Blue Lake, here thick snow lay in patches on the ground.
From there it was for the most part downhill via steps and gravel paths zigzagging across the side. A bare area and hut remains, an eruption from the Te Maaori vent sent flying rocks crashing through the roof on 6th August 2012 luckily the hut was empty – cold winter conditions – it was not rebuilt just in case….a reminder on the way down how unpredictable this volcanic area can be
At times it was bitterly cold even in the sun as the biting wind cut through our layers, other times in a few more sheltered areas we were stripping off.
Parts of the track were covered in thick snow one of which was precariously close to the edge. Of course it was this one I chose to almost dislocate my hip on as my bad leg twisted underneath me at a weird angle. The hiking pole could not steady me but the flexibility from pilates definitely saved me as Long-suffering looked on aghast before helping me to my feet.
On firmer ground we looked back to watch some young lads climb up from the snow covered track and body board down the side, long-suffering ready behind his lens managed to capture the reckless but thrilling – for them – moment.
The last part of the track saw us tramping down flight after flight of steps and eventually walking stream side through forest and out to Ketetahi Road End Car Park to await the first shuttle back to Whakapapa Holiday Park and some much needed rest.
After Some rest and relaxation a couple of drinks at the The Chateau with a window view of Mount Doom minus the top now shrouded in cloud…