Like any good travel writer, I turned—where else?—to the Internet when planning my whirlwind tour of the North Island, namely to fellow bloggers and Twitter friends who have far more knowledge of New Zealand than I. And I’m glad I did—a number of fellow travelers threatened to hang me up by my toenails and sacrifice me at a Maori powhiri if I didn’t hike the Tongariro Crossing. Well, generally, when I’m traveling solo, I don’t engage in too many day treks, particularly when my time is extremely limited as it happened to be this trip. (Technically, I wasn’t exactly solo, but that’s another story for another time.) But I didn’t want to risk losing friends I’ve still never met in real life, and in retrospect, I’m sure glad I listened to the Internet.
So armed with my day pack and an oversupply of trail mix, I set out to tackle what is hailed as one of the world’s greatest—if not, the best—day hikes.
The hike was somewhere in the area of 20 kilometers (roughly 12 miles). That’s a lot of time spent talking to myself, let me tell you. And man was it steep in places. It takes most people in the seven-and-a-half-hour range to complete. I finished in 5:50 (and that was with a couple water stops and a half-hour lunch break with some old Kiwi men I met along the way). Guess all that running occasionally pays off.
There was an additional three-hour hike to the top of this crater (a lot taller than it looks in this picture; an additional 6,000 feet or so), but I wasn’t about to press my luck.
Since the area is very volcanic, there was a lot of scrambling over boulders to be done—my calves are killing me at the moment.
It probably comes as no surprise that my favorite part of the walk was the perfectly flat stretch that reminded me of the Arizona desert (because I’m shamelessly lazy like that).
In fact, much of the trek was strikingly similar to the American Southwest (see Arches National Park here, ha?).
Everyone—the Chateau employees, bus driver, Internets—highly advised packing warm gear. So I lugged a spare set of pants, sweater and fleece 20 kilometers. In the end, I needed a long-sleeve shirt for maybe 15 minutes of the entire day. Glad I didn’t invest in gloves like the national park worker advised.
When we neared the highest point, it began to reek of rotten eggs. OK, people, who cut the cheese? Turns out it was just a plethora of geothermal activity.
The path going down between the lakes was at about a 60-degree grade and sheer loose gravel. Guess who bit it (more than once) and slid down much of the slope on her ass much to the mixed horror, entertainment and bemusement of the fellow trekkers? The same girl with the big goose egg on her forearm and scrapes down her thigh. But, man oh man, were the views spectacular.
For almost the entire second half, I could see all of the Lake Taupo region in the distance. See, Mom, turns out I’m not always a magnet for bad weather—every single day in New Zealand has been cloudless and brilliantly sunny.
The last three kilometers were primarily downhill and through the bush. I swear it was double that distance—someone needs to go out and re-clock the path. I pretty much jogged that entire stretch, as I was just ready to be done (and also, I hadn’t seen a soul in an hour or more—I feared I’d somehow gone astray!). At the end of the day, I was pooped and fell asleep on the bus ride back to the Chateau. When we arrived, I was all prepared to jump in the pool, only to find it under construction (of course it was). So I had to wait three hours for the backpacker to return from his alpine experience and the 90-kilometer drive to Taupo before I could finally clean myself. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat (though if I were to do it over, I’d stay in one of the budget accommodations like the Skotel, as opposed to the Chateau, as the rooms there were dark and dingy and not at all worth the price). Three days later, my ass may still be cursing me, but—cliche though it may be—it’s an experience I’ll never forget. I will say this: I’m going to need one big vacation after this vacation!