Friday, April 17, 2015

Hiking the Tongariro Crossing

All right! The wait is over! No more food pics and green stuff!

Welcome to....Mount Ngauruhoe! I'm still working on pronouncing that correctly. This is the mountain Peter Jackson saw and said THAT. That is Mt Doom. 

This is our first glimpse of it from across Lake Taupo. About an hour and a half away.

Forty minutes away, this is more of the Tongariro view with Mt Doom -->>

What people generally hike is the Tongariro Crossing. That's the smaller hump to the left of the huge volcano looking volcano. The path skirts it. You can climb the actual volcano, but you need special gear and more guts and not mind possibly dying at any moment. Because you can run fast enough if it blows up, in my expert opinion.

We arrived at Tongariro National Park, a small town, and stayed at Piper's Lodge. I highly recommend this place if you are going here. It's reasonably priced and the people who own it are very kind and welcoming. It's half ski-lodge, half backpacker hostel so caters to a wide range of people.

6:30am and I have most of my layers on. Everything I eventually wore, head to toe:

wool cap
merino wool shirt
merino wool longsleeve
merino wool jersey
fleece jacket
huge red raincoat (you'll eventually see below. It's my new best friend in the world.)
merino wool long underwear/leggings
wicking quick-dry zippable windbreak pants
rain-shell protection overpants
wool socks
hiking boots
my backpack with extra clothes and lunch and feet bandaging supplies.

Wow. That sounds like a LOT of clothing. It was. I've never worn so much at once in my life. My aunt spend three days prior trying to convince me that yes I would need that many things. I just couldn't comprehend it!

Or bus arrives at the start...and this is our view of Mt Ngauruhoe. Yep. This whoooole way, and clouds/mist in the sky the whoooole day.

For most of the hike, it's hard to relate the scope of it all. Basically it's 12 miles of walking going from about 3,670 ft to 6,188 ft, and back down to 2,490 ft toward the end. I didn't have any trouble with altitude breathing, I've hiked higher, so thankfully that wasn't another thing to worry about.
Check out the official site if you're interested in hiking, or the LotR filming details.

Wonderful Mt Doom view.
 You can almost see the long line of people. We accidentally went Easter weekend...along with half of the tourist population of New Zealand.

There are only two bathrooms. (Two toilets.) One pair about 2km in, at the base of the hill above. And one about 3km from end of the trail. And most of it is moonscape...

So when you get desperate you have to go away away to find a rock. And hope it's not taken.
 This is part of South Crater I think. I loved it because it's so desolate and makes you feel extremely tiny. Literally like you're tramping across the moon, something as close to it as you can get.

  We walk up the other side of the crater.

At this point, I turned to Susie and pointed directly ahead. "Oh we're heading over that ridge?"
She moved my hand all the way to the left. "No Leah, we're going up that ridge, and more up that way." Yes, into the scary clouds. (Mt Doom out of screen to the right.)

Looking back at that crater. Mt Doom beautifully looming in the background. (Not.)

 Up on this ridge, the winds were vicious and very dangerous. I have no idea what the speed was, but my feet were constantly sliding toward this drop if I let go of a person or rock. I have no idea how my phone didn't fly out of my hand while I took these.

Stopped briefly to view this.

For a small part of the windy area there was a holding cable. But only for like a hundred meters of it.

We trekked on into the mist. I felt like I was hiking off the edge of the planet.

And on the way down the other side, we finally come to the lakes. 

They're huge! Tiny dots of people.

This is looking back up at the mist, but the way down to these was a full half hour of sliding sideways on your shoes on loose rocks and dirt. It was fun in a weird way, and the wind died down to nothing, the quiet suddenly eerie.

Lots of people stopped at the lakes, but we were high on adrenaline and not hungry for lunch yet. I had a killer headache from the wind and constantly sniffing and wiping snot flying off my face. Good times.

So we kept walking. There was a certain song stuck in my head.

And walking. More clouds. I'm sure there is a fantastic view somewhere.

Can you read the sign? Read the sign.

And walking.

 And it cleared up for exactly three minutes.

More walking. Found bathrooms but the line was fifty people long. Had lunch around here, but I think before the ground flattened out.

And then walked again. Allllmost there. We had to catch the bus back at 3:30 or there wouldn't be another one until 5:00. It was 3:10 at this point.

 And we finally made it with five minutes to spare!

Go team!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Opotiki & Orakei Korako

On our way to Mt Doom now! It's over a four hour drive, so we made some stops. The rest of our people drove in another car, but we met up with them for some thermal pool observing.

Opotiki was our first stop. I managed to arrange a meeting with my mom's best friend and my middle-name-sake, Bradie. It had been probably twelve years since I'd seen her last, and this was a lovely reunion.

(I have my Mordor shirt on!)

Second stop! Orate Korako. It's near Rotorua, a place known for the bubbling mud smelling of sulphur and geysers. Two awesome features. This place is more off the path, little less touristy. It didn't smell too bad, and the weather turned out to be unusually hot.

You take a small boat ride across the late to the steamy rocks on the other side...

Not all public toilets are this spiffy.
(End Interlude.)

The colors are a type of lichen, and sometimes the result of a mix of minerals. There are many signs warning people not to stray off the path. The ground could collapse all the sudden, and the water is all boiling anyway. Nagging in the back of my head though was, "This boardwalk could collapse or explode in a geyser at anytime too though..."

Not snow. Hardened minerals, I think.

The area looked VERY Jurassic Park. It's hard to tell from the picture.

And a cave! It was a lot creepier and more gloomy in real life.

I miss my cousins already!