The Tongariro Crossing
Sometime in 2016, Andrea mentioned to me that they were thinking of putting a trip together for the Hamilton & Wellington WLS ‘Family’ to walk the Tongariro Crossing together.
Just quickly, a bit of info for new readers, WLS Hamilton & Wellington is Weight Loss Surgery Ltd – my surgeon David and his CEO, Social Director and wife Andrea. Aside from the whole knowing obesity needs to be treated holistically methodology they live by, the two of them are amazing at getting us all together and helping us find and create support systems within their patient group.
And so the seed was planted.
Little did Andrea know that the Tongariro Crossing had been on my list for about 10 years. I just never imagined it would be physically possible for me to do. But it was now. And I had Ken right there with me, from the very start.
We took Friday afternoon off work, Nixie Lix was at a sleepover with Tash and Chris, and we drove down to National Park. Our group of 30ish was staying at The Park Travellers Lodge only a few kilometers from the start of the track.
We trained for this. We regularly walked between 3-10 kilometers, we weight trained and in the three weeks beforehand, I was run/walking 5km up to 5 times a week. Ken favoured the elliptical and reckons I should have spent more time on that but I’ll tell you something for free, I fucking hate the elliptical.
He might have been a little right, though.
That’s the view from half way up the Staircase. I could see a wee rise and a ridge and I thought I was nearly there.
Hah – not even!
Gear for the Day.
We had to prepare for rain, wind and sun and being out in the open for 6-8 hours. I probably over packed but what I took meant I wasn’t too hot. Or too cold – I just forgot to sunblock the back of my neck so that’s a little red.
I wore good tramping shoes and thick Thorlo running socks. I had my super duper pink polypropylene undergarments on as a base layer, a tee and long pants (that zipped into shorts), a Lululemon vest and my jacket. In my pack, I had spare polypropylene, a beanie, gloves, and fresh socks.
By the time we got to Soda Springs, I’d shedded my jacket, once we got up the Devils Staircase the vest had gone too but I’d still rather carry it and not need it than find I was bloody freezing at the start or even worse half way through!
Food & Water.
We had breakfast before we got on the bus – we had bought a lot of food with us!
I boiled eggs, we shredded a chicken and packed ham and cherry tomatoes. I made a big jar of trail mix and packed some super crunchy apples. We bought Pics Peanut Butter slugs, small tins of tuna and chicken and a few protein bars.
We probably only ate half of what we carried but better too much than too little.
And out best investment – our new daypacks have 3l hydration bladders in them! I loathe carrying a water bottle – I like my hands free so these were just perfect. And they held everything we needed for the day.
We stopped for a very very quick snack at the top of the Staircase and then for lunch at the Emerald Lakes. What a place to have lunch! We had another snack break at the hut on the way down – and then at the bottom carpark.
The day started with the most amazing sunrise. Yup, the saying does go “Red sky at night, shepherds delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning”. But you’ll see. We had THE BEST weather for the whole day!
We had read that the Tongariro Crossing was busy – approximately 2000 do the walk each day, but holy fuck, it was BUSY! You just have to have a little patience. Pass when you can and let others past when they are right behind you. If you walk your own pace and try and enjoy the view, the hundreds of others around you won’t bother you.
We started at the Mangatepopo Carpark which is at 1100m.
The walk to the waterfall at Soda Springs is easy going, only a 250m climb and it’s very pretty. You’re walking around the base of Mt Ngaruahoe, through tussocks and heather and alpine grasses with a wee stream off to the side. Once you leave the Springs, all hell breaks loose. It’s the Devils Staircase. Stairs ongoing up another 300m – for about an hour – at altitude. I stopped lots!
And then you walk across the South Crater and it’s huge and stunning. And that’s where I remembered that we are actually walking across the Volcanic Plateau. I stopped looking at my feet and looked around, the views are almost indescribable!
From the South Crater, we headed up to the Red Crater. More stairs. I thought we were done with stairs! And then the stairs turn into gravel but everyone’s going slow so that’s okay. Once we reached the top, Ken decided he was going to run up to the summit of Mt Tongariro so he did that and I carried on up and then over. Stopping to take photographs of the gash, Vagina Rocks and whatever other rude names the boys have for it – and of course Mount Ngaruahoe, who just looks breathtaking.
And then it was down to the Emerald Lakes.
But the down consisted of skating down 100m or so of scree – which is just loose rock and gravel. And a few hundred other people who are also trying not to ass over and roll all the way to the bottom. Top tip – treat it like sand dunes and dig your heels in and you’ll be right! Maybe.
Once I’d finally reached the bottom I looked for the rest of our group and couldn’t see anyone so I sat on a rock and tried to be visible. In my bright pink polyprops. And once I started seeing them all come down the slope, I waved like mad. After Ken finally made it down to join us, we ate, drank and then decided to get going again.
Walking through the Central Crater to the Blue Lake, you can see massive signs of eruption.
And then we were basically at the top of the top of the top. We reached the Blue Lake!
The scenery changes so much after leaving the Blue Lake and heading down the other side to the Ketetahi Hut. And the first loo stop in over three hours. There are flowers and grasses – and very few stairs. It’s just beautiful especially as you can see across to Lake Taupo.
We zig-zagged down an excellent track – seeing alpine flowers and even a bit of volcanic activity with steam rising from vents in the sides of the hills. The minerals in the water stained the rocks and it was here that I really really really wished I had bought my DSLR and my wide angle lens … all my lenses!
This is where my Pics Peanut Butter slug came in handy. I needed a little something-something to power my super tired legs down the hill. My knees ached, I had a tiny blister and by this point, I was just tired. Ken, Amanda and I were joined by Andrea and Georgie and together we got through the gravel path, passing a few people, and into the cool green bush.
I found myself at the front of the group and I felt quite good about that! We were passing other groups just calling out “Passing on your right, thank you thank you thank you” After we passed the 3km to go marker, I was done. I just wanted out. I happily led my wee pack out of the bush – quite stoked that I was in front and none of them could really see the few tears that were flowing.
What is it with me and physical events and crying?! Perhaps because I’d waited so long to do this walk and now it was almost over. Perhaps because I knew I was tired, I knew I was sore but I still felt strong and even better, capable.
And then we were done! We came out into the sun at the Ketetahi carpark and had to stop moving and wait for our bus. I walked around a wee bit, my legs were little strings of jelly.
One of the best days of my life. I’d love to do it all over again – maybe not tomorrow, but soon. And in the meantime, we’re looking for more walks to add to our list.