Considering how much hiking I have done in New Zealand, it took me nearly a whole year to complete a Great Walk. There are 10 of them in total, most of them being 3-5 days where you have the option of staying in tramping huts or camping. The one I completed has been acknowledged by UNESCO as one of the mixed cultural and natural World Heritage Sites. This is the Tongariro Crossing, a one day hike of 18 km through the Tongariro National Park.
It is spring here in New Zealand but that doesn’t really mean much when you are up in the mountains. We arrived in Taupo the previous afternoon and were dismayed to hear there were slim chances of being able to hike the next day. In the last few days groups had to turn around as the wind was too strong. However, our luck held out and the weather made a turn for the better. The bus for our guided tour picked us up at 6.45am the next morning from our hostel. We were the first ones on and got a bit too excited to be kitted out with crampons, helmets and ice axes!
Slowly we made our way to the start of the hike where we joined up with another bus. There was about 40 of us in total with 5 guides in total, me and my hiking buddies struck out at the front for the first easy section of gentle walking to warm up on the well formed track, occasionally being greeted with rays of sunshine.
Up next was the ‘Devils Staircase’, a winding path of steep slopes and steps which meant we could climb up high fast. This was a tough section but I enjoyed this part a lot more than what was to come later. I did get frustrated however with the number of times we had to stop for the group to catch us up. I found as soon as I got warmed up and in a rhythm we would have to stop where we got cold. One of the downfalls of having a guided tour, I was thankful to be part of this at the next section.
This next section was to hike across the ‘Red Crater’, sounds nice and a flat right. Well in summer it would be but right then it was covered in about a foot of snow. I have never seen so much snow before in my life! Having never been skiing or snowboarding, and coming from the south of england. This part seemed to go on and on, white clouds descended and all you could see was white. Very disorientating. Glad the guides knew which way to go as it all looked the same to me. Apparently this is a really good place to get views of the surrounding peaks: Ruapehoe, Tongariro and ngarahau. I’ll have to take their word for it.
Next was a technical semi climbing/scrambling section using the ice axes. It was quite intense as you’re going along a ridge line on an ice pathway with steep drops either side, full concentration needed here so no photos I’m afraid.
After this was one of the funnest and slightly mad things we did. So we’d climbed up and now we needed to go down. And we did this by making an ice slide down the mountain. A guide went down first, carving out a chute, and we followed one by one using the axes as an accelerator or brake. Weeeeeeeeee it was exhilarating, sliding down on my back side, it was just like sledding but without the sled! It was suprisingly fast too.
Then it was just a half hour stumble over another plateau before being greeting with one amazing lunch spot.
After a short lunch break we were back at it but it was pretty easygoing from here. Mostly on the flat or downhill and after half an hour the snow had pretty much disappeared. Wahoo! I found the walking through the snow much harder than any of the steep climbs (unless that combined snow as well). I just got so tired of falling get through the snow every other step. It made it such hard work. However I can see why people go skiing and snowboarding, as it’s pretty special up there in the mountains.
The rest of the walk was an easy gentle downhill path curving backwards and forwards. This gave us stunning views of the lakes below. The last hour was through a native forest which was a nice contrast from the vastness of the previous few hours.
Once you reach the end you’re greeted with a cold can of beer or coke and you can slump in the grass in the sun and give yourself a pat on the back.
Or you can throw yourself out of a plane.
Or you can do both. I recommend both.
What a day.
What. a. day.
I’m exhausted from just writing it.