This is apart of a multi-part post on my 4 Day Tongariro Northern Circuit Tramp. Here is Part 1
My Phone alarm wakes me at 5:15am, I turn and groan slightly. The ground is hard, though I am sleeping on an inflatable mattress and wrapped in a warm sleeping bag, I am just not ready to wake up. I hear snoring from a tent further down and despite my best efforts. I found myself drifting off to sleep…
Suddenly, my eyes pop up, the sky is much lighter, but I can tell it is still before sunrise. I look at my watch and see that it is 5:45. “Shit” I whisper to myself, I wanted to start on the trail AT 6… oh well… Don’t think about it. I get up and start getting ready for the day. I step out, and despite the weather forecast for a cloudy morning, there are no clouds in the sky… anywhere. The day is brilliantly clear, and there are no winds on the mountain. Luck is with me.
This is the big day of the walk, where I will do my greatest ascent, as well as deal with the most people on the trail. Day 2 of the Tongariro Northern Circuit aligns with a fair portion of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is a 1-day hike which is highly popular in New Zealand. Started about 1.5 km from our hut, they walk the same path we do until just after the crossing, at which point they continue to the north-west, and we trampers head to the South. I am scheduled to take 5 hours to get to the Emerald Lakes, and 2 hours to get to Oturere Hut.
I gather my things and get packed early. My tent is still a little wet, but I don’t have too much time for it to dry out before I leave. With everything packed and stored, I leave Mangatepopo Hut at 6:50am. I am the third group to leave, with some of the Family leaving first, and another couple leaving shortly after. I see David and Tracy, the Auckland Siblings moving around and we agree to meet up at the next hut.
The walk at the beginning went uphill steadily, with some expanses where you were walking on boardwalks protecting the landscape nearby. It was easy walking, allowing me to eat my breakfast on the go. This consisted of a couple of Apple bars, and a Chocolate and Peanut bar. This area is called “The Saddle.” Off to the left, however, before things got serious, was a side trip to Soda Springs. My mind immediately went to another Soda Springs.
Chuckling, I turned instead towards the beginning of the true hike of the day.
You are greeted by a sign basically saying “Are you SURE you want to do this?” taking the picture of it, I decide that, yes… after 5 months of planning, and two destination changes… and carrying 20kgs of stuff on me, that YES, yes I want to do this.
I was then greeted by a large number of stairs.
UGH, stairs, my nemesis. If I wanted to walk stairs, I would climb a building! Though logically I know that stairs are needed in these situations, it just tells me that this is a very steep section of the walk. I make my way up. Slowly winding my way up the stairs. The sun is definitely up, but behind the mountain, so I am luckily in the shade through most of the initial ascent. People, whom some of the other trampers called “Daywalkers” as they were only doing the day hike, were passing me slowly and surely. About a third of the way up, David and Tracy meet up with me. We stop to chat briefly, remarking on the number of people on the hike and took some pictures of each other. They went on ahead of me, and I slowly trudge up the mountain.
Finally, I make it to the top of the ascent, huffing, and puffing, and sweaty from the effort, and I am greeted by a long 1km plain between Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe. This feels like being on the moon. There is nothing this far up, except for boulders and flies. Winded, but energetic. I take my time crossing this desolate high plain. To my right, the stately Ngauruhoe, which is often better known as Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. I did think it appropriate that I was carrying a hobbit-sized object on my back. In that moment, I felt a kinship to Samwise Gamgee that I am sure others have also experienced. To the Left, the 6 peaks of Tongariro. The previous night, the Warden’s spoke to us about Tongariro’s many peaks, born from destructive volcanic explosions. We will be climbing on one of Tongariro’s peaks, though the other 5 are off limits for Maori religious and Cultural Landmarks. After the plain, there is another difficult ascent to Tongariro. The walk was rocky and contentious, with chains in a couple of parts to help pull yourself up. There were also areas where you could stop to take photos. I took advantage of that at several points. This 30-minute ascent ended up taking me 45 minutes. I was a little disappointed in myself with this, but I was coming to realise that this is not a race and that just be doing it, is enough. So letting the Day Walkers pass by with no packs on should feel like a defeat, but just a different race.
With each step, I saw the top of the mountain get closer to view, and I willed myself to keep pushing. “You can do it” I would motivate myself. Give me praise for small victories, and set short goals to achieve quickly so I kept going. I pushed for the final 10-15 meters, and pop out on the top…
… to see that there was still more to go.
I audibly groaned, and a woman next to me chucked, “There is ALWAYS more!”
I decided to stop and take a look around. To my right, there was the massive Red Crater, which must have been a result of a massive volcanic explosion. This was also where I first smelled sulfur for the first time today. It is an active geological area, and I could see steam rising lazily from the vents on the sides of the mountains. Ahead of me was another rise, where scoria rock covered the peak. This rock, which consisted of sandy pebbled as big as your fingernails, was slippery and hard to maneuver. I slowly made my way up to this new summit, taking the care to not slide or slip to much. Finally, I hit the top. Look out and down the other side to see sulfur lakes, steam rising, and the long decent north and south.
Directly in front of me, however, was this scoria descent. If climbing up it was difficult, climbing down felt perilous. I slowly made my way down, using my walking poles to balance myself as my feet felt for any foothold. I cringed every time my foot would slip. Thoughts of tumbling into a lake, or down the Red Crater filled my mind as I took one step, and then another. The views were spectacular, and every time I reached for my camera, that thought of falling over washed over me. Stressful, but I just took my time.
One step at a time, I get to a place where I felt comfortable enough to take some photos. Then, the final steps of this scoria. After a few more minutes of stressful walking, I hit the firm ground, and I slip down over to the Emerald Lakes.
Here, a fair few people are sitting down and having lunch, so I decided to sit down and break out my trail mix. I check my watch, and it only 11am. What should have taken me 6 hours to get to Emerald lakes, it only took me four. A surprise for me. While I felt I was moving really slowly, in reality, I was ahead of the curve. As I was finishing up my lunch, I looked over and saw David and Tracy finishing up their lunch. I caught up with them! They were going to go up to the Blue Lake, the last of the sulfur lakes, but that was a 30-minute detour from our hut. With the heat, and the sun… I decided to not take the side trip, and instead, head directly to the hut.
The Emerald Lakes was a treat. The sulfur bubbling up through the water changes the color of the water into Greens and Blues. On one pond, you could see a seaweed kelp-like plants growing inside of it. The smaller lake/pond was not frequented because it was the first area after the turnoff from the hut. The sky and clouds reflected mirror-like on the water and made the whole thing quite picturesque. I saw the older Czech Couple sitting nearby, taking photos, and a couple of the Kiwi Family were wandering around. I was on task, and I was pretty happy with my progress. Clouds were starting to build up, and while I may not have experience with mountains, I do know what weather can be like with a lot of unstable hot air and unpredictable wind currents. So I decide to set off towards the Oturere Hut.