We picked up Mazda2 #2 and were off making our way north. We drove on the first highway looking road in New Zealand, for about 45 minutes anyway.
We made our way up to National Park. No, we didn’t miss the name, the town itself is called “National Park”. (The national park near National Park is the Tongariro National Park) We checked in to the hostel and got not only a double bed but bunk beds too! (Amy liked this as we now had 3x the blankets).
We checked the conditions of the hike we were planning to do the next day and sadly things didn’t look good. Rain and clouds in the morning and through the early afternoon, the exact time we would hike. We decided to wait until the morning and see if things improved.
At 6:45am we checked with the hostel reception and the conditions had not gotten better. The day after looked more promising so we decided to post-phone until then. We packed up and headed to Lake Taupo.
The rain was coming down when we got there so we took it easy, once again hoping for things to change. We ate at the world’s coolest McDonald’s. (They had a McDonald’s Plane!) We then went to the local cinema and watched Fast and Furious 7 (For Paul Walker). Sadly it seemed to be raining even harder after that. Things weren’t looking good.
When we checked out of the hostel in National Park the receptionist had told us to try his brothers restaurant, The Bistro, up in Taupo. We were sceptical at first but it turned out being fantastic. Amy had the seafood special, local swordfish, and Daryl had pork belly.
We woke up bright and early and made the the drive back down to Tongariro National Park, the weather finally better. We got the 7:30am shuttle from the end point car park over to the starting point and set off. But first to describe the hike a little more.
Named the “Tongariro Alpine Crossing” this hike is often described as the best one-day hike in New Zealand. It provides an opportunity to experience some of the most scenic and active volcanic areas of the park. When the say best the also mean busy! We heard as many as 70,000 people do the hike each year. On the day we went there was a steady stream of people all the way from the start to the finish. On narrow paths sometimes, leading to many a slow down, pass by, or being passed. The hike is 21km long with close to a 1000m elevation gain, taking 5-6 hours.
The track winds up the Mangatepopo Valley and then up the Devil’s Staircase before reaching the South Crater. This crater and the Red Crater lye in the saddle between Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe (Also known as Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings). Ngauruhoe is a 2500 year old volcano with a near perfect parasitic cone. It has been relatively quiet since 1975 although traditionally has been one of New Zealand’s most active volcanoes.
*After reaching the South Crater there is an optional turnoff to the Ngauruhoe summit… sorry sorry, Mt. Doom summit. It takes an additional 2-3 hours with very challenging grade and a high hazard of rock fall. (No, we didn’t do this, we were happy with the 6 hours of hiking already)
Going through the South Crater.
It then climbs to the Red Crater. (Elevation – 1886m)
From there it drops down to the vivid Emerald Lakes.
After passing Blue Lake, the track descends around the northern slope of Tongariro, then descends further in a zig-zag to the Ketetahi hut.
From the hut, the track continues down the mountain through tussock plains, then into the native forest.
We finished it in 6 hours 20 minutes with some very sore feet, ankles, and knees.
We had some celebratory Burger Fuel for dinner back in Taupo before going to bed very early, extremely tired.
With the weather holding for another day we decided to explore a little more of Taupo. We walked along the lakefront and said hi to all the birds. A lovely lady brought out an old loaf of bred to feed them all. She gave some to us so we could help. Very fun, especially with the cute black swans.
We boarded the Ernest Kemp, a replica built steam ship (now diesel), and set out on the lake. Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand at roughly 616 square kilometers and is 186m at the deepest point. It lies in a caldera created by a supervolcanic eruption which occurred approximately 26,500 years ago. (Another 27 times since then!)
We cruised along the lake shore admiring both nature and the multi-million dollar vacation homes. At the tail end of these was the Maori rock carvings. Now, the Maori people weren’t known for rock carvings. Turns out these carvings are actually only 40 years old. Still very beautifully done.
The large 10m high carving is intended to protect Lake Taupo from volcanic activities underneath.
After the lake cruise we headed out of town and stopped in at Huka Falls. Moving over 200,000 L per second of water per second these are some violent falls.
We were then on the road to Rotorua.
Unit next time…