Next up on our itinerary was our first “red” (strenuous) day – we were to hike the Tongariro Crossing, also known as Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings saga. David had been raving about the beauty of this hike and how great it was since I’d known him.
We drove from Waitomo to National Park Village and stayed at the Discovery Lodge. Before settling in for the night, we had a great curry meal at another lodge in town. Too many suitcases to sort for hiking stuff!
We woke up bright and early for the first shuttle to the start of the hike. It’s a 19km (shuttled) hike with two optional side trips to Mount Tongariro (Mt. Doom) and Mount Nguaraho. We wanted to hike Mount Tongariro if possible and make it an ~10 hour hike.
We got on the bus and the driver warned us that the weather wasn’t looking good. The cloud cover was really low and there were spots of rain. We got to the start and he said “I’ve lived here all my life, and my gut feeling is it’s only going to get worse.” So of course David and I decided we’d try to do the hike.
The first part of the trek was fairly flat and not too cold or rainy, but you couldn’t see anything. We started gaining elevation as we got to “Devil’s Staircase” and then the wind and rain kicked up – it was getting cold! Unfortunately, there were still no views.
We made it to the first summit, then decided to keep going, even though it was pretty hairy. We hiked up more, and finally got to an area where there were craters and steep drops. I scared David when I went to the side of one to look over and the wind started gusting. He pulled me back. Then I really scared myself when the wind almost knocked me over near a crater edge and I had to crouch to not fall. We estimate the winds were at 50-60 km/hr at the top! David hung on to my backpack strap with an iron grip and I hung on to his arm. I kind of felt like crying at this point. We even stopped at one point wondering if it was too dangerous to continue, then decided to keep going since it would be just as dangerous to back track. (Notice David took all the pictures – my hands were too cold!)
We summited and finally got a small view of the Emerald Lakes below. Here I’m doing the “not get knocked over by strong winds” squat.
We took a couple pictures then hurried on through. It was only continuing to get colder and more rainy. We didn’t even consider taking a side trip to Mt. Tongariro since it was so dangerous. Oh, and it smelled like sulfur, so the hike was starting to stink literally and non-literally.
Most of the rest of the hike was fairly flat or downhill, but there was still biting rain and wind. David told me there was a hut that possibly had hot chocolate, and I started dreaming of the possibility of a Starbucks mid-hike.
We got to the hut, but alas, it was almost colder inside the hut than outside. We ate our packed lunches, then I started shivering uncontrollably. This was time #2 I really wanted to cry. I finally decided we had to start moving again, since it was too cold to stay and sit in the hut in our wet clothes. We made our way down the mountain and I felt better as we moved more.
We got a few small views of some volcanic vents and a waterfall.
Finally, we got to a warmer elevation and made our way through a forest until we got to the finish at 12:15 and caught the earliest 12:30 shuttle home. We both just slept on the bus back to the lodge. There were still no views of the mountains to be had.
We got our car and drove towards Taupo, stopping at some local hot springs along the way. We got a private hot tub, but it was kind of weird since it was just a private room; I’d imagined some nice hot springs in some rocks or something. Anyway, it soothed our muscles and was 20 minutes well spent considering how cold it was earlier. The rest of the day we joked about not dying on our 5th day of marriage, and David promised we’d have a few relaxing days after such a scary hike.
Funny thing is, later on our trip flying out of Taupo I did get to see Mt. Doom – from the plane!