179. Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing: Reputed to be the best day hike in New Zealand, we couldn’t resist the braggy allure of an overly ambitious hiking trip just four days into our trip. Have you seen the part in Lord of the Rings where Frodo is dragging himself, crazy eyed and scabby, through a desolate land of black volcanic rocks, dark clouds and hordes of Australian and British tourists? Well this is where they filmed that scene. Mt. Doom and all.

And it is a spectacular apocalyptic landscape, volcano after volcano arranged in a disorganized jumble, exploding out of each other in every direction, glowing green lakes and lichens the color of a Mexican wrestling outfit. for those of you in Oregon, Amy describes this place as if Crater Lake and the Steens Mountains had a baby, which then exploded several hundred times. The trail rises and falls 1,886 meters in elevation over 19.5 kilometers and I’m no commie so don’t ask me what those measurements mean in American. Hang on, my iPhone says that’s 3,700 feet, 12 miles and about 7 hours, which I suppose explains why it kicked our asses. Smartly, we arranged a morning shuttle option that meant when we arrived at the finish line all dusty and wobbly, our rental car was waiting to whisk us away to the thermal hot pools in nearby Tokaanu. Nine kiwi dollars to soak au naturale in a private mineral pool and talk about how awesome we are for doing that thing we just did? Yes please.

Not just our first real tramp in NZ, the Tongariro crossing was also our first shot at a segment of one of the country’s “Great Walks,” the trophy case of jaw dropping hikes through impossibly beautiful countryside. It’s the height of the summer holiday season here and that meant that this walk was bursting with day hikers and although we didn’t notice them much amidst the huff and puff on the way up, the walk down was a somewhat annoying 3.5 hour single file march with nothing to look at but the slippery shale underfoot and the endless line of hiking butts in front. I’m not sure if this is status quo for the Great Walks this time of year, but if so, we might forgo the parade routine in favor of some lesser-traveled but still rewarding tramps once we reach the South Island. On the other hand, it’s tough to turn down scenery like this, even if you have to walk in a line to get to it. Buffaloed.

Photos left to right, top to bottom: The shuttle to the start; Mt. Doom enshrouded in morning clouds; managing a controlled slide down the slippery bit; Amy on top; resting at Ketetahi Hut; thermal pools in Tokaanu.