– MARCH 03, 2015
Up at 6:00am. Mount Doom awaits! Formally known as The Tongariro Crossing, it is one of the world’s best single-day hikes.
A cool and crisp morning as it is getting to be late fall in NZ. Our bus was leaving at 6:45 so we quickly prepared ourselves for a long day of hiking. There is no water on the trail so you need to take food and a few liters of water for the day. The bus takes us down a winding washboard road to the beginning of the trail and drops us off. The hike is said to take 8 hours to complete. A 19.4km hike much of which is going up 1800M to the Red Crater just below Mount Tongariro made famous on The Lord of The Rings as Mount Doom.
The first hour is a pleasant walk which you start wishing there was more of once you hit the devils staircase which is a strenuous combination of wood boxed staircases and steep well worn rocky tracks.
It feels like hours go by, up countless numbers of stairs, before you hit the top of the South Crater and get some reprieve from the long grind up.
We stop at the top of the first ridge of the South Crater to take in the view of Mount Doom which is so close now and rest before continuing on. The walk across the crater inevitably leads to yet another hike up many more staircases!
After hours of staircases you begin to think the worst is behind you until you hit this! Then the hardest and some of the steepest track up to the top of the highest ridge at 1800M….none of which was an easy well manicured path.
Or this! Much like Vancouver’s Grouse Grind there is inevitably a point at which you ask yourself “why you are doing this?” and “what type of punishment is this?”.
This is our first real test of strength and endurance. Each step harder than the last, each breath more labored but the view from the top was well worth the effort.
The clouds begin to descend of Mount Doom so it is time to go as there is still 4-5 hours yet until we hit the car park.
The descent from ridge requires a balancing act of pushing your heels into an overly steep track with a mix of a thick layer of volcanic sand, and loose rocks covering a choppy hill of stable rock. This is where the falling happens…luckily neither of us did any falling.
Once you reach the last ridge you begin wishing the car park in just down the hill. Disappointing, but we are met instead with a long winding well worn path down the back side of the volcano which is another 8km! At this point your toes begin to hurt from the pressure they have taken in the hikers and with the advice of the managers at our stay we switch into our flip flops. A wise decision as more that a couple of people are limping by the time they get here, unfortunate with hours to go.
Your legs begin to hurt and your muscles now weak, there is still an hour before we hit the car park and the bus which has been waiting for us. Walking ever more slowly but we dare not stop as the last bus leaves at 4:30pm, emphasized this morning when they dropped us off. Miss it and we are left to walk the extra 6 km on the highway back home. We have some time so we push on.
Below, the reason we accept the punishment.
Too tired to take final pictures we collapse with relief and take in all the enjoyment you can get from a modestly comfortable bus seat.
This was our first Volcano hike but not our last! The only in New Zealand and with this challenge accomplished we will take tomorrow and relax. Little walking and please no more stairs for awhile!
For more photos of our adventure go to our flickr account here.