My nose feels cold and I am pulling my head further into the hood of my sleeping bag, trying to ignore the shouting outside the tent. “Final wake-up call!” Pff, I used to be pretty good at getting up early, but after traveling with some laid back surfers for a while my rhythm has shifted. I am here with 65 other couchsurfers that signed up for this event. I really should get up though if I want to make the 5 am bus that will take me to the starting point of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Luckily it’s a 40 minute bus ride, so plenty time for an additional powernap.
As the bus approaches the park the sun is breaking through the clouds and it seems it will be a perfect day. I understand I’m quite lucky because the last few days the weather conditions were so bad that it was impossible to walk the trail. New Zealand’s weather can be quite schizophrenic and the best way to cope with this is by dressing onion-style; wearing as many layers as possible. The Alpine Crossing is a 19,4 kilometer tramping track that traverses a rough volcanic landscape which, since catching the eye of Peter Jackson, is better known as ‘Mordor’ (although on such a radiant day it doesn’t look nearly as sinister). Three active volcanoes – Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe en Tongariro- rise high above the arid plateau. With on average one large eruption every 50 years, Ruapehu (2797 meters) is one of the world’s most active volcanoes and the largest in New Zealand. The last catastrophe took place in 1995, so I should be good (although I am pretty sure my statistics teacher would disagree).
The first part of the track involves walking up a gentle incline alongside running streams and around the edges of old lava flows. The real hike begins at the foot of the Devil’s Staircase; which you might expect to lead down, but alas, runs steeply up. Sweaty and stripped of all my layers I reach the top, or should I say bottom? I’ve actually just reached the base of Ngauruhoe (aka ‘Mount Doom’), which can be climbed as a side trip.
There is no marked track to the top, so I have to find my way scrambling up the loose rubble, carefully avoiding any falling rocks dislodged by others on the steep slopes above me. “Stairs are for pussies, this is the real thing!”
After a strenuous but not too difficult climb, don’t know what those Hobbits were fuzzing about, I reach the crater. The views from here are stunning but I can’t linger too long, because unlike Frodo and Sam I don’t have the luxury of an eagle and I actually have a bus to catch.
From the base of the volcano the track follows a narrow ridge towards the Red Crater, from where I have an excellent view over the spectacular Emerald Lake. The turquoise water looks very inviting, especially on such a warm day, but I’ll have to resist the temptation as these lakes are sulphurous.
After the lakes it’s all downhill through tussock tundra to the car park where the bus is waiting to take me straight to the hot pools!