Stairway to Hell…

dsc02498-resized-800My 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.

Vanuit de bus vang ik al de eerste glimp op van de berg die we straks gaan beklimmen

From the bus I catch a first glimps of the vulcano we are going to climb

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).

Uitzicht vanaf het plateau

Views from the plateau

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.

Samen met Anne aan de voet van 'Mount Doom'. Nu nog vol energie en goede moed :)

Together with Anne at the base of ‘Mount Doom’. Still cheerfull:)

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!”

Zware klim maar top uitzicht!

Quite a climb but awesome views!

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.

Over de graat naar de andere zijde

Following the ridge

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.

Emerald Lakes. Fotogeniek, maar niet zo goed voor zwemmen helaas :(

Emerald Lakes. Very photogenic but not the best for swimming 🙁

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!

Hotpools. Kokend heet water bubbelt vanuit de grond omhoog en stort naar beneden in een stomende waterval waar het vermengt met het ijskoude rivierwater. Ergens halverwege, afhankelijk van je tolerantieniveau, kan je de ideale spot zoeken. Het ziet er vrij idillisch uit maar wat de foto (gelukkig) niet vastlegt is de doordringende zwavelgeur die uit het water opstijgt. Ach, dat ik de prijs die je hier betaalt voor een warm bad.

Hotpools. Boiling water bubbles up from the ground and plunges into the river where it mixes with the icy glacial water. Somewhere halfway, depending on your tolerance for pain, you can find your ideal spot. Luckily the picture doesn’t capture the rotten egg smell. Well, I guess that’s the price I have to pay for a hot bath.




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