One of my first summer adventures after moving to the Ruapehu Region was to finally make it to the Crater Lake. Every photo I had seen of the lake made it feel like you had gone on some mythical trip to a foreign and sacred land.
I was really nervous about my fitness level as it was well known that I mixed with exercise about as well as oil mixed with water. Comforting my fears, the guides reminded me that it would be work, but the reward at the top would be well worth it. They said that even kids and seniors regularly join them on the walks. Not to be outdone by a Nana, I knew I would be ok. I had enough fitness to snowboard for more than an hour at a time and have been an occasionally handy laborer when there was no one else around to help.
With the other half guiding my choices of attire, my pack was soon full with my bag lunch, munchies, bottled water, sunscreen and snow pants. He even said I looked the part in my hiking boots, hat, sunglasses and layered clothing.
Foxy and Andy, our guides for the day were waiting outside the Vertical Retail Shop just as promised. They gave us a picture of the day ahead while constantly reminding all of us that the group will only move as fast as the slowest walker. After a short safety briefing we were on the chairlifts up to 2020m above sea level towards our destination at 2670m.
The morning moved quickly as we stopped often for water and rest breaks while the informative and lighthearted leaders told us of Ruapehu’s impressive history, key landmarks and significance to the local Maori. Before we know it, the group is chatting away and sharing stories of our own.
One or two rest stops from the top I knew it wouldn’t be long before I too was standing by the beautiful Crater Lake. The last leg seemed to take the longest, but was by far the most stunning as our guides pointed out the ocean coasts, lakes, rivers and towns as if we were looking down on a satellite picture. There was something breathtaking in every direction and not a cloud in the sky to hide it!
Finally, just before noon, we reached the dome shelter at the edge of Mt Ruapehu’s Crater Lake. After everyone had their fill of photographs we sat down in an area sheltered from the sporadic wind gusts, looking out towards Tangiwai and listened to our guides share yet another captivating story while we ate our lunches.
Before we knew it lunch was over and it was time to head back down. The familiar way down felt a sweet relief from the morning’s effort. It helps feel that much faster too when the guides show you the fine art of snow pant sledging on the few reminders that this place transforms into a ski area over the winter months! Sliding down the snow on your rear after a 650m vertical climb puts a smile on your face so big that you actually forget any effort it took on the upwards trip. The rest of the trip down to the chairlift is filled with smiles and laughing after a well rewarded day’s effort.
With the trip done and the essential bathroom break observed, the group said our goodbyes, swapped emails and collected our souvenir certificates after posing for a few photos for the scrapbook.
The next morning I was ready and raring to attack Ruapehu again. With a long and every growing list of fun things to do in the area for all skills and ages, there is never a dull day around here!
The trip was well worth the effort, and required less physical fitness than the Tongariro Crossing. It is by far Ruapehu’s iconic one day walk. It is a great option for the mildly adventure minded person looking for something to do in the area or a great second day if you are down here for a short break. The trail to the crater is unmarked so it is strongly recommended that you travel with an experienced guide as they will be familiar with and educate you on the potential hazards while hiking on an active volcano. For full details on the Mt Ruapehu Crater Lake walk or to book your spot check out MtRuapehu.com. Trips leave from Mid December to Late April each year, weather and conditions dependant.