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On 2 March the guides and transport from Walking Legends (NZ) turned up early to collect 16 mature Keilor Bushwalkers from our Rotorua accommodation.
After a couple of 2hr walks along the way (Lake Rotopounamu and Taranaki Falls), we were told that we had arrived at our Lodge in the middle of Tongariro National Park.
As the view being non-existent because the area was blanketed in cloud we couldn’t argue. Our guides, Rob and Spud, quickly established the norm for the expedition by providing more than ample beverages and food.
However the author and the other walkers had carried out extensive research on next day’s walk (Tongariro Crossing), so all practiced moderation.
After a fine dinner the briefing began: food, water, clothing, boots, start and end points were explained and the actual route was analysed section by section.
At this point a reason to worry emerged. Rob kept looking at his laptop with a frown on his face. A discrete enquiry established that the anticipated weather for the next day was a ‘bit iffy’.
A look out of the window next morning confirmed that weather prediction. Visibility was about 100m.
Our scheduled 6.30 start was changed to 8.30. After 2 hours of intensive laptop gazing a decision was made: the front seemed to be moving in the right direction so we would chance it.
At the start point at Mangatepopo car park it was raining and very dull. So with coats buttoned and the packs covered we moved off with Spud’s last words ringing in our ears ‘that if it was still like this near the top then we will have to turn around.’
But I had been planning this walk for 5 years, so I intended to make it the other end even if I had to swim. I hoped that the others in the group were similarly motivated.
One and a half hours later the advanced party reached Soda Springs along a track that deserved its Easy rating. The rain had stopped and coats were off.
Someone yelled, ‘Look, that’s a patch of blue sky up there’. Sure enough, the sky behind was much lighter and visibility was probably about 500m. Good enough for us to see the climb there on top of that ridge?
Good enough for us to see the climb that now faced us. Were there really people way up there on top of that ridge?
A hard hour later confirmed that fact; we were now the people standing on the edge of the desolate plains of South Crater in brilliant sunshine gazing on the majesty of Mt Ngauruhoe.
Self-congratulation turned to resignation when we saw on the other side of the plain another brutal climb to the next waypoint, the Red Crater. I had seen pictures of this and wondered if they were digitally enhanced or was it really that colourful.
The next hour did make me question my sanity more than once as I slogged my way up the steep, slippery slope with a 40kph crosswind threatening to push me off the edge.
(Training on the slopes of Brimbank Park hadn’t really prepared me for walking at this altitude and with this wind chill.) All was forgotten though when Red Crater was finally revealed in all its glory.
My question was answered. No photo could do justice to the panorama of the Oturere Valley, the Rangipo Desert and the Kaimanawa Ranges.
Another short climb and there it all was—Red Crater to the east, Mt Ngauruhoe and South Crater behind, and in front the stark beauty of the Emerald Lakes set in the desolation of the central crater with Blue Lake to the north.
Now that we were over the ridge, the wind ceased, clothing was shed and cameras clicked. It was time for lunch and a silent prayer to the great god of walkers who allowed this poor soul to experience such a vista.
After lunch reality set in and Spud advised: ‘Don’t get complacent at the top.
You are not half way and still have a long way to walk.’ He was right, 4 hours later we finally made it into Ketetahi car park to be greeted by Rob and many beverages and other delectables—appropriate fare for those who had ‘done the Tongariro’.
The next day revealed more sunshine and Mt Ruapehu that just begged to be climbed. A story for another day. Suffice to say that it eclipsed the previous day’s adventure by a small margin and should be added to all walkers ‘must do’ list.
Keilor Bushwalking Club
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Guided hiking tours of Tongariro National Park, including the Tongariro Alpine Crossing & Mt Ruapehu Crater Lake Climb. Depart Rotorua or Taupo. Experienced local guides, spectacular volcanic scenery & great lodgings - a fabulous walking experience!