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Day 3: Tongariro National Park

Day 3 - Thursday 21 February – ‘I didn’t come half-way round the world to NOT do the Tongariro!’


Up at 5:45 am(!)… to get ready and have breakfast for 6:30 then a briefing by the Tongariro National Park guides about the day. Well that was the plan. But in true ‘Channel 4’ style we woke up to a foggy vista and a debate over what we were to do ensued. The chief Tongariro guide wanted us to do a different walk because of the weather; however Neill (our eminent group member and determined walker) wasn't having it. 'I didn't come halfway around the world to not do the Tongariro!!' he protested; a quote that later became the subject of much adaptation and amusement throughout the trip.

 

In all seriousness though, there was a storm moving in and it was felt that our safety may be at risk. Our guides for the day were Gerard and Laura. A compromise was reached and it was agreed that we would drive up to the start of the Tongariro path and see what the weather was like by the time we got there. When we got to the carpark we decided to carry on as the weather ‘seemed’ fairly clear. I was glad. We set off on the walk surrounded by beautiful purple (non-indigenous!) heathers; and grasses that Laura called ‘happy grasses’ (because they were always waving). One group member found the walk challenging (it was!) and chose the option to turn back fairly early on, with Laura.

 

The rest of us went onward with 'Jar' (as Gerard liked to be called). The path was good and laid with steep wooden steps and plastic mesh. It was grippy and it needed to be because the climb up into the mountains was steep. I captured the walk on my GPS watch. We were climbing up to Mordor (home of the Dark Lord Sauron from Lord of the Rings). It was wet and very windy and we got up onto the side of Mount Tongariro where we sat down on the scree to take a break by some warm volcanic air vents. It was easy to lose your footing on the scree; and one group-member (and very experienced walker) almost did. This crossing was not to be taken lightly. Our walking poles were a great aid. I would, with the benefit of hindsight, recommend them for all of the walks on this trip.


Up and down and up and down we climbed and we saw the emerald lake and the blue lake faintly through the fog and drizzle. We stopped at the famous mountaineer hut on the Ketetahi Track where climbers used to be able to rest and sleep, until the eruption in 2012 which sent volcanic bombs hurtling through the roof of the hut. One room has been preserved, left as it was straight after the eruption. You could see clear burn marks on the bunk bed and a gaping hole in the roof where a large volcanic bomb had entered. Needless to say, people are not allowed to sleep there now…

 

We followed a very long descent back down and down and down the mountain on good paths but in the drizzle and eventually very heavy rain. We got soaked and our boots filled with water as we walked bashing our toes into the ends of our boots; our feet sliding around. Tighter lacing was needed! In total we walked 13 miles. Back at the ‘Skotel’ I'd never been so happy get my clothes off so quickly (well not in that context ha ha). We spent the evening in the hotel washing room getting our clothes and backpacks dry in the dryers. We bought beers from the bar and sat in the washing room putting the world to rights with other group-members. I wondered whether Jeff and I should join the Green Party. If anywhere, New Zealand a great reminder of why the planet is so precious and worthy of respect and preservation. We had dinner at 8.15pm then went to bed at 9:30(!??) zzzZZZZ...

 

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