The Tongariro Crossing had been in my head since we contemplated travelling to New Zealand. I completed what’s allegedly “New Zealand’s finest day walk” on my first trip in 2003 and was mesmerized by the surreal landscape. You walk between two – sometimes more, sometimes less – active volcanoes, pass beautiful lakes, almost accompanied by the smell of sulphur.
I emailed the Department of Conservation to inquire about the state of the track in winter, however, I was told that we would definitely need crampons and an ice axe to even so much as attempt it during the cold season. I had never used either before and because I wasn’t going to make a first here, I put the thought aside.
When driving along Desert Road, however, we looked at the mountains…and took at de-tour to drop by the DoC office in Turangi…where we left with a pamphlet and the assurance that we would only have to walk with crampons for a very short time and how brilliant the weather…
Long story short, we called pretty much as soon as we’d settled in our hostel and made a booking for the next day.
Once more, the pick-up bus arrived exactly on time and while being chartered to the starting point at Mangatepopo, payment and gear were being taken care of. Whoever didn’t seem properly equipped to the strict eyes of Kyle and Colin received boots, trousers, jackets and backpacks. Crampons and an ice axe were for everyone.
The icy fog on this crisp winter morning was rising when we got off the bus, it was showing to be a gorgeous morning and we started right off into the glistening sun. The air was cold but dry, the ground frozen – perfect conditions. The view was superb – all the way to Mt Taranaki near New Plymouth.
At Devil’s Staircase, the wind picked up mercilessly and once more our primaloft jackets were our most-prized assets and kept us warm when everyone else was shivering.
Colin waited for us at South Crater to show us how to put on the campons and give us instructions before starting the final ascent to the highest point of the track – at 1,886 m above sea level.
There, we had lunch sitting on the ground, which was comfortably warm due to the thermal activity below. We were on volcanoes, after all.
After lunch we already took off the crampons and our guide Kyle prepared everyone to slide down the mountain on their bottoms and showed us how to use our ice axe in case we slipped. Since we were only halfway with another four hours to go, Mr A and I decided to elegantly ski down to keep our bottoms dry.
We crossed the Central Crater, walked around the corner and had a final slide/ ski down to Katehi Hut from where we were let off to walk the last hour or so to the carpark independently. There, the driver “Grandma” waited for us with a selection of soft drinks and beer before driving us back to Taupo.
Overall, this whole day was perfect – from the spectacular weather to our wonderful guides to the fact that we were allowed to walk at our own pace. Instead of over 1,000 people, who will walk the Tongariro Crossing on a summer’s day, there were 17 of us – plus 2 hikers we met on the way. We couldn’t have imagined it any better.
Thank you, Tongariro Expeditions for making such a positively unforgettable day possible!