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28 November 2017

tramping the tongariro alpine crossing

The bus and car journeys going North were long after a full day of work and Friday evening drinks (with a two drink restriction), but we drove on through the night talking with energy that slowly waned and music that coincidentally softened. It was 1am when we reached Pipers Lodge, tucked away behind trees. 1am when we unpacked our stuff, clambered through the wooden panelling of ski chalet chic, and into our bunk beds. 

It’s funny now how any stay in sleeping surroundings like this harp me back to our three months in Asia, sleeping on mattresses ranging from marshmallow to rock-hard. Rooms of tens of people snoring or whispering. The clanks of lockers opened at silly o’clock and niceties shared by sinks. Thankfully, we had this room to ourselves. 

It reminded me of what I’d imagine a summer camp to be like, too, with checkered bedding and the view of terraced outside blocks, people smoking cigarettes on their porches. 

A summer camp for tramping grown-ups, I’d say.

Tramping (‘hiking’ if you’re not familiar with Kiwi lingo) was why we were here. The Tongariro Crossing was our destination, to make like Frodo and co and nervously edge our way up Mount Doom, otherwise known as Mt. Ngauruhoe - an active stratovolcano in the middle of the Tongariro National Park. 

It had been on our New Zealand bucket list since the beginning, but as Christmas had loomed and wallets had tightened due to big festive travelling plans, we’d almost let it slip, until we realised that it’d be ridiculous to skip this once in a lifetime opportunity to walk one of the best routes in the world.

Saturday morning we woke up early, bleary-eyed and in need of fuel which we found in porridge consumed within the kitchen cabin alongside other thrill-seeking Europeans. The shuttle bus picked us up at 8:30am and drove us 30 minutes to the beginning of the trail. As our feet followed the marked out path, we remarked at how Yorkshire-esque the scenery seemed, how it felt as if we’d tumbled back onto the Moors. This thought quickly evaporated as we entered hour three and got our first peek of the Mountain. 

The landscape seemed almost Martian, with craters peppering the ground, and red glowing peaks rising into the sky. The track had been steep to get to this point, the steps carved into the rock that climbed you into the clouds. It was hard not to feel overcome by the rugged beauty around us.

We ascended and ascended and stopped, on top of the world and looking into the mouth of the Middle of the Earth. Painted with deep strokes of red, grey and snow. We ate lunch sat on a rock looking out at real-life Mordor, and I couldn’t help but feel the rawest sense of elation, elevation, electricity. And a deep love for the crisps I'd packed in my bag. 

Over the crest of the highest point, it was time to go down. The ground was unsteady, and we all lost our balance many times, resulting in much hilarity as we sat a little shellshocked covered in dust post-tumble. The view was spectacular though, with greens and blues of sulphuric lakes glistening in the distance and the crossing stretching out as far as the eye could see. 

The hours passed as we walked and walked further. Ups, downs, ups, downs, we left Mars behind and travelled on to velvety moors. Lake Taupo could be seen beyond the bright colours of the heather, as we descended down to the sleeping hut. 

The last two hours of the almost eight were the hardest, with the ground constantly veering downwards meaning our feet began to burn from impact. But we soldiered on, and soon found woodland - a green canopy overhead like a luscious ceiling. 

We saw babbling brooks, waterfalls, ferns and more as we walked the path. We saw the same people we’d caught up with along the way that we encouraged and they us. There was a feeling of camaderie in the air, bolstered by the beautiful weather that turned everything and everyone golden (/sunburnt). 

It was the longest trek I’ve ever done, and definitely a challenge, but undoubtedly one of the best experiences of my life. 

On our return to the Lodge, we retired into the hot tub (thank god for forward-planning and privilege!) and the talk turned to upcoming birthdays and then on to bucket lists. We reeled off things we hoped to achieve in the next few years, knowing that a big tick had already been made. 

Advice if you're planning on tramping the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- Take all the food and water you'll need (lots of snacks!)
- Wear durable, comfortable hiking boots
- Take layers - the weather can change in the blink of an eye up there
- Rewatch the LOTR films beforehand and find your mind blown as you see the sights 



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