Whakapapa 1132.3km to National Park via the Tongariro crossing 1150km
Take two. My second attempt at hiking the Tongariro Crossing. The tempest that beset me a couple of days ago had made way for perfect weather. But maybe I would have preferred hiking alone in a horrible storm than with 1000 other hikers. At what point is somewhere loved to death.
It was an easy 10km hike from Whakapapa Village to the start of the Tongariro Crossing. The crossing is marketed by New Zealand tourism as the best day hike in the world. New Zealand is not shy at talking itself up. As a result tourism is booming. And everyone wants to visit Tongariro.
I was struck by the shocking number of people. Upwards of 1000 hikers. I settled into my normal hiking pace as I climbed up the first section for the day. I passed a large group of teenagers who were resting. Music was blaring from someone’s phone for all to hear. I’m not sure if it was Justin Bieber or One Direction. Either way it wasn’t to my taste so I kept on hiking.
The trail narrowed as it climbed up a rocky stair section. As I climbed I looked at people’s shoes. I’m not sure why but shoes had my attention today, maybe I was avoiding eye contact. Clean hiking boots, white basketball shoes and slip on shoes were more popular than running shoes. Then there were the thin white socks, lots of thin white socks.
The teens caught up to me as they were almost running up the trail. I wish I was that fit, I thought. Music blasting. Some sort of rap music. The dude with the music yelled out that they should all stop to take in the view. I looked around and noticed there wasn’t much of a view. They should have kept going because 10 minutes further up the trail was a nice section to sit and rest with a great view. I stopped to rest and take in the view.
The trail followed volcanic debris from the nearby Mt Ngarahoe. Made famous as Mt Doom in Lord of the rings. The last eruption was in 1985. It was a minor eruption but all the previous ones have caused the area to be a blackened field of volcanic rubble. The perfectly shaped volcanic cone had steam coming from the summit and small patches of snow. If you asked a child to draw a volcano, it would look like Mt Ngarahoe.
The sharp edged boulders would quickly wear down everyone’s new hiking shoes. I looked at my shoes. Damn. 1150km and I have my first hole in my Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes. I still have about 400km to go till I pick up my new shoes. Time for the needle and thread.
The teens caught up again. More rap music. They discovered a better view and stopped right next to me. Time for me to start hiking. The Chinese family next to me also set off further up the hill. Maybe they didn’t like rap music. I noticed the teens were covered in sweat and breathing so heavily they couldn’t talk. I hadn’t broken a sweat yet, neither had the Chinese family.
The first climb ended at a nice resting area with several toilets. There was a very long line for the toilets. I suspected it would be a 10 minute wait. With so many people here I kept hiking on a flat section that took about 10 minutes to cross before there was yet another climb. The teens caught and passed me at the start of the climb. Not sure what the music was this time but it was not to my liking. I much preferred the scenery with the classic volcanic cone of Mt Ngarahoe to my right.
Slightly steeper and slightly less easy the path became. I passed the teens who were taking in the view and breathing heavily, they were drinking lots of water. No music this time. I rested at an area near the top to take photos of Mt Ngarahoe and the stunning flat section I’d just walked across. The teens passed me again. Some sort of strange dance music this time with no words to sing along to.
At the top of the climb was an unmarked side trail to the summit of Mt Tongariro. I chose not to climb it as I climbed it when I hiked this trail 20 years ago. I continued to the top of Red Crater, the highest point of the trail at 1847 meters. Another TA hiker was heading across. It was Sabrina from Germany. We started hiking the trail on the same day and last saw each other about 5 weeks ago. We stopped to chat.
A low flying helicopter buzzed the volcanic Red crater. Several hundred people were sitting down resting or taking selfies. There were a lot of people enjoying the perfect weather. No wind, sunshine and warm temperatures. It would not be possible to have a better day to do this crossing. 1000 other people knew it and took advantage of it. Is this place getting loved to death. There was no escape from the people.
I continued down a volcanic scree slope past lakes of blue and green and kept on hiking to the point I had to turn around several days earlier. I’d now linked the trails together. I could have kept on hiking down and taken a shuttle bus or I could turn around and hike against the flow of traffic. I turned around.
Not sure if it was Justin Bieber or One Direction as the teens passed for the last time. By the time I returned to Red Crater it was almost empty. The 1000 hikers had all but gone. Just the last few stragglers for the day. I continued across the crossing a second time. It was much more enjoyable this time. The peace and quiet, except for the scenic flights overhead.
I made it to the carpark where all the day hikers started from. It was 5pm. Not many people around and no shuttle buses waiting. It wasn’t long before a car arrived and gave me a lift back to the town of National Park. Soon I’ll make my way to the river for canoeing. But first I looked at the local music charts and realized, I have absolutely no idea what music is popular nowadays. I’ve been living in a different reality for a long time and that thought made me happy. I like my reality.