Along the Away

a traveler's tales

Archive for September, 2014

Along the Away NZ Trip Map Tongariro

New Zealand is home to an epic series of ‘Great Walks’ which I have read about and hope to tick some off of my bucket list sometime in my lifetime. I was really excited to go to the World Heritage Listed Tongariro National Park where the only Great Walk you can do in one day, the Tongariro Crossing, is located. The Crossing is 19.4km long and is incredibly steep in parts (there is a part called The Devils Staircase. Enough said.)

There are three mountains in the national park – Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu, which are important landmarks to the Maori people for spiritual and cultural reasons.

We stayed two nights in an alpine lodge in Whakapapa Village, which was cosy but rustic – it reminded me a bit a school camp to be honest, lots of pine furniture, bunk beds, shared common rooms with board games and fireplaces. There is a kitchen and bar there, the food was good and the staff were friendly and helpful – especially in regards to giving me a cup of uncooked rice – more on that later.

I love bushwalking and hiking outdoors, I try to walk everyday but even still I wouldn’t say my fitness is at a high level because I don’t train or intentionally challenge myself to tackle steeper terrain or anything – I mostly stick to coastal tracks. So I was a bit nervous about doing the Tongariro Crossing but I knew enough of its beauty to sign up immediately anyway. When our bus arrived in the national park the night before it was raining pretty heavily but the forecast was looking good for the next day. We were getting picked up by a guided hiking company called Adventure Outdoors at a very early hour, so I prepped all my hiking gear at the end of my bunk bed ready for a quick and quiet rise in the morning (lesson number one in being a considerate room-mate). When the morning came I woke to the sound of rain pattering down but I jumped up, got ready and assembled optimistically with the rest of the group ready for the pick-up. Alas, Mother Nature had other plans for us. Sarah and Perrin, from Adventure Outdoors arrived with the sad news that the wind higher up on the crossing was too fierce to make the trek – the Tongariro Crossing was closed. For those that haven’t heard of it before, here is what I missed out on:

Emerald Lakes

So sad, I felt really disappointed as I had psyched myself up to take on the challenge. Hiking through snow and navigating ice on the track was going to be a new experience for me, I was really mentally preparing myself for the challenge of using crampons and ice picks to earn that incredible view. But as travel always (always) teaches us, when something doesn’t work out, just roll with it onto the next amazing experience. Sarah and Perrin were revved up with enthusiasm and wouldn’t let our spirits stay down for long – they proposed we head out and do some hiking along the base of the mountains, some of which was part of the Tongariro Crossing anyway. So we did!

Tongariro National Park Hike

It rained. The entire 6 hours.

But look, I’m smiling! With rain drops on my nose.

Tongariro National Park Hike

Coz it was fun! Seriously, we’ve developed into such precious souls when it comes to getting a bit uncomfortable. I would never normally go hiking in the rain. Even if it’s forecast to rain later during the day I’ll cancel an intended hike. I’d get wet! And cold! And uncomfortable!

Well, so what. I did get a bit of all of those things, but I didn’t stop smiling! Neither did anyone in our small group of 8 or so. We laughed at ourselves and each other. We stumbled and bounced back up. We stopped for photos, to listen to stories from the girls, to try and picture the scenes in Lord of the Rings which were filmed here.

Tongariro National Park Hike

We started at Mangatepopo Car Park and walked as far as Soda Springs, stopping before ascending the Devil’s Staircase.

Tongariro National Park Hike

The track was beautiful in the rain. The fog hung low and heavy, the silence of the land except the rain hitting the ground and our feet crunching on the rocks.

Sarah and Perrin were wonderful guides, they acted as if it was a perfect blue sky, sunny day and we were out for a leisurely stroll. Sarah was actually 7 months pregnant at the time! Which none of us even realised til about two hours in – we were all so bundled up in fleeces and rain jackets that her bump was hidden and her unbelievable energy would never have given it away. Once realised that, it put us all in our place – if she can keep going then we can!

I learnt from the walk that Lake Taupo was once a volcano that blew up in about 1180. It threw lava and rock over a third of the north island. All the trees were flattened creating the lava fields we walked through on our walk. Lake Taupo is hours away – so that gives you an idea of the how powerful the volcano eruption was.

Tongariro National Park Hike

Tongariro National Park Hike

I might have missed out on hiking with crampons on the ice, but I got to step over some. It was this cold. 

Tongariro National Park Hike

Tongariro National Park Hike

I can only wonder at how the walk looks and feels on a gloriously sunny day. Our experience was oh so different, but appreciated.

Tongariro National Park Hike

Tongariro National Park Hike

Soda Springs popped up in view, our walk’s target.

Tongariro National Park Hike

On we trooped, letting the rain soak in and roll off.

Tongariro National Park Hike

Tongariro National Park Hike

Finally we reached Soda Springs. A quick photo op and we turned around and trudged back to the Mangatepopo carpark.

Tongariro National Park Hike

Once we got back in the van and had the heaters pumping we all laughed and kidded around, trying a hopeless battle to keep seats dry when everything about us was soaked. We had the giddy high you get after doing something you probably wouldn’t have thought you would do, relief mixed with achievement. Then Sarah turned from the front seat and proposed we head to a lake walk – only about 2 hours and mostly under a rainforest canopy so we wouldn’t get much wetter (can you get wetter than 100% soaked?) The van got quiet. We all made non-committal noises sliding side-long glances at each other. Was anyone going to object? Was the seven months pregnant woman going to be shut down? Non-committal noises turned into non-committal head bobs as we all waited for someone to say the words that would send us all home to a shower and dry towel, food and a heater. The words never came and Sarah and Perrin clapped their hands and took off toward the walk. We all rallied as we realised ‘OK, we’re doing this!’ Later we all laughed when we realised not one of us thought we had it in us to do another rain walk, surely 4 hours had been enough. But we were all so glad that we’d followed the crowd – we had another fabulous walk!

Rotopounamu Lake is located at the foot of Mt Pihanga in the Pihanga Scenic Reserve, believed to have formed about 10,000 years ago by a landslide. The walk is 6km around, and took us about 90 minutes.

Tongariro National Park Hike

The name translates to ‘greenstone’ which apparently reflects the colour of the water on a clear day – I will have to trust our guides on this one seeing as my view was rather grey…

Tongariro National Park Hike

Dreary, but strangely still beautiful and rather invigorating to be there!

2014 New Zealand (2374)

I mentioned at the start of this post a cup of rice which was given to me without question from the kitchen at our accommodation. Along the walk I couldn’t help but keep getting my iPhone out to snap photos. Of course I hadn’t brought my camera along due to the rain, but with my phone slipping into the inside pocket of my trusty Kathmandu Gortex raincoat I figured I could chance it.

I took lots of photos – amidst lots of rain drops.

Tongariro National Park Hike

I made sure to wipe it dry every time I put it back in my pocket, but by the end of the day the combination of constant downpour and the humidity inside my jacket due to my body heat, my iPhone was NOT happy. As in the front screen was completely streaked with water marks and condensation under the screen. I could barely read a thing. I did a Google and read that I should turn it off and sit it in a cup of rice. I gave it a go as I LOVE my iPhone and would have been devastated to have it die, mid-trip no less. I kept it in the cup of rice overnight to no avail. I moved both rice and the iPhone into a clip-lock bag and kept it in there for another 48 hours with still no luck – it looked just as bad. I felt sad and decided to turn it on and use it as much as I could til I could get home and replace it. Well, gradually, over the next three weeks my iPhone healed itself. I suppose it dried out over time in my pocket next to my body heat. I was stoked! So for anyone looking  for a solution to a water damaged phone – time, heat and a little TLC should see it right :-)


Leaving Rotorua involved a few stops along the way to appreciate the Wai-O-Tapu (Maori for sacred waters), an active geothermal area located in the Taupo Volcanic Zone.

We stopped off to look at the Mud Pool, a vast gurgling swamp of mud. Deeeelightful! It really stank, but there was something mesmerising watching the bubbles popping up to the surface with a loud belch and mud spurting into the air and plopping back down leaving circular rings across the surface of the pool.

2014 New Zealand (2292)

We also stopped by a pebble beach that I don’t recall the name of. There was a lonely looking wharf there and the glassy surface of Lake Rotorua begging for pebbles to be skipped across. And look so many pebbles within reach!

Lake Rotorua

Lake Rotorua

Lake Taupo

We travelled on in the bus towards Taupo, which boasts New Zealand’s largest lake. Before hopping the bus I snapped this pic of the misty morning. Ahh the mysteries of the road, you never know what will happen next.

Leaving Rotorua

We stopped at the majestic Huka Falls on the Waikato River, New Zealand’s longest, where the water is a vibrant blue-green colour under all the white water.

2014 New Zealand (2297)

Starting at the falls we did a one hour hike, following a track to the Spa Park walking along the bank of the river the whole way. The river changed form right before our eyes as we went, from the thundering falls where the water gushes down an eleven metre drop (220,000 litres a second) to a wide, meandering river winding its way lazily through the forest.

2014 New Zealand (2301)

The Spa Park at the end features hot pools that feed warm water into the river. I thought the outside temperature was too cold to deal with being wet (what a wuss, I wish I had now) so I just popped my feet in – lovely!!

2014 New Zealand (2304)

Beautiful Lake Taupo was not hard to miss – it is New Zealand’s biggest! It’s up to 188m deep in places, 100m deep on average, and contains 60 cubic kilometres of water – enough water to cover the whole North Island with a half metre depth of water.

The sky cleared up to a brilliant blue by the time we arrived, though it was still pretty chilly. I still enjoyed a half hour walking along the edge in the sunshine.

Lake Taupo

I walked around the few blocks of Taupo, had a breakfast-lunch, and wandered through a park to the Taupo Museum. The entry fee was only about $5, and I went in more or less to spend an hour until the bus left to continue on to Tongariro National Park. I’m so glad I did – the cultural and historical exhibits were really interesting. There is a carved Maori Meeting House dating from 1927 and lots of history about Tuwharetoa, the local Maori tribe.

Lake Taupo Totem

There was a lot of info about New Zealand’s volcanic history which I found really fascinating. Lake Taupo is actually a volcano – strange to believe as it’s also a lake, formed in the ‘caldera’ volcano – one of the best examples of a caldera in the world. It’s located at the heart of the Taupo Volcanic Zone which is home to most of New Zealand’s volcanoes and geothermal features. According to Wikipedia:

This huge volcano has produced two of the world’s most violent eruptions in geologically recent times.”

In other words, it is a crazy-real volcano. Though, the reference to recent times actually refers to 26,500 and 1,800 years ago, so not super-crazy-recent.

The museum had lots of old media coverage from eye witnesses that have experienced earthquakes caused by the plates under Lake Taupo, I found it absolutely fascinating – I took a photo of this old article:

Lake Taupo Museum Newspaper

There is also an interesting article written by the New Zealand Herald, Taupo volcano: what its past unrest can tell us.

And that’s all for Lake Taupo! On we go to Tongariro National Park for an attempt at a ‘Great Walk’.