The Tongariro Crossing: COME AT ME, VOLCANO

When I first started this trip, I found I was constantly impressed by what I could do. I don’t know if I don’t give myself enough credit or what, but every time I did something physically challenging (be it big or small), I was always surprised I, y’know, did it. Treks were hiked and mountains were climbed, bootcamp was attended, and I even stayed out till sunrise a couple times – something I hadn’t done in many years…but I managed to do them all. My body, apparently, can handle more than I thought.

It was because of this new-found pride that I decided to try and push myself even further; the Tongariro Crossing.

I had heard about the Crossing when I first got to New Zealand, but totally forgot about it until the most recent eruption in August. I had a weekend off and had a last-minute choice between heading to Rotorua for a cultural experience, or hitting up the Tongariro. I chose the volcano, and the next day I was on a bus to Taupo, nervous of what lay ahead.

NZ 1248

Guys, something terrible happened at the Maccas in Taupo…

Taupo is your typical cute NZ town; on a lake, lots of shops, decent tiny population. It was a pretty big backpacker stop point, so there were quite a few bars and even a lunch special or two that was under $12 (a rarity in this neck of the world).  I spent the day window shopping and splurging on a couple brand new $4 tank tops (LUXURY), buying supplies for the trek the next day, and having drinks with a new friend in town. I stayed at Blackcurrent hostel which is one of the better ones I’ve been in in all my travels; super friendly and helpful staff, great courtyard and common areas, and, above all, SINGLE BEDS. Oh dear lord what a luxury! I’d really recommend staying there if you’re heading to Taupo.

The morning of the Tongariro was an early one – 4am wakeup for a 5am bus pickup.  The night before I went to bed far too late, so I was going on just six hours of sleep, and the night before that was a late one too (4 hours of sleep)…and, like, I’m an 8-hours-a-night kind of person. I was going to be wrecked all day. I stumbled into the hostel kitchen and saw a few other women rubbing the sleep out of their eyes (save for one older German woman who was, like, SUPER awake and ready to go!) and shared a sympathetic smile with them. We’re all in this together, ladies.

A sunrise bus ride later, we were at the base of the mountain around 7:15am. The track was only open to just after the halfway point due to the eruption, and you could see steam rising from the angry giant. It was pretty cool. The bus driver told us there was a bus at 3pm and another one at 4:30. She said there were a few tracks we could do that were off-shoots of the Tongariro; the climb up Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mt Doom, for those who have seen the Lord of the Rings movies) and the climb up Mt.Tongariro itself. “You’ll have plenty of time to do both if you want!” Sure. I slip slop slapped and was off on my adventure.

The start of the hike was gorgeous – flat, sunshine peeking over mountains, gentle streams and waterfalls, beautiful scenery. It was an hour of breathtaking beauty and an easy, flat walk.

Oh!

Oh!

So flat. So flat.

So flat. So flat.

NZ 1256

Just hanging out, being New Zealand. NBD.

And then.

Then came the Devil’s Staircase.

On the info sheet they gave us, the staircase was pictured as vertical and had a smiley-face with a twisted mouth that said “difficult”. When I got to the bottom of the stairs and looked up, I could see the smiley wasn’t lying. Hell, there was even a sign that said “This is your last chance. If you don’t think you can do this, turn back now.”

Ha.

I started climbing and…it was hard. Like, imagine being on a stair master for an hour and a half, at a massive incline, in whatever altitude…and then imagine having people walking behind you and constantly worrying you were holding them back because HURRY UP CHUBBS. Dear god, it was hard. Everyone took multiple breaks and by the end of it, any friends I had made at the start were far ahead of me. I think I was actually so slow that a bus group that arrived an hour later than mine caught up to me. It was hard.

The views, of course, are always worth it.

Always.

Always.

After climbing for nearly two hours, I was back on flat land and kept on going. It was beautiful both in scenery and in it’s easiness to walk, and….

….wait, I forgot to tell you the worst part!!!  Since I don’t actually own proper hiking shoes, I was doing this in Blundstones. Blunnies are a fantastic, all-purpose boot…but holy shit they are NOT made for hiking. I mean, yo, I know I have really crazy thin/sensitive skin on my feet or something because I get cut up by everything from flip flops to running shoes to ballet flats…and these Blunnies, though fantastic for just hanging out or easy treks, were absolute HELL on my feet. I think I was also wearing the wrong sock to start and from literally 45 minutes into the walk, I had blisters. I was walking on blisters the entire fucking day. I changed my socks, which helped ease the pain a bit…but the socks weren’t high enough and I ended up cutting my calves and have SCARS. I have scars, people. So yes. Please keep in mind I was doing this on blisters and in improper shoes the entire time. Okay, carrying on…

The next hard part of the trek was this incline that was long, steep, and was essentially loose gravel. Nothing but loose rocks, big and small, to slip and slide up. It was pretty tough and most of it was ‘one step forward, two steps sliding back in fear that you’ll fall off a mountain’. It was hard. But! After that, we were at the top(ish)! I met up with the friends I had originally met on the bus ride in (they had been relaxing at the top for ages, I’m sure) and enjoyed lunch in front of the Emerald Lakes. I didn’t get down to see the lakes closer, as the hike back up was taking people out left, right, and centre (it was extremely steep and all loose gravel, and I exhausted by that point), but they were pretty damn beautiful from the top.

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Steep n pretty

Steep n pretty

NZ 1295I decided to climb to the top of Mt.Tongariro, which was another 90 minute detour. The climb was a bit difficult in that there were some very narrow, loose-stone bits that could send you sliding down a volcano…but it wasn’t too bad. The view from the top was absolutely breathtaking. Of course.

Mt Dooooooom

Mt Dooooooom

Psh. Canadians.

Psh. Canadians.

I hope I never stop climbing mountains.

I started my descent a bit scared of what was to come; I always hate descents and find it way harder to climb down a mountain than to climb up it. The loose rocks that gave me so much trouble on the way up proved to be pretty fun on the way down (I just sort of dug my heels in and slid down like it was snow. Only fell once!). The staircase absolutely wrecked me, though. My legs were shaking and aching by the halfway point, and my head was dizzy and it was just terrible. I hate descents.

By the time I reached that first flat part, I checked my clock and found it to be 2pm. Sweet. I had an hour to get back to the bus, and that first bit only took me 45 minutes to walk in the morning. I HAD THIS.

Haha. Jenny. Dummy.

Guys, I honestly don’t know what happened to me. I was feeling fine, despite the blood pooling in my boots, but I suppose I was even more exhausted than I had thought I was. Everyone EVERYONE was passing me on that trek. I wasn’t even trying to saunter or take my time, but EVERYONE was going around me as I walked that flat bit back. I really don’t understand what happened, but I must have been going at a turtle’s pace and not realized it. At one point it was pretty narrow so I had this group of four Germans LITERALLY kicking me in the heels for a good eight minutes. I almost fucking decked them.

I came to a fork in the path and the sign said “Car Park – 25 minutes”. I looked at my watch. It was 2:45pm. The bus was leaving at 3. I had 15 minutes to do what would take fit, fresh-faced person 25 minutes to do.

I started running.

Guys, thank god I discovered just days before that I actually don’t have a big problem running anymore for some reason. I put the thought of “you ran for seven minutes straight two days ago YOU CAN DO THIS” in my head and started fucking running. My feet were killing me. I was exhausted. I started crying mid-jog because my body had just had e-fucking-nough. I ran. I fast-walked. I jogged. It worked.

No word of a lie – I literally made it over the hill and into the carpark as the bus driver was closing the door and starting to pull away. I flagged him down and there was ONE seat left on the bus. I was so delirious that I ran on to the bus and said “Holy shit I am one lucky bitch!” to a bus full of people I didn’t know. It was glorious. I made the 3pm bus.

Back at the hostel I treated my wounds and had the best shower anyone’s ever had in their lives. A few of the guys I had met the day before were heading to a natural hot pool, so, despite cringing at the thought of another walk, I decided to join them. It was, of course, another classic and amazing evening of hot-pooling in NZ; waterfall and hot water and tons of people and beautiful scenery. I think the hot water did my body good, because I felt fine the next day, save for my feet.

I love t raveling.

I love t raveling.

Conclusion? I am really happy I did the crossing, and am beyond proud of myself. It’s a tough trek for people who are a lot fitter and lighter than I am, and, despite being a bit slow, I did it. Like a boss. I really can push myself more than I think, and my body really is capable of more than I give myself credit for. You’d think that after doing a few 220km rides to Niagara Falls I would have realized that…but I’ve got a terrible memory.

Tips if you’re going to do it:
- Bring warm clothes. It was gorgeous when I went with 25 degrees and not a cloud in the sky…but when you get to the top, it’s alpine-cold. You’re going to want a fleece.

- Oh for the love of everything good in this world, have some proper fucking hiking shoes that won’t give you blisters. I saw people doing it in runners, which works I suppose….but I was really happy to have boots for those loose rocks.

- You will need lots of water. I brought 3 litres and drank almost all of it, but most people would be fine with 2 litres (I drink a lot of water)

- Honestly, get some good fucking sleep before you do it. I think most of the reason I found it as hard as I did was because I hadn’t had great sleep the nights leading up to it, so I started the trek tired and low-energy.

- Remember to hang out by yourself for a few minutes without talking, camera, or friends. Mountains were made for people to hang out by themselves on.

I’ve got much more to say about the crossing, but this is already a super long post, so I’ll end it here. Just know that it was beautiful and I think you should all do it. And hopefully boys find ankle scars sexy.

2 thoughts on “The Tongariro Crossing: COME AT ME, VOLCANO

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