Sunday, January 29, 2012

Volcanos, oh my! Tongariro National Park

Mt Ngauruhoe.I should mention that Mt Ngaurahoe played Mordor in the Lord of the Rings films, and it really did have a fantastic creepy presence. The thing is huge- over 2000 meters- and very stark.
In Rotorua, I chatted with some young women who had been traveling for about a year.  They had just come from Tongariro national park, and said that the Tongariro Crossing was really great, not to be missed.  I knew that I would be unable to do the 18k hike, due to my foot situation (improving, but still very sore), but I headed off to the park anyway, since it sounded remote, beautiful and interesting.  Maybe I'd find a good hike that I could do even with my sore foot.

The drive to the park was pretty scenic, and traffic ebbed to almost South Island (low) levels once I'd passed Lake Taupo, new Zealand's largest lake.  There is a century ride around Taupo, as an aside, and it looks like a pretty great route.

The trail winds through the valley towards Mt Ngaurahoe and Mt Tongariro (left-hand peak). There is third volcano that is not in this picture

The trail travels between lava flows. This required a little clambering, which was fun
I arrived at around 1 pm, and headed to the national park headquarters in Whakapapa (pronounced fuc-uh-papa). The ranger recommended going out to the volcanos that day, since the weather was unusually clear and more typical fog would move in that evening and through the next day.  Plus, my relatively late start would leave the trails relatively uncrowned, as the tongariro crossing day hikers mostly depart in the morning. 

Interesting lava flows. The newer lava is black while the older lava weathers to a reddish color
I headed out to the trail head, which involved a 10k drive in over bumpy gravel roads. I picked up a Slovenian couple who were hitchhiking back to trailhead. They'd departed the prior evening, slept up in the volcanos in a tent, then finished in the morning.  A nice way to miss the crowds, who typically start in the early morning to complete the estimated eight to ten hour tramp in the same day.  

Vegetation struggling to grow on the lava. The white stuff was a fluffy moss, not sulfur as I'd thought initially
I headed out on the trail with an initial goal of getting to the base of the volcanos and a stretch goal of climbing to the south crater.  Signs warned of eruption hazards and provided instructions on how to shelter if there was volcanic activity.  Two of the three volcanos are active and Ngauruhoe erupted as recently as 1975. 

Tongariro Crossing Map and profile

 I did pretty well with the hiking, and had a really fantastic, peaceful walk to the springs, and up part of the crater.  There were very few people on the trail and I enjoyed the solitude.  I did about half of the climb up to the south crater. I so wanted to get up there and check out the view on the other side, but my practical nature overrode that desire and I turned around and headed back.  I didn't want to max out my foot. Still, I had an awesome hike and I was glad to get in a hike with some views and a little climbing even if my foot/fitness precluded doing the entire thing.  

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