This is totally unrelated to anything about writing, because, I feel like I should warn you. You being, any person that has unrealistic expectations for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand. So let me tell you, you’ve been warned…
This is from Google, retrieved from YouTube user PsychoTraveller, back in 2016.
…I swear I was never this happy on the hike. Proud when I was done. But not happy. Impressed with the stunning views, but always praying that I survived.
Anyways, in case you have not heard of Tongariro Alpine Crossing, it’s supposed to be one of the best day hikes in the world. First off, it’s supposed to be an accessible hike. Second, it is a challenging hike, so good to mentally and physically stretch yourself. Third, it’s supposed to have beautiful scenery, passing active volcanoes and turquoise green lakes. But, even though their website quotes parts as moderate/difficult. I swear some of these may be under-stressed. (Partially because I think in some deep, deep part of myself, I am a drama queen, and I have to over-exaggerate. That, and I had extreme allergies at the time, and I don’t react well with elevation, and I don’t mix with heights and/or anything that requires balance and stability. So, there’s that.)
So, let me explain with an elevation map.
I borrowed this from The Laws of Travel, and then edited it a little bit to add sections and letters. Mainly to show you what I thought of the hike.
SECTION A: As you can see in the picture below, part A is slightly uphill, in what I would consider relatively easy hiking. It’s paved, some parts are on steel walkways with anti-slip treds on them, and it’s barely uphill. You may feel slightly winded, but you’ll be fine.
SECTION B: The Devil’s Staircase. This part is easy…if you’re good with elevation and staircases. I have to admit with the elevation and allergies, I had to stop like every ten steps to remember to breath. It was bad. There were a #%^$-ton of stairs. Remember that you’re gaining something like 300+ meters. It’s hard and annoying work.
SECTION C: The Tease. This is where you think you’re done with the hard part. You’re walking across basically what looks like a flat desert to see Mt. Doom (from Lord of the Rings), and it looks pretty cool. People are taking a break, and then you look up to see your next series of elevation. Another at least 200+ meters gain. #%@&.
SECTION D: The 200+ meters gain in elevation. By the way, there aren’t any steps. You’re walking up a series of dirt, loose rocks, and big rocks. Oh, and don’t forget there’s a severe drop-off on either side. At least the path is semi-wide. And there’s a rope to hold onto…for only a section of like 10 feet.
The tippy-top—I didn’t include a picture. This is a nice place to stop for lunch, which most people did. But there’s not much to see. Imagine a lunar landscape that’s mainly flat without craters. That’s the very top. They did tell us to be careful. If it’s too windy, you can get blown into the Red Crater. Wanna see? Look below.
SECTION E: Finally! Some downhill. Only, did someone forget to mention how loose the footing is? This section is all loose rocks, like pumice and sand/dirt. Seriously, I lost my footing and fell on my butt nearly 8 times. Not good when the right edge is a cliff into the Red Crater and the left edge is a cliff into a valley. And stupid me, I kept trying to grab onto anything for help, and there was this little ledge for a while, but it was smoking and hot and apparently had its own volcanic activity. AKA don’t touch smoking rocks.
Btw, try to dig in your heels when you walk. And look for the dirt. You have more grip there than on the loose rocks. And be careful, some parts are not as wide.
SECTION F: By now my legs are tired, and thank god I finally get a break. There’s some more downhill, but it’s much easier. There’s a flat area, which I couldn’t be more thankful for. And, then there’s some uphill, which makes me want to hurt somebody, but it’s nowhere as steep, loose, or dangerous as before. So I grin and bear it.
Warning: Around Blue Lake, the signage gets bad, so watch out for which path to take. Me and my husband (and multiple others visitors) took the path most traveled, but it ended up being the wrong path, and way more difficult of the two. Apparently, there was an easier path but the signage was missing, and most people did it wrong. Don’t be me.
SECTION G: By now, it’s around 12 kilometers of downhill, which isn’t hard. The paths are rather wide. There are some steep edges, but it’s not a cliff face. More like a gentle roll down a hill if you fell. And, you’d stop pretty quick. I will say though, when you don’t expect it, your knees will start to go. So be patient with your joints. I stopped for regular intervals to give my joints a break. But one of the men in our group of six, he tore his knee and had to be air-lifted out. Don’t over-extend yourself.
What did I learn? This was one of the best hikes I had ever done. It was also one of the most difficult. My husband and I trained for maybe three months before the hike, running up to 3.5 miles, walking at least 12 miles on the weekend, and we thought we’d be prepared. It’s hilly here in Washington, and we thought we’d be ready for the mountains of New Zealand, at least on the north island.
We were wrong.
This is a difficult hike. I greatly appreciated plenty of snacks, especially my apples and granola bars covered in chocolate. We never had enough water (I blew through three out of the four water bottles we had—my husband was thirsty, and yet I was thirstier by the end. Blame my allergies. And the fact that I’m part fish.) Even though the weather was splendid, the hike was hard on my muscles and joints. Please take into consideration everything before you go on the hike. Don’t be the tourist that wears sandals.
Btw, did I mention that I now have a permanent callous on my toe because of this hike?