Rocking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and the taste of Hawkes Bay

Haere Mai everyone! Gagging for more adrenaline based stories are we? Wasn’t satisfied with just reading about our 7 metre white water rafting experience or bungy jump over a river? Cool! Well welcome back!

On Saturday 5th January we woke up at 5am to the dawn chorus of Tui and Bell birds all around our van. Today we would embark on a 7 hour hike of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, regarded as one of the world greatest one day hikes. Mt Tongariro, when my Mum came to visit had just started to smoke again after a recent eruption. I’ve done a lot of crazy things since traveling the world – used open squat toilets in China, eaten weasel shit in Vietnam, scuba dived at night with sharks in Australia and recently bungy jumped in NZ, but nothing compared to the fear I now felt about doing this. Even though the eruption in November last year had closed half the crossing, meaning we’d get to the viewpoint of the great lakes at the top and have to turn around, just completing it was going to be a real achievement for me. It was all down to me whether I’d make the summit of the volcano, let alone the first three hours of climbing over the heath land  What if I got a blister along the way or my knee started playing up? I was so damn nervous about failing.

Summer in NZ had been a mix of scorching hot days, dreary wet ones and some of the most coldest nights I’ve ever experienced. Last night was one of the latter. Going to bed fully clothed and covered in a thick duvet with towels and blankets on top, you’d think we would be cozy. Nope! All I’m saying is that I’m glad I wasn’t travelling around in our van during winter time or I would have died! After a nice cup of coffee and bowl of warming porridge, we were picked up by a coach full of hikers with different types of gear on. Most looked like Andy and I, wearing layers of normal clothes and jeans over a good pair of walking shoes. But then there were others in running gear (omg people sprint this?! You have to be kidding!) and people with proper climbing equipment and sticks. All we took with us was tons of water, sunscreen and loads of our favourite cereal bars – Mother Nature Afghan bars (chocolate, chocolate chips, tree nuts and oats). Yum!

It was 7am when we arrived at the base camp carpark and stood in amazement at Mt Ruapehu next to us. It is the last of the three volcanoes stood close in line. Sprinkled with snow and homing the little town of Whakapapa (yes pronounce the ‘Wh’ as ‘Fa’!) sat in a valley in its shadow, the sun was still to make an appearance over these volcanic giants. Standing next to Mt Ruapehu with Mt Tongariro smoking in front of us and the pointy peak of Mt Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings) to the side, we turned round to spot another monster behind us in the distance – Mt Taranaki, situated on the west of the island by the coast. Woah that was a big one! Pretty intimidating yet absolutely beautiful. My fear disappeared and I was now ready to get going on our mammoth hike.

The first two hours flew past walking next to a stream and climbing the small and dusty path. We then got to the Devil’s Staircase which just like it sounds, was an absolute bugger to climb. Stair after stair with no let-up it seemed for an hour. At the top I collapsed on a rock, head thumping and feeling very deflated. I couldn’t give up now, that had to be the hardest part over and done with surely? Luckily I had brought along my trusty migraine tablets, popped a couple of them along with a cereal bar and water to wash it all down. I shoved my earphones in, turned on iTunes on my phone and listened to my playlist of rock, metal and Lady Gaga (couldn’t resist her!) which blocked out the little voice in my head telling me to give up. Well, I was like a bloody machine after that! Now almost dancing whilst walking, I enjoyed the climbing and felt much better.

After walking through the huge south crater on sinking reddish soot we had another climb up the side to get out and get to the top where the viewpoint for the peaks, lakes and Lake Taupo was. It took my breath away! Absolutely stunning. Most people were just sat around on rocks, staring at the sights. It felt really peaceful up there even though we were sat in between 3 volcanoes, one smoking too! It was another hour or so till we got to the summit of Mt Tongariro, where again we just sat in awe of the wonders around us…whilst eating another two cereal bars each. They were so damn tasty, but we worried if all these oats, tree nuts and sweating would stop us from having a poo for a week! 🙂 Looking down at the micro specs of new people in the distance starting their ascent, I was pleased we’d started our hike so early. It was now past 11am and scorching. Some people were even trying to climb the slippery slopes in flip flops (known as thongs in OZ, and get this – jandals in NZ! Ha ha!), crazy!

It was time to make our move back, yes unfortunately we couldn’t go any further as the path was closed so had to climb down to base camp where we’d started. Obviously the path wasn’t designed for people going the other way as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is normally a one-way hike. Everyone was taking ages to go down, passing hundreds of people climbing up, it was a mess! People were falling over, slipping on their arses on the volcanic rocks and soot. There was only one thing for it – ski down! So Andy and I started running, moving like we had invisible skis attached to our feet, slicing from side to side into the deep dust and passing everyone laying about. It was such a rush! And with Metallica playing in my earphones I was indestructible! Woo! We reached the bottom and made it onto the 2.30pm bus with no blisters to show for it! The whole hike took just over 7 hours and we were so proud of ourselves. I can’t believe my friend Jemma did the whole thing in winter wearing crampons! Go Smith!

Over the next few days the hike had caught up with me. I was walking like John Wayne! Luckily we didn’t have any crazy plans for a while, we just chilled out and drove from Taupo to Napier in the Hawkes Bay area. We visited the town of Napier which had a real retro feel to it since it was all rebuilt after the terrible earthquake in 1930. We sat on the black pebbly beach listening to a blues band playing on a nearby stage wondering what winery we should visit first, since Hawkes Bay is famous for its fine wines. We drove into the parched looking valley full of bright green strips of grape vines all around and after a recommendation from a local, we visited the Sileni Estates Winery.

You would have thought that dressed the way we were and stepping out of our backpackers van, the staff at a vinyard would have looked down their noses at us, but no, I forgot we weren’t in France, this was NZ and everyone is super cool! We were welcomed with open arms (literally!) by a lovely lady called Anne Boustead who talked us through each wine we tasted – 6 in total and all for just $5! She also gave us a personal map of the south island, describing the best places to go and visit. How nice! We walked out with a bottle under one arm and tons of cheese, jam and crackers under the other. Lovely jubbly!

Winery – check. Beer brewery….hmmm that sounds like a good idea! ‘Til next time people,

Emma x


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