Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Tongariro Crossing

Working hard, playing hard is a bit tiring (not that I am complaining in any way what so ever). I have spent most of this week cleaning, doing laudry, cooking, baking, oh yeah and taking care of two children under two years of age and seriously living well!! I am still shocked at how rewarding and enjoyable my domestic activities are. It is probably only blissful because of the balance I get by not really having any on the weekends, if I don't want, and on top of that having the completely awe inspiring opportunities I have here like... going to Tongariro Crossing last weekend.

I went with a tour bus put on by my au pair managing company and so was accompanied by six other au pairs. They were all extremely lovely young women who maybe didn't don't know what they were getting themselves into when they signed up for this trip - but hey neither did I - the main difference being I am from Colorado where people are super active and hikes/treks are taken seriously. But on with the adventure.
The "house"
We left Friday afternoon (Andrea gave me the afternoon off and braved taking care of both children during waking hours by herself). The trip takes about 6 hours and Tongariro National Park is approximately 250 km south of Auckland. We stopped at a grocery to get dinner, the next days meals (though I'd brought along most of that), and then wandered into some podunk town in the middle of no where to stay in a "house."

Scree climbing
The "house" was suppose to be a really nice backpacker, but for unknown reasons, even to our guide, we'd been bumped to an over glorified camping shed. It actually wasn't so bad, just cramped living space, one bathroom and not what had been advertised by the agency. We left camp at about 0800 to meander to the Crossing. It is on this little meandering I learned that none of the other girls had really every hiked and due to petro shortages the guide wouldn't be accompanying us. When we started the trek it took about 10 minutes for the group to get out the parking lot with all the picture taking and gaggling, so it was then that I made the best decision of my day- ditch 'em.
South Crater to Red Crater
I plugged in my iPod and hunkered down for the 19.8km (12.3) trek. It starts out in a valley called Soda Springs with lots of brush and a little stream. This was a 45-minute warm up for the next 45 minutes of "devil's staircase." Its about a 70 story stair climb to the South Crater. Out of the 150 or pictures I took none of them were done here as I was just trying to keep one foot moving up in front of the other. From the South Crater to the Red Crater its another couple hundred feet climb - but no stairs here in fact some of it was so vertical I had to go almost onto all fours and almost all of it was scree.
Up until the Red Crater the landscape was mostly volcanic rock (red and black).Then at the end of the Red Crater I was able to look over the edge to the Emerald Lakes.  At this point of the trek is where I really started to not have so much fun since the descent from Red Crater to the lakes is on traversed by walking (kinda) on scoria which is on top of scree - aka loose round volcanic rocks moving on top of all the gravely, dusty, moving, broken scroia parts.

Blue Lake and Emerald Lakes (r side)
Emerald Lakes
Scoria and Scree
Blue Lake
Red Crater to Blue Lake
Vista from top of Blue Lake
Once I reached the top of Blue Lake I was able to see, well, almost the whole Eastern part of New Zealand. Then I was on the down. Lots of down. In total I went up for 3 hours or 3600 feet and then down for 2.5 hours or 4300 feet. On the way down I went from volcanic moon-scape like rocks to brush, pairire and eventually luscious rain forest. When I got the end, my van wasn't there to pick me up...... I text the driver and when he arrived he said that I was the fastest trekker he had ever had on his tours and he wasn't expecting me for another couple of hours - which is when the rest of my group showed up. I was so in love the hike I just sort of melded into a meditative, hyper-active state. I didn't take any breaks and I stopped three times to grab food out of my pack. The weather (complete and amazing luck) and scenery was so incredible I couldn't help but keep moving.
When the group was recompiled we went back to "town" for showers, dinner, and bed. I did get a chance to lay outside and watch the night's sky. I have never seen so many stars - it is indescribably!!! Sunday we did a little travel through the park, including a waterfall trip and stop at the out-of-season ski lodge and headed back to Auckland.
Rain forest


It looks different the next day
Kiwi Crossing!!

 P.S. If you can't tell by the pictures - yes I was hiking "Mt. Doom" from Lord of the Rings - unfortunately I didn't think I had time to summit it (ha).

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