Saturday, July 20, 2013

Tongariro Alpine Crossing & Taupo

This was the day Greg and Olivia had really been looking forward to. About 30 minutes south of the lake city of Taupo is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It's a barren, volcanic place that was used as Mordor for the Lord of the Rings movies. Walking end to end is a 19.4 km (12 mile) trek, and it's considered to the best one-day trek in all of New Zealand. It is a serious hike. They aren't kidding about the "alpine" part of the name. You start at an elevation of 760 meters and finish at 1960 meters (2,490-6,430 feet). Let's do this!

But first, a bit of history. The Tongariro National Park is one of the few places in the world to achieve dual World Heritage status. It was designated the title in 1887, for its outstanding natural features and the cultural importance that the peaks and rivers represent to local Maori. All 3 volcanoes in this area, Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu, have erupted in recent times. The last confirmed eruption of Tongariro was 1897 at the end of a sequence lasting at least 40 years. That is mind blowing.

Now back to the hike. The first five kilometers were pretty easy- a nice, scenic hike through the valley. This wasn't seeming so bad, and we got a very pretty shot of a waterfall.

Huh, apparently they are pretty serious about this.

About 8,000 steps and several hundred meters of elevation later we reached the top of the climb that brought us onto the central crater. We were more than a little tired, but pretty stoked. You may recognize the backdrop, as it recently headlined in a little movie trilogy playing the part of Mount Doom. It's real name is Mount Ngauruhoe. You can climb it, but it's recommended only the most experienced climbers do so. That's not us, so we contented ourselves with waving and posing for a lot of pictures.

Pretty sure this is a joke. Not positive though.

Man, they were not kidding about this being mountainous. Careful you don't lose your balance. If you do, you're going off a cliff. No protective measures here. This would never be allowed in the States.

Made it!

The iron deposits were particularly prevalent here, creating some gorgeous, but stark, landscapes.

These are the Emerald Lakes, which are so bright due to the active chemical reactions and sulfur still being deposited in the water from volcanic activity. Getting in the water is not advised. Getting down to the lakes meant sliding down a very steep, very gravelly incline. You had to be very sure footed, and even then, we ended up on our butts a couple times. This is a great spot for lunch as the geothermic activity is so strong that a lot of heat rises up through the ground. This makes for a rather pleasant rest in the otherwise quite cold, alpine air.

Unfortunately, this was as far as we got. You see, about three months prior, the Te Maari crater (which is part of the Tongariro volcano) began smoking and, in one case, threw a few rocks and ash out, demolishing one of the shelter zones and nearly hitting some hikers passing by. When that happened, they closed down the back half of the hike. So, while it sucked we couldn't do the whole thing, having your hike terminated due to an active volcano is a pretty great reason.

On the way back, Greg opted to take a side trek to the peak of the red crater, a much less strenuous hike than Mount Doom. In this picture you can see the path we would have walked stretching from the Emerald Lakes to the Blue Lake in the distance. Some of the wispy clouds in the background is from the smoke coming off Te Maari. Yeah, that's pretty close. Let's not go over there.

Man, that is epic.

Summited a mountain! What did you do today? Also, notice Greg's crazy swollen hands from the elevation change. Definitely didn't notice that until we looked at this picture later in the day.

As we hiked back down, towards the beginning of the trip there was a short turn off to go see a waterfall. We got about halfway and decided we were too exhausted to keep going. Falling water, whatever, we had seen that before. One cool thing though, and this made for Olivia's favorite picture of the whole trip, was how the iron deposits in the mountain made for a beautiful, flowing red mud stream. After this we collapsed back in the tour bus waiting to give us a ride back to the hotel and took a well earned nap.

Meanwhile, Laurel and Imogen explored Taupo. Fun fact- alpine crossings are not baby friendly. Laurel had a really solid plan. Every Saturday, Taupo had a craft fair like the Bus Depot Markets in Canberra, and lo and behold, it was Saturday. After fighting through a surprising amount of traffic to get a parking spot, and getting all of the baby stuff out, Laurel discovered that the craft fair had been cancelled... in favor of a Pat Benatar concert. How random! This also explained why we had such a hard time finding a hotel room. Curse you Benatar!

Laurel made do though, and went for a walk around the lake, coming across this pretty epic littering sign. Taupo does not mess around with litterbugs.

Taupo is kind of a big resort town built around a giant, inland lake. It is really pretty, but since it's a vacation spot, it was easily the most expensive place we went to in New Zealand. Stay for a couple days, take in the beauty, and then move on.

Laurel moved on back to the hotel pool for a relaxing swim.

I like this water way better than that chilly Indian Ocean, Mom.

Laurel and Immy had a great time at the pool! She had the best time splashing around and making friends with the other kids. And the other kids had fun playing with our underwater camera. It was way more fun than hiking a mountain. What crazy person wants to do that??

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