I arrived in sleepy National Park Village, which is truly a village consisting of one convenience store, two or three restaurants, and a hostel. However little the village might be, the views are grand, with Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom in LOTR, pronounced NA-ra-hoy) looming in the background. And, it’s the closest place you can stay to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing trailhead, which is an epic 19.4km hike featuring volcanoes, craters, and lakes (oh my!).
When I arrived, I first went to the convenience store to pick up lunch meat and cheese to make a sandwich for the following day’s hike. I was also going to pick up a yogurt but since their yogurt stock did not look that appetizing (all the high sugar, artificial coloring stuff) I decided I would skip my daily yogurt and stick to PB and toast for breakfast. In the evening, I met four girls who are all working as au pairs in Auckland. Pernille (“P”) and Amalie are from Denmark, Rosalie is from Switzerland (Morges no less!), and Alisa is from Germany. We had a ball talking and laughing the evening away. (I also learned my first Danish word, bonderøv, which means “farm-ass” or hick. Shoutout to P.)
In the morning, we got up at 6:15 to get ready for our 7:15 bus to the trailhead (Mangatepopo Carpark). It was FREEZING in the morning and I layered up with long sleeves, a fleece, a down coat, and my trusty green rain jacket. We arrived at the track around 7:50, and found it already PACKED. We hiked backpack to backpack for the entire day.
The first part of the track took us through grasslands. We then started climbing. As I huffed and puffed up, I quickly removed my outer layers. After about 2.5 hours, we arrived at the turn off point for the Mt. Ngauruhoe summit and for the Mt. Tongariro summit. The Mt. Ngauruhoe summit isn’t on an official trail, and it looks rather intimidating. It’s not only steep, but also very slippery as the volcanic rock isn’t firmly attached to, well, the side of the mountain. However, the Mt. Tongariro summit IS an official trail. Rosalie, Alisa, and I left P and Amalie so we could summit Mt. Tongariro (1961 m). Wow, we had great views of Mt. Ngurahoe! When we got back to the main track, we saw it had gotten so crowded! Going down to the Emerald Lakes was extremely slippery. The loose tephra had hikers falling left and right. The surrounding scenery made me feel like I was walking on Mars, not Earth.
After we descended a bit, Rosalie, Alisa, and I stopped for lunch. Yum! I open my giant backpack (I had emptied my 45L pack to use as a day pack since my other one was too small) and dug around all my clothing layers. Cereal bars. Water. Chocolate. Okay, so where’s my sandwich? *OH NO. IT’S IN THE HOSTEL FRIDGE. o.O* The beautiful triple decker sandwich and fruit I had made and washed the night before was sitting in the fridge. So here I was, lugging around a giant backpack with NO LUNCH. If I had had yogurt for breakfast, I would have opened the fridge, seen my sandwich, and grabbed it. But because I decided to forgo yogurt and eat PB and toast, I didn’t open the fridge that morning. So my lesson of the day: ALWAYS buy yogurt.
Well, at least I was able to fill up on cereal bars and chocolate. We passed the blue lake and enjoyed the last 10 km of beautiful scenery to the Ketetahi car park. In total, the crossing plus the Tongariro summit, which came to a total of 22.4 km, took us 6h40m. Not bad.
Back at the hostel, I bade farewell to my new Euro friends and devoured my very late lunch. Thinking back to this hike, my heart is full.