Hope everyone is well back home.
We made it safely across on the ferry to the north island and arrived in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. It was very strange being in a city again and hitting traffic after having the roads pretty much to ourselves for the last 3 weeks. We had to make our way out of the city to find a campsite in a suburb of Wellington. The campsite we stayed at had an awesome kids playground with a giant inflatable bouncy pillow thing which Gav and I had great fun playing on. We were the biggest kids there!!!
The following day we made our way into Wellington to visit the Te Papa museum which had some awesome exhibits in including volcanoes and earthquakes where you get to experience an earthquake. The best by far was the whales exhibit which you paid to get in but it was well worth it as it was really interesting. We had lunch on the quay front and went into town for a bit. Afterwards we did a quick shop and headed off towards Tongariro National Park. It was a bit of a drive from Wellington so we decided to stop halfway and continue the journey the next day.
It took us another 3 hours the next day to get to Ohakune to visit an i-site and find out which walks were best to do around this volcanic area. We chose to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which takes you over the volcanic terrain between Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe (which is actually Mt Doom in the film Lord of the Rings). The total track length is 18.5km on way and would take between 5.5 to 7.5 hours without stops! We had to book a shuttle bus to take us from Ohakune and drop us of at Mangatepopo car park and pick us up at Ketetahi car park and take us back to Ohakune. We stayed in a local DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite just outside Ohakune and to warm up our legs for the next day we did a short 3k forest walk near the campsite. Then it was an early night for our 7.30a.m. meet up with the shuttle the following day.
Today was the big day! We had a brilliant forecast - some morning mist clearing early and leaving clear blue skies with very little wind! The shuttle bus took about 45 mins to get to the Mangatepopo car park so we started our walk just after 8.30a.m. The first part up to 'Soda Springs' was gentle and undulating,so we were enjoying looking at all the volcanic rock that was scattered around the terrain. Then we reached the 'Devils Staircase' this part nearly killed me it was very steep and rocky and took us 50 mins to walk up, and as we got higher the cloud/mist was getting worse and when we finally reached the top the temperature had dropped and it had started to rain. This made visibility poor and as we continued through the 'South Crater' it was very eerie like walking on the moon as it was so silent and empty. We continued the climb upwards to the highest point the 'Red Crater ' and we were being lashed with rain and blown at by the wind that we couldn't see hardly anything. We attempted to eat our lunch sheltered behind a large rock but our fingers were so cold that we decided to start moving again. We were now on the decent which was really loose scree and it was very hard to keep your balance. Just down from the 'Red Crater' was the 'Emerald Lakes' but because of all the mist and rain weren't able to see much. I'm sure they would have looked even more spectacular if it was a clear day and the sun had been shining on them. It was another climb up to the blue lake but at this point we couldn't see anything so we headed down towards the Ketetahui Hut. As we descended the wind and rained stopped as we came out the other side of the cloud sat on top of the mountain and the sun came out. It just shows how changeable the weather can be on mountains/volcanoes! We stopped at the hut for refuelling and then it was another 2 hours back to the car park passing through some extremely eggy smelling Ketetahi Springs. We arrived a the bottom exhausted but pretty pleased we had managed the whole walk in just over 6 hours! We stayed at the Whakapapa campsite that night, we demolished a massive plate of spagehetti bologonase, spent ages under a hot shower (it times like this that we wish we could have a bath!) and had an early night after a cup of tea and a bar of dairy milk!
Oh my god I think we need to join a ramblers association when we get back!!!! Today we have decided to walk up the highest peak in the north island (2797m) - this time we decided to climb to the crater late of Mt Ruapehu (which is at 2670m) - another volcanoe! But before we even got started Gavin realised we had lost our small camera so we had to turn back and take everything out of the campervan, look round the holiday park and finally ring the shuttle company from yesterday. Luckily they had found it on the seat, so this meant a 45 min drive back to Ohakune to get it. After having it safely returned - phew! We went to grab some rolls for lunch and while we were parked some idiot drove his car into our back bumper! Luckily it wasn't too much damage, we sorted out and we were glad we had paid a bit extra for an insurance waiver.
After two disaters we were expecting a third, and climbing a volcanoe probably wasn't the best idea! On our way to the ski lifts we noticed that the Tongario Crossing had perfect weather today - typical! We caught the ski lifts up half way which knocks off about 3 hours in total off the walk. After this we had to pick our way over the rocks trying to find the route up as it wasn't marked out like most walks. It was a long and hard climb over the rocks to the top but we had awesome views of the volcanoes (Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro) which we walked across the day before. It took us about 2 hours to reach the top and walk along the ridge around the crater to the hut and spectacular views over the crater lake. At the top we had lunch and began talking to this Kiwi who told us why there was a the big whole in the hut floor and a huge boulder at the bottom of it. He said that last year two guys were sleeping in the hut and the volcanoe started a lahar (mudflow) which sent rocks and mud flying out. Anyway this boulder flew through the door where one of the guys was sleeping and pinned his leg to the floor. His mate couldn't move it so he had to get back down the mountain for help. Meanwhile the poor guy stuck there was being covered with lahar from the volcanoe, luckily they did save him but unfortunatly he had to have his leg amputated. The Kiwi guy that was telling us this said you can still see the guys sock there!!!!
So after hearing that, we decided it was time we made a move and get back down the mountain to catch the last ski lift back down. Going down was alot more fun than going up. We followed a different track back down and it meant we got to do some sledging down the snow still there. Gavin used his kagool (yep he bought one!) to slide down on, I tripped up and just ended up going down on my behind! We both had wet bums by the time we reached the bottom but soon dried off. After this we were well and truly shattered (Dad stylee!) so we slept like babies.
Well as you can imagine we are in need of a days rest, so we'll leave it there for now.
Lots of love
Helen and Gavin x