On the way down to Tongariro National Park we stopped in Turangi, a little town with not much there. We went to the iSite and got some more information about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and then rang the accommodation we wanted to stay at that have transport to the crossing. They told us that there was some really bad weather coming in Thursday and Friday so they wouldn't be providing transport to the crossing but it was looking better for Saturday. We booked on for two nights, Friday and Saturday and the transport for Saturday with the hope that the weather would clear by then! The weather had already started getting misty and it had started raining.
When we got the National Park, we went to Whakapapa village where there was an iSite. The Tongariro National Park is New Zealand's oldest park and a dual heritage World Heritage area. In the area there is Mount Tongariro (1968m), Mount Ngauruhoe (2290m) and Mount Ruapehu (2797m), all active volcanoes. A crater of Mount Tongariro was the last to erupt in 2012. Mount Ngauruhoe was used in Lords of the Rings as Mount Doom and looks the scariest! The weather was still really bad and the forecast for the next couple of days wasn't looking good! It was very misty and the rain was very heavy, so we couldn't even see a couple of metres in front of us, never mind any of the mountains! It was gutting really as the drive would probably have been the most scenic we have done, with the mountains surrounding us, but we couldn't see a thing! The iSite told us that we could stay at a free parking area further up the road but that the weather was expected to get worse through the night and we would be exposed up there. We didn't know what he was on about until we got up to it. It was definitely 'up there', further up the mountain road towards the volcanic Mount Ruapehu and it was very exposed! It was just parking at the edge of the mountain road, with rocks surrounding in every direction. It was called Scoria flat car park and it was pretty strange and eerie. We were very high up, above 1150m above sea level and it was very very misty with heavy rain and wind that carried on all night. Every noise sounded weird out there and you could not see a single thing outside the van, it was pitch black. The road we were on led to a dead end to the chairlift at the bottom of Mount Ruapehu to get to Whakapapa ski field (the largest ski field in the Southern Hemisphere) so when we saw someone running past at 11.30pm we were pretty freaked out! God only knows where they were going. This was true wilderness camping anyway, just a shame we couldn't see Ruapehu as we would have been right below it! We made it through the night anyway, but we didn't really fancy doing that again! We were waking up all night with every noise because of the weather!
On the 9th we went down to the iSite in the morning to see what was occurring. The weather was still so bad and it had been non stop all night and all morning and it was forecast to be that way until Saturday. Everywhere was getting flooded and rivers were flowing strong that were just streams before! We drove to the National Park village which was like a zombie town and found one cafe and had lunch there and then booked onto a DOC site in Whakapapa village called Whakapapa Holiday Park. We spent the rest of the day relaxing, doing laundry, having a lovely warm shower and playing games parked with hook up overlooking the Whakapapa river.
On the 10th we managed to get some skypes in with the parents and then went to the Ruapehu chairlift at the end of Bruce Road to see what we could see, which was hardly anything! Ruapehu was nowhere to be seen! Discovery lodge, where we were going to be staying next for the trek told us that Saturday was looking the best day and should be good weather so at the moment it was going ahead, so that was good news! We parked up back in Whakapapa for lunch and all three mountains made an appearance for the first time which was very exciting!! We checked into Discovery in the afternoon and relaxed there for the rest of day ready for the crossing bright and early the next day! Discovery told us that we would need waterproofs, at least a jacket, for the walk as the weather can change so drastically and they can refuse to bring you if you don't have the right gear as it can be so dangerous up there. We decided waterproofs would be the best option anyway and can be used for all other walks with the winter coming. We ended up forking out $350 for some good waterproof jackets and trousers that would do us for years then! At Discovery there were amazing views of the three mountains from where we hooked up and it was only $18 each a night. The weather was still on and off but a double rainbow made an appearance over the mountains too! Ruapehu was snow capped and looked beautiful, which added to the crazy scenery that we were surrounded by! No wonder they say New Zealand has some of the most amazing scenery in the world! We were surrounded by it and we going to trek through it tomorrow!!
On the 11th we were up just after 5am to set off on our mini bus at 6.20am to the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The crossing is known as one of the best one days walks in the world. It is 19.4km and passes over volcanic terrain of the active volcanoes, Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe. There was a cold mountain spring, lava flow, an active crater, steam vents, emerald coloured lakes and unbelievable views! It really was the best one day walk we have ever done and the best sights we have ever seen! There were some challenging bits of the walks heading up and one challenging bit coming down from the red crater, walking, or falling down the volcanic black ash. The walk ascended 765m to the highest point overlooking the red crater at 1886m and then descended 1126m to the finish at Mangatetipua car park. We had been waiting days to get the chance to do it and the weather held out for us. It was such a lovely clear day, so we were so lucky!! We stopped for lunch by the emerald lakes and just after setting off, the clouds came in pretty thick. We were really lucky again to see all the views from the top before the clouds covered everything! It was pretty eerie walking through the most active volcanic area of the walk, not far from the Te Maari crater, which erupted in 2012. It was very low cloud too which added to the effect, as well as the steam vents. There were big warning signs and a lights system in place to warn people if there were higher volcanic activity in the area and to turn around and run! We finished the walk in 6 hours 30 mins with stops along the way to catch a breath, take in the sights and stopping for lunch. The average walking time without stops is 5-6 hours so we did it pretty quickly really!
We were back from the walk by 2pm and the sun was still shining but it was still a little chilly. We got some celebratory ciders and dessert from the shop and relaxed back at Discovery campsite, with the views of the three mountains in the background, and what we had just conquered! We still couldn't believe that we had managed to do it and the weather was so good for us! The last few days had been horrendous and the next few after today are suppose to be even worse so we were ridiculously lucky! Thank god! It was such a perfect day! One of the best days in my life so far for the unreal views, not to mention trekking through such volcanic terrain, across black ash, craters, next to steam vents and emerald volcanic lakes! Wow! Worth the wait any day!
We were exhausted from the walk yesterday and fell asleep pretty early. On the 12th I woke up very stiff and had to roll out of bed! I didn't think the walk had affected me that much! We relaxed for the morning, checked out at 10am and set off on our long drive to Wellington. That's nearly it for North Island now, it's gone so quick!