super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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The Tongariro Alpine Crossing (again) and a side of peak bagging

 

Does it make me really lame to be talking about new year’s resolutions in April? If it does, rest assured I’m only talking about them because I’m doing well(ish). If I hadn’t been ticking things off the list, I’d probably try to forget I’d written the list in the first place.

Last weekend, I ticked off my third item on the list of ways I’m trying not to screw up this year and went back to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing for a third go at it.

In the interest of accuracy, I should point out that I didn’t hike the full Tongariro Alpine Crossing last weekend. The track is closed from Blue Lake onwards due to a volcanic eruption (“a volcano erupted all over my hike” sounds a bit like a “dog ate my homework” kind of excuse, but it’s true) so, technically, I hiked the crossing I could hike (almost), from Mangatepopo to Emerald Lakes and back. It was still a challenging hike – possibly even more challenging because my (almost fully recovered) knee hated climbing down the aptly named Devil’s Staircase section (which you don’t have to climb down when the entire track is open). The track from Blue Lake onwards, which is currently closed, is mostly downhill so, once you’re over the really tough bits (have I mentioned I loathe the Devil’s Staircase?), the rest of the hike is pretty pleasant. If you want to wait to do the full length of it, though, you will have to wait a little while longer.

I’d written about this hike here before, and this third attempt served to show me that it does remain my favourite day hike in the country. There’s just so much beautiful scenery to feast your eyes on, you almost forget how hard the walk actually is. But it is. Just a couple of days ago, six people had to be rescued from the crossing in four separate incidents, a good reminder that you should never under-estimate the crossing, even if the weather seems to be in your favour (and I did see some people up on the mountain that really should not have been there the way they were – think handbag and plastic bag with food, regular shoes or not even carrying anything at all).

The bonus this time, on my third Tongariro crossing, was the side trip to the top of Mount Tongariro, 1978m high, which I was pretty stoked to summit. The trip to the summit is about 1.5/2 hours return from Red Crater and not as steep as one might expect a hike to the top of a volcano to be, as the bulk of the elevation is gained on the walk up to Red Crater (all the way up the damn Devil’s Staircase). The views from the top are spectacular and completely worth all my fears of causing permanent damage to my knee (I’m pretty sure my doctor wouldn’t be happy to know this is what I was doing when he told me to rest). Really not a bad place to have your lunch, oh no sir.

I was pretty excited to bag a peak and I can see why so many people are into it, the whole “feeling on top of the world” kind of thing, with the physical and the metaphorical sense of the expression coming together at the end of a rough climb.

March has now come and gone and it’s safe to say that it was one of the most awesome months I’ve had in a while. Now that the pain is all gone and I’ve got full mobility back (even managed a few small runs in the last few days), it’s time to work on making April a pretty decent one too.


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Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand

We layered up just as we had been told to and set on our walk pretty early in the morning (from memory, I think it was about 7AM when we started).

We had 19.4km of a World Heritage Site ahead of us and we’d been told to be prepared for a tough walk. I don’t want to say it was easy because, well, it wasn’t and I also don’t want anyone to read this, get the wrong idea and go completely under-prepared. If you’re reasonably fit and you’ve done a few long hikes before and you’re used to uneven and sometimes difficult terrain, then you’re probably ready.

The first 3km are flat and maybe even a little bit boring, compared to what’s ahead. Around 5km into it (distances may be slightly off because I suck at judging distances), we got to what people call “the devil’s staircase”, a steep uphill climb during which I wanted to die about 23 times. But I didn’t die and we made it to the top and it wasn’t long (relatively speaking) before we reached the Red Crater and I got all excited about life again.

We walked and walked and walked, much slower than I’d hoped we would (because super idiotic girl had injured her foot the day before – and yes, I’m talking about myself in third person). Then we got to the Emerald Lakes and the way I verbalised it may have even included some swear words but it was something along the lines of “oh dear, those are some very pretty lakes”.

The lakes are about halfway along the hike and we decided to stop there to have our lunch. Not a wise decision, unless you don’t mind eating with the smell of sulphur that comes from the lakes. For lunch that day, I had ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches with a side of sulphur fragrance. Yum. Still, it was pretty much the most amazing place to have lunch.

The second half of the hike is much, much easier. It’s pretty much all downhill and, even though it seems to go on and on forever, it gets really pleasant past the Ketetahi Hut, once you get into the bush.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing (the “alpine” was added to its official name in 2007 to point out to people it’s not just a stroll in the park) is the best day hike I’ve ever done. It’s wild enough but not too wild, hard enough but not too challenging, long enough but not too strenuous. And boy is it gorgeous! It’s no wonder it is rated as the best day-hike in New Zealand and constantly ranked in the world’s top 10.

We’ve done it one more time since this first time (which happened a couple of years ago) and battled some really nasty weather on the second time. So terrible I don’t even like remembering that day because I don’t want it clouding the memory of the first one. The weather wasn’t perfect on our first visit (as you can see from a couple of these photos) but it was certainly not as life-threatening as on the second time. Now I have to go back when it’s sunny so I can get some proper photos.

Remember that, even though it’s only day-hike, it is a hike through quite challenging terrain in a mountainous area. If you’re going:

  • Layer up! No matter what time of the year you visit, you’ll experience a wide range of temperatures while you’re there. Wear waterproof clothing but also don’t forget your hat and sunglasses. It gets freezing up there… and then it gets stinking hot.
  • Take plenty of water and food. You’ll be walking for anything between 6 and 8 hours so stuff those snack bars in your backpack. And yes, that Mars bar can go too.
  • Dust off the sturdy hiking boots and maybe throw in a walking pole for extra comfort (I find that my walking pole really helps on the uphills)
  • Wear gloves. My hands were freezing both times even though I was wearing gloves. I don’t want to think what I would have felt like if I didn’t have them.
  • If you possible, stay the night in the area after the walk. Your legs will thank you for not cramming them inside a car for hours right afterwards.
  • Remember that you’ll be walking through exposed volcanic terrain and that the weather can change quite quickly and unexpectedly. Winds can get really, really strong up there and visibility can be reduced to pretty much zero (flashbacks to my second time on the track). Don’t underestimate it.


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Leitch’s Track, Whareorino Forest, New Zealand

It was about time we hit the bush again for some good hikes, after a way too long break caused by a mixture of New Zealand winter, busy times and a certain dislike of freezing temperatures.

On Friday, a group of nine people left Auckland and drove for three hours down to the Whareorino Forest for what was my first overnight hiking experience. In fact, there was more than just one “first” that night: first time hiking in the bush at night, first time sleeping in a hut, first time using a longdrop toilet… too much info? Okay then.

We set out into the bush when it was already dark and could only see as far as our head torches would let us (which really wasn’t more than a couple of meters in front of us). The hike into the hut took us about 3.5 hours and turned out to be 10.5km and not the 8.5km that the DOC sign at the start told us it was. The terrain was fairly easy but it was made slightly harder by the fact that we were hiking in the dark and carrying heavy backpacks.

Needless to say, we didn’t stop to take any photos. Those 3.5 hours were spent adjusting our eyes to darkness, fighting big patches of slippery mud (and losing most of those fights) and trying not to slide down the skinny parts of the track with huge drops on the side. We did see lots of glowworms, though, so if you need a reason to hike at night, there’s one right there.

We arrived at Leitch’s Hut just after midnight and, after a quick snack and a few laughs (that must have woken up the other two occupants of the hut – oops!), got into our sleeping bags. It wasn’t exactly the five-star accommodation I had been in just a couple of nights before in Singapore but I was so exhausted I slept like a rock.

I woke up the next morning feeling much better than I’d expected, with no sore muscles and loads of energy. I was pretty excited about not needing my head torch anymore and being able to finally look at all the waterfalls we could only hear the night before.

After quickly eating breakfast (a nut bar and an up&go liquid breakfast), I put on a clean top and a clean pair of socks (that turned into wet socks about 0.2 seconds after I put my hiking boots on) and we set on our way. My pants were still damp and dirty from the night before so I was glad I’d made the last-minute decision to wear my full-length running skins underneath.

Before leaving the hut, we signed the Intentions Book where we’re meant to inform DOC of our names and details of our tramp, in case we get lost or injured.

The path was still very wet and slippery but at least we could now see everything ahead of us.

The weather wasn’t as clear as I hoped it would be but the few rain drops we got on our way out were a very welcome way to cool down. For a lot of the way, what was ahead of us was actually giant patches of slippery ankle-deep mud. I discovered hiking is a lot more fun once you stop caring about how much water and mud gets into your shoes.

And yes, our ears hadn’t been lying to us. All those times hearing water right next to us as we hiked further into the darkness meant that we were walking past pretty waterfalls.

About 20km later (lesson learnt: don’t believe all DOC signs), we were heading out of the track and back in the car to drive another three hours back to Auckland and back to our happy places where not all shoes and socks are damp and cold and cell phones have reception. I’m still unsure whether my pants need to be washed or incinerated but at least I now know I can hike at night without dying of a heart attack anytime something moves or there is any noise coming from the bush and I can sleep in the most basic of huts because, after all that effort, my body is no longer equipped to tell the difference between my sleeping bag and a five-star hotel bed.

If you want more specific information about this track, New Zealand Tramper has the accurate details.