We left Wellington and headed northwards on the motorway up the Kapiti coast. There were actually cars on the roads, and even a little traffic jam - something we had't been used to in the south!
We passed through a number of small towns before stopping for lunch in Taihepe - world famous in the gum booot throwing world. Each year the gum boot throwing festival 'attracts participants from all over the world'. We guessed that this means a lot of people in campervans come across this event on the way north! Still they have a nice wellington boot statue in the town!
We continued north through Wairou, home to the NZ military (signs said no stopping as live firing and explosions were common on both sides!!). An hour or so later and we had arrived in Ohakune - the carrot capital of New Zealand (and they have a carrot statue to prove it!)
There must have been something in the air, as rather than deciding to take a nice gentle chair lift to the summit of Mount Ruapehu (the highest mountain on the North Island) we booked transport to take us to the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing - a walk up and over an active volcano!
It looked hard work! So in best preparation we had an nice afternoon beer with Maurice and Anna. Then a late afternoon beer. And a few evening beers too. Oops.
We woke up at 6:30, showered, packed our day bags and boarded the bus at 7:15 heading for the Tongariro National Park. By 8:30 we arrived at the Mangatepopo car park, had a safety briefing and we were off on a 19.4km hike through the volcanoes!
|Just 19.4km to go then!|
The start was simple - nice and flat with great views over the lava fields towards Mount Ruapeho - still very active, last erupting in 2007 during the ski season.
|Surprising that things can grow here!|
The flatness and wooden boardwalk soon ran out however and we encountered our first mini climb of the day!
We arrived at the Soda Springs hut after about an hour and had a great view of Mt Ngauruhoe. It also gave us a view of the next section of the walk - The Devils Staircase!
|Only 250m in altitude - easy eh?|
|Half way up The Devils Staircase|
We reached the top of The Devils Staircase and the views of Mt Ngauruhoe were sensational. Mt Ngauruhoe (nar-a-hoe-ee) is probably now better known as Mt Doom after Peter Jackson chose it for the Lord of the Rings films. They are still filming The Hobbit around here now! It is still an active volcano, erupting 44 times in the 20th century, although it hasn't erupted since 1977.
|You can see the lava trails from the 70s|
|Still no where near half way!|
|Nice and flat!|
|Who stole the path?|
A final 20 minutes and we made it to the top. We were standing above a volcanic crater with fumaroles 6 feet away hissing sulphurous gasses into the air!
|The gash from the last eruption|
From the top looking down into the crater, we could now see down the other side to Emerald Lakes. These lakes former craters that have filled with rain water and have been coloured bright green due to minerals leaching out of the surrounding rock.
As you can see, the path is a bit steep here and is loose scoria scree underfoot - a bit like walking down sand dunes just a little more difficult and dangerous. We both ended up an our backsides at least once but made it down safely.
We stopped and had some lunch with the lovely smell of sulphur making our appetites considerably smaller!
|Only 10.4km to go!|
|At last - more flat bits!|
A short walk over the North Crater and we were climbing again, thankfully only about 15mins to the very peaceful Blue Lake.
|Sacred to Maori|
|The most amazing view!|
|Lake Taupo at the back|
We thought we were near the end, but then the path just continued even further
And to make it worse, we had more climbing to do!
After 6 hours of solid walking, scrambling and climbing we made it down to the car park and on to the bus back to Ohakune.