I’m on top of the world!
Well, actually I’m now in an Internet cafe in Taupo – an extremely touristy town at the north end of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s biggest lake. Lake Taupo is an old volcanic crater, like much of the central plain in the north island. The camp site we’re currently staying at has it’s own thermal spring based hot tubs which are absolutely lovely and a lot less stinky than the ones down in Rotorua (although a lot less impressive as well). All in all, an amazingly beautiful area and we’ve been extremely lucky to get some amazing sunshine which was with us as we visited the surfing town of Raglan on the west coast and had some of the best sushi in months…
This luck also extended to a beautifully clear day walking along the Tongariro Crossing. This day started slightly earlier than usual – having to get up at 6.30am for a bus to the start of the walk. An easy start gets you warmed up before hitting the devil’s staircase, a 300 foot ascent as steep as most house stairs. All of this was made more interesting by an iron man competition running past us as we puffed and panted our way up (it’s been a few years since I did any serious hiking and it was showing). At the top you reach the first of a few volcanic craters, this one a big, open expense of red dirt and a nice flat break before another steep walk.
The top of that section was pretty much the top of the route we were taking, and the views were absolutely amazing. You could see pretty much from coast to coast if you could tear your eyes away from the nearby scenery. The perfect cone of still active Ngauruhoe to the south, volcanic ‘trees’ to the east, a steaming grey fissure torn from the surrounding brown hill to the north and our ascent to the east. We sat for a few minutes to have lunch, and were immediately swarmed by the only animal life up there – hundreds of huge blue bottles. Very surreal!
After the lunch, a rapid descent down to the sulphurous emerald lakes down loose scree. As soon as we stopped trying to keep our balance and just ran down things went a lot more smoothly. Past the lakes, where hundreds of saturday hikers such as us were stopped for dinner, another flat crater, this time with an amazing frozen lake of volcanic rock, frozen like a big pool where it had flowed from the volcano. Then another steep slope, followed by views down onto the blue lake – another huge clear lake in an old crater. Then it was all downhill – although still another three hours to go – before we reached the car park for the trip home, passing hot springs and down alongside fast flowing streams in mystical woods.
All in all an amazing trip and one I heartily recommend to anyone else heading to New Zealand. It’s not an easy climb and we were extremely lucky with the weather. Apparently a few people die each year on the walk and, having seen the age (and girth) of some of the people hiking with minimal supplies, I’m not at all surprised. The parks councils in New Zealand are desperately trying to change the view of the crossing as the ‘best one day hike in New Zealand’, as that doesn’t express some of the dangers associated with it! I certainly felt pretty woozy from my vertigo standing at the very top, and at the edge of the amazing volcanic outcrops.
With that under our belts for the day we had a celebratory drink at Cafe Habitat – a backpacking hostel/bar in town, actually pretty much the only bar in town! There we met Charly, an Aussie bartender with whom I invented a new cocktail – the ‘Even cocksucking cowgirls get the blues’, an evolution from the original cocksucking cowboy (via the cocksucking cowgirl and influenced by the wonderful Tom Robbins book). For those keen follows of bartendology, this consists of kahlua, butterscotch snapps, blue curacao and baileys – I’ll leave the relative mix as an exercise for the reader.