Tongariro Alpine Crossing

phil-and-paula-at-base-of-taraSo today we hiked the 6.5 hours, 19.4 km Tongariro Alpine Crossing inside the tongariro-avalanche-signnational park, a UNESCO World Heritage site — that alone is awesome.  Check anywhere, this is among the worlds great hikes and no doubt, it deserves its high ranking.  Tongariro is an active volcano with most recent eruptions in 2012 but has had many over the years.  The idea is that you see active craters with water, steam flowing from the sides, volcanic rocks, boulders and sand throughout the top sections.  But the terrain changes throughout the hike and includes forests, desert-like fields with wildflowers and then through small lakes or pools of deep aqua blue water.  Some quick facts are that we hiked up about a 3,000 ft vertical during our incline and then dropped 4,000 ft to get to the bottom which was really steep for long periods.  The actual mountain is about 7,000 ft high.  It is long, rugged in sections, super scary at times with loose rocks, seriously windy with up to 80km winds on very narrow sections.  Makes sense that it draws hikers from around the world.

mountain-from-heli-bestWe started off the day with a decision to drive with Kath for 2 hours from our lodge — and then end the hike with another 2 hour phil-and-paula-heli-picdrive back with Kath — or — take a private helicopter about 20 steps from our cabin in the lodge which only took a flight time of 15-20 minutes there and back.  Hmmm, big decision.  How much?  $1,000,000 to save 4 hours from Kath.  Ok, done!  So we finished breakfast and got on the ‘copter.  So much fun.  Worth every cent of the money.  We really did get to see a nice bird’s eye view of the topography which includes large snow-capped mountains, sheep, brush, volcano craters.  You get it, amazing views from only about 4,000 ft high.   Got to the national park in a no time.  Kath had left 2 hours earlier and was there at the landing field waiting on us.

phil-and-paula-walk-in-taraWe then proceeded up to start the hike.  One thing about New Zealand is that most phil-on-top-taraof the national parks and world-class hiking trails are free for visitors.  This means all the work put into keeping this long hiking trail — up and down extremely high verticals and really steep drops are in excellent condition, all on the nickel of the New Zealand Department of Conservation.  If I didn’t say thanks to them, thanks.

The prior day Paula and I had had a 3-hour hike in the lush farm region of the lodge so that basically made it every day we have hiked since arriving, excluding the first.   My legs never really have had a chance to rest so going into this huge hike was going to take some extra push.  That said, I was stoked.  It really is a dream to hike this if your into that kind of thing.

phil-and-paula-at-tara-top-goodKath had asked us if we wanted to do the complete crossing from start to finish which would take us from one side of the mountain to the other.  If so, that meant that she could only cross with us half way and then she had to buckle back to pick up the truck and then drive it around to meet us at the end.  Otherwise, the other option was to turn half way and take another route back and we could all hike together.  Paula was first to chirp in my ear — Don’t turn around!  I get it, I get it.  “So Kath, we’re going to keep going to the end”.  Kath was so disappointed but we were on a mission to enjoy the hike without another l-o-n-g animated story from a hippy, flowery, Oregonian.  We felt great.

Suffice it to say that the hike was long.  It’s easy to say 6.5 hours but when you’re with the Marine Sargent from Special Ops who paula-walking-aheadtaught Seal Force 9 its always about pace.  Never stop.  Don’t spend too much time looking at this world-class view from atop the mountains.  Don’t soak in the experience of the scenery.  Keep marching and hunting from the bad guys — Move!!!!  I’m watching everyone else smile, relax, enjoy the sun, stop and take pictures, frolic and just be childish.   Can’t do that with the Sargent because you’ll get a dirty look like you will be kicked out of the program — keep the pace or else.  Keep marching and so I did.  Never did I see the white of her face and only saw her backpack.  I was thinking during the hike that those weak people who stop and enjoy the scenery must go to a special place in hell and as long as I was with the Sargent, I would be protected from evil.  I don’t know — I just wanted to be in the regular program with them other folk who were enjoying a slower pace visit to this special mountain.

Also interesting, the hike was pretty busy with people from around the world.  Based on New Zealand’s location — middle of nowhere — its a mecca for 20-somethings from around the world to visit, work, hike and tour.  This hike was no different.  The Sargent and I were probably the oldest hiking this trek.  90 percent of the hikers were in their 20’s.  I felt old at times but also lucky to hang with the younger adults.  Made me feel active and healthy at the moment.  I could keep up with almost any of them.  Occasionally you get a guy or gal from Switzerland or France who hop down like goats but that is pretty rare — our pace was most often faster than the youngsters.

mountain-from-heli-very-goodGot our helicopter flight back to the lodge.  Enjoyed every second of it.  Cleaned up just in time for dinner with the group.  Watched some FoxNews to catch up on my Donald and then crashed for a coming long day tomorrow and another hike.

Long story short, we had a great day.  I was not too tired but the body is feeling it.  Don’t worry, the lodge has great food and even worse, family style food servings for its guests — means I get to go for seconds and third helpings.  I’m keeping my weight up thank you very much in spite of the active pace and healthy workouts daily.


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