15th February - Continued!
After spending the afternoon looking around town and having a half hour kip on the grass whilst waiting for the skydivers to return, we had a short drive around Lake Taupo, to a nice little camping site and hostel. We had all upgraded for the night into dorms, as we are up at 5am in the morning for our journey to the Tongariro Crossing trek. I was on the cook team for the night so spent a while chopping onions and potatoes while other people around me did the rest of the veg and started the meat on the BBQ. There was a load of food and everyone really had their fill, getting ready for the big trek tomorrow. Lindsey had done some falafels for the veggies, but wouldn’t let me have any, even though I told her I had made my own a couple of weeks ago! Bugar!
After dinner and a quick trip to the shop to pick up a bit of energy food (chocolate and peanuts) for tomorrow, I sat around outside my dorm, chatting with Michelle, Ben and a few others about places we had visited and suggesting trips for each other. Michelle gave me a really good tip for Asia – a company called Acacia do really good trips. People then started to drift away and everyone was in bed by 11.30pm, ready for the early start.
16th February 5.15am and there was noise coming from next door and people moving about getting ready. I was up quickly and out to help set up breakfast – This time in the morning I get really frustrated because everyone seems to mongue their way around. People get themselves a bowl and don’t bother to ask anyone else -They use all the milk and just stare at you, when you ask if there is any more. I on the other hand am normally full of beans and probably annoy all the mongers, but theres no reason why you have to be an idiot, just because its early!! Anyway, after getting more bowls and milk and having a bit of cereal, we packed up and jumped onto the pre-booked tour bus which took us the hour trip to the base of The Tongan crossing. We had been told and had read that this is one of the most spectacular one day walks anywhere in the world and had high expectations for the day.
The start wasn’t disappointing, as we saw the magnificent peaks peering down at us as we had a group photo taken – everyone seemed to want a picture and so it took 10 minutes for Rachel to get through all the cameras – we then started our trek.
The terrain reminded me of that at Mt Bromo – Volcanic rocks,and dark shale everywhere, but it was pretty easy going to start with. Soon however it started to get really steep and some of the group had to start removing clothing – Thermal bottoms, fleeces and long trousers were removed and replaced by shorts and t-shirts. Personally, I started like this and stayed dressed like that the whole day. It wasn’t cold and I didn’t need my fleece or waterproof jacket that I was carrying in my backpack along with food and water. I wandered along with Rich, Waheed, Becky, Rachel and a few others although every now and then I dropped back and then caught up and passed them by running for a while.
After a couple of hours we crossed south crater, where on our right was Mt Ngauruhoe, which has been used for Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. We continued upwards and me, Andy, Romily, Rachel and Waheed climbed a 8-9 metre high rock above a breathtaking view of the valley and the volcano and crater to our right. Waheed spent a while taking pictures of us all with his wide angle lens and also took a load of photos of Rachel. It was like a fashion shoot as she ran towards him and he took bursts of photos, before she posed, one leg in the air, on the edge of the drop. She now has a lot of pictures to choose from for her CV!
On the way to the top of the crater rim, we stopped a few times to replace route signs that had fallen over while everyone else just walked past. I also built a rock tower to mark that we had been there. Just over the crater summit we had a mesmerising view of the Emerald Lakes, which were the most colourful beautiful lakes I have ever seen. It was then downhill and me and Rachel had a good time jumping and sliding down the loose shale rocks and flew past everyone else on their way down.
After a spot of lunch by the lakes, we continued on. There was still 9 km to go and so we started to walk faster and I took the lead with Becky until we reached the Ketetahi Hut. Luckily, when the two of us got there we were offered two slices of cream cake by a couple who were just leaving. It was a lovely bit of cake and gave us the boost needed to complete the last 6km.
I decided to push myself a little bit ans started to jog down the track, this turned into one of the best runs I have ever done – The path was quite good with lots of steps to jump down and tight twisty bends as you pass through the forests and cross over streams. People moved out of the way as I passed too so I dint have to stop. It was the closest thing to mountain biking, that you can do with out a bike. I was just about in control of my speed and direction, but with not much effort to get down the hill and past the obstacles in the way.
I eventually reached the car park and changed into my flip-flops, washed my feet and had a really good stretch. Some of the group were already there as they hadn’t been messing about on the volcano like we had, but the others arrived in the next 45 minutes and when we were all there we set off on the bus for a 4-5 hour ride heading south towards, hopefully a comfortable bed for the night. On the way we stopped for a toilet break and an Ice Cream – Of course I had to have a massive Ice cream to get some energy back!
It has been a brilliant day – Second only to the day we climbed Mt Bromo in Indonesia. The scenery was the best we have seen so far in New Zealand and better than most we saw on the whole of Oz-bus. Its another place that simply cannot be describe with words – You have to come and experience it for yourself.
We stopped at our camp site for the evening just after 8pm and were surprised to find we all have a free upgrade from tents to 3 or 4 man rooms. Actually the 4 of us on the back seat weren’t surprised at all as Lindsey already knew about the upgrade and had informed us!! But it was a nice touch after a hard day for some people, to have a rest and not bother putting up tents.
The evening was spent sitting around the fire in the garden outside the rooms. Yet again for the trip, it was a good night with everyone milling around chatting mellowing out with everyone else. A few people were tired and drifted off to bed early, but the majority stayed up to midnight and beyond.
In the morning we had a bit of breakfast in the sunshine and then had a group photo taken – actually it was about 20 group photos, as everyone got their own camera out and Nolene, the owner of the lodge where we were staying spent about 15minutes taking the pictures, whilst we posed in different ways for each one. It was then time to pile on the bus and head towards Wellington.
The journey was uneventful and when we arrived in Wellington we said our goodbyes to the four people leaving the tour and to Rachel, the tour guide, who is heading back to University. We had a room in a local hostel to keep our bags in and after locking them away I spent the day wandering around town with Rich and Waheed. We had a good laugh whilst doing a bit of shopping and grabbing a bite to eat, before heading back to the bar next to the Hostel for a few games of pool around lunchtime. Them me and Rich headed back out to take a walk around the wharf and search for some phrases that have been set at different spots in the harbour and were featured on Billy Connolly show a few years back. We found a couple of them, but as I went to take a photo the back fell off my phone, fell through a metal step and into the harbour water, before sinking out of sight. Fuck! I now have a phone without a back and the battery can fall out really easily. I went back into town and found a phone accessory shop and bought a phone cover that holds the battery in and protects the inside of the phone, but it didn’t have a hole for the buttons or camera, so I spent the hour before getting the bus to the ferry, cutting holes in the phone cover with my leathermans multi tool! At 4.30pm. Me, Waheed and Rich got all the bags out of the store room and when everyone had picked them up, we got the bus to the ferry terminal as a group and sat waiting for the ferry. It was late and we found out why, when the announcement came that the gangway was broken and they would have to bus us onto the ferry via the car deck! It turned out that we had the same bus and driver that had dropped us off an hour before. We loaded OK though and found a good spot with views out of the front window of the ferry. This ferry crossing is supposed to be the most beautiful in the world and I cant disagree with that, as after a couple of games of cards we headed out onto deck and took in the breathtaking scenery. The mist on the water just added to the eeriness of the hills and inlets that surround the harbour of Wellington. Its a 3 hour trip and at the moment we are about 1 hour into it. A few people have got their heads down for a sleep, while others are chatting and playing cards. We expect to dock about 9.30pm and then get to our hostel for the night an hour later.
The ferry docked a little late at 9.50, but it was a quick process to get our bags back and we jumped aboard the 9 seater minibus to the Hostel for the evening in shifts. The hostel is really small and homely and a nice change from the large hostels we stayed in when we are in cities like Auckland.
Waheed wanted to go out for a beer, so me, Rich, Cyril, Heather and a couple of others headed into town and found a quiet bar (every other bar was closed) where we spent a couple of hours messing about. At one point, for no apparent reason than to drink champagne, there was a marriage proposal, with kneeling and everything – lets just say, that the champagne bought by Waheed went down well. It was totally tongue in cheek though and just another random thing that has happened on this long trip.
I took my leave and wandered home before hitting the sack and getting a good nights sleep.