28 January – 4 February, 2014 – Our highlight. The Tongariro crossing. We’ve never done a hike as nice and as special as this one. Despite the few hundred other hikers being there as well.
After a day’s cycling with a lot of climbs first along lake Taupo and later up the hills through forests and along another lake always with the volcanos ahead of or beside us we arrived at a junction with a small motor camp and nothing else. Thankfully we had bought all our food for the next day as there wasn’t a shop nor a tea room nor a takeaway as described in our just recently updated cycling guide. The next shops were either 25km back down the hill or 25km up the hill.
That’s something I don’t understand at all. We’ve never camped at a campground either in Australia or New Zealand where we could buy some basic food stuff. They always have great kitchens, picnic tables, clean and hot showers, but never any groceries. I wonder if this is because it requires a special license or because everybody is driving anyway and it doesn’t make sense at all. Nonetheless, we would find it sometimes very useful, especially if there isn’t a store around the corner.
As we had arrived on time and weren’t too tired from the uphill cycling we chose to do the Tongariro hike the following day.
We got picked up at 6:40am on an extremely foggy morning. We were getting a little concerned as we didn’t fancy a walk without a view. But within a ten-minute bus ride we noticed that the fog was actually clouds and we were out and above of it. At 7am and on our feet again we started hiking or tramping, as the Kiwi would say. First along a creek through a scrub-like area with a few plants still growing. Nothing strenuous, so far just a nice little walk. The track then wound up a valley to the saddle between two volcanoes. Moving up we could see Mount Egmont, a landmark at the west coast, and the clouds slowly reclining below us. At the Red Crater and 1,886m above sea level we walked in the direction of the Tongariro summit, a little side trip we had to walk back again.
With every meter we moved on the scenery would change. We looked at the three volcanos from different angles and felt so small and helpless between these mighty monsters. Plants grew scarcely the closer we got to the volcanoes until there wasn’t any visible life anymore. Signs in the hazardous zone of about 3km around the just recently active volcano warned us to go through this area as quickly as possible and to return if we would see flying stones! Last serious outbreak was at the end of 2012.
We now could also admire the vivid Emerald Lakes as we walked down a steep slope on the rim of one of the craters. As the track was more rocks and loose ash we hardly walked but slid down. A little scary at times as one wrong step would have made us disappear in the crater forever! From now on we would mainly descend, first on a zig-zag slope down the mountain through tussock plains and later through an endless native forest to the end of the track.
It took us almost eight hours for about 21km to complete the track. An experience we highly recommend to everyone visiting the island. The following days however proved how badly we use our muscles. We could hardly walk anymore nor mount the bikes because of our sore muscles. Cycling seems to be a very different exercise compared to walking! That’s proven now.
As we had no more food left we had to continue the following day with sore and tired legs. Almost all day we cycled with the view of the beautiful volcanoes and snow-capped mountains to the left and hardly made any progress as we had to stop often for photos.
We continued cycling the following days through ever-changing and scenic landscapes. We were curiously watched by sheep and some cows grazing next to the road. Did you know that there are more sheep in New Zealand than people? I bet that’s the one fact everyone knows about Kiwiland.
The pain in our legs slowly receded, but I developed a back pain that would worsen day by day. The weather was fantastic, a lot of sun and cool nights for a good night’s sleep. an extraordinary summer as we were told by the locals. Unfortunately the traffic didn’t get much better despite people telling us the further south we go, the less it would become. Still too many fast camper vans, trucks and other vehicles on the road and we got so tired from it that we took a bus for the last 120km to Wellington where we would once more enjoy the hospitality of a German/English family. My back was in the meantime hurting so much, that I couldn’t move properly anymore and went to the doctor. Pain killers and some homeopathic medicine did the trick and within two days I was more or less painless again and ready for exploring the south island!
29 January, Taupo – Tongariro, 77km
30 January, Tongariro crossing, 21km walking
31 January, Tongariro – Raetihi, 62km
1 February, Raetihi – Wanganui, 92km
2 February, Wanganui – Bulls, 56km
3 February, Bulls – Palmerston North – Wellington, 44km
4 February, Wellington, rest day
Total distance cycled: 20,981km of which 807km in New Zealand