Yes, I am an American tourist. Yes, I do want to climb Mt. Doom and crack geeky “Lord of the Rings” jokes. And yes, I did look for little golden rings when I reached the top of the volcano (didn’t see any if you were curious).
Last weekend definitely takes the cake (so far) of most exciting thing I’ve done while in New Zealand. Being that our campus is only a 3 hour drive or so from Tongariro National Park and one of the most active volcanoes in the world – the 7,156 ft high (2287 m) Mount Ngauruhoe that has about a 45° angle slope made of loose lava rock that give way underneath foot and come tumbling down onto unsuspecting climbers below – why wouldn’t we enjoy the beautiful hike and climb the volcano?
Really, though, climbing Mt. Doom and hiking through part of the Tongariro Crossing was incredible. Eight of us from Palmy booked tickets for a bus, a hostel room, and the shuttle to the trailhead and set out on our adventure Saturday morning. We were picked up for the hike at about 6:45am on Sunday, and began walking around 7:30. The whole hike (and climb) took about 9 hours total – to say we were tired and sore afterwards is a gross understatement! The climb up the volcano took about 2 hours all on it’s own, and the descent (or random tumbling fall, rather) from the volcano took about half an hour. We were careful, I promise. The remaining six and a half hours were spent admiring views from the peak of Mt. Ngauruhoe, hiking through a crater, and tramping through the beautiful landscape that separated the volcanoes from the trailhead.
Mt. Ngauruhoe is a young volcano, and is part of a collection of volcanoes in the Tongariro National Park. The nearby Mount Ruapehu is a huge, impressive mountain that is apparently a very popular skiing location during the winter months. And there is also the namesake of the park, Mount Tongariro. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is an amazing hike that goes through the Mangatepopo Valley, skirts Mout Ngauruhoe and goes into the Red Crater, climbs up a ridge to the stunning Emerald lakes and Blue lakes. Because of our Mt. Doom detour, however, we only made it through the Southern Crater before turning back. Nevertheless the park is a huge attraction that brings in tons of hikers all year round.
The whole weekend was exactly what Jake, Brittany, our friends, and I have been waiting for. Brittany and I, and Jake to some degree, are still coping with life in New Zealand, the changes we have to make, the absence of our Roanoke friends, driving on the wrong side of the road, and the prices of beer (just kidding…kind of). But during the hike we all had moments when we were thinking, “now, THIS is New Zealand!” Every bit of the weekend was awesome, except maybe the bedbugs in the hostel, and I would do it again if I could.
So now…where’s the next stop?
P.S. As I am writing this, cute little birds are flying and hopping around inside the library as if they owned the place. How cool is that :)