Greetings from the South Island! After driving 3,116km on the North Island, we boarded the Bluebird Ferry on December 5th from Wellington. This crossing took us to Picton in the Marlborough Region where we have spent the last two days seeking shelter from torrential downpours although a snapped tent pole has made this difficult. Prior to our arrival on the South Island, we visited some of the most scenic locations on the north island within Tongariro National Park, Whanganui National Park and the Wellington Region.
Tongariro National Park
We spent three days in Tongrariro National Park where we hiked through beautifully rugged volcanic landscapes and completed the popular Tongariro Alpine Crossing, twice. The Tongariro Crossing is reputably the best one-day hike in New Zealand and as a result 60,000 people complete the hike each year. The weather conditions were excellent the morning of our first crossing which guaranteed hordes of hikers would be seeking the same great views as us.
In an attempt to beat the crowds, we started our hike at 7:00 am, which turned out to be just in time for a bus load of tourists to unload in front of us. Our efforts to distance ourselves from the crowds proved pointless as hundreds of people were already on the trail and hundreds more were constantly streaming in. Nonetheless, we had the 1,967 meter summit of Mount Tongrariro to ourselves for a good 10 minutes, and even the masses of trampers (some with jean cut-off shorts and carrying nothing but a purse) couldn’t spoil the beautiful vistas surrounding us.
We arrived at the Ketetahi Hut around 1:00 pm where we would stay the night after spending the afternoon wandering on a side track to avoid the crowds steadily streaming past the hut. We noticed that after 5:00 pm there were nearly no trampers on the trail which revealed that a late start (12:00 to 1:00 pm) would have let us avoid the crowds – so much for an early start …
… Unless you get an extremely early start! We awoke on December 1st at 1:00 am for our second crossing of the alpine pass minus all the other tourists. The hut, situated at 1,450 meters elevation, was blanketed by a thick cover of clouds. As we began our climb the clouds thinned until a crisp starry sky was revealed. We hiked past Blue Lake and the Emerald Lakes, up the Red Crater, through Centre Crater and arrived at the base of the 2,291 meter Mount Ngauruhoe (also known as Mount Doom from Lord of the Rigns) at 4:00 am; just in time to summit before sunrise.
As we climbed steadily higher, the temperatures dropped and the wind picked up but we pressed on as the horizon was slowly lighting up. Once at the summit, we had a few minutes to admire the sea of clouds below us with other peaks resembling islands within this sea. The sun rose at 5:46 am, lifting the chill from the air and lighting up the red volcanic rocks upon which we stood. We didn’t see anyone that morning until 7:30 am when we were back on the main trail. From that point on, we walked in the opposite direction of other hikers, similar to salmon swimming upstream. As we negotiated our way passed people, some of them greeted us with “What went wrong?” and “Giving up already?”. We also did a few other hikes elsewhere in the park and only saw one boy scout group and some pretty amazing volcanic features, waterfalls, and views.
Whanganui National Park
After having recovered from our tramps in Tongariro, we spent a day in Whanganui National Park hiking the Atene Skyline Trail. This trail was a 18 km track followed a ridge line to Taumata Trig at 523 meters in elevation. From here we could see the snow capped Mount Ruapehu but Mount Taranaki remained hidden in the clouds. It was a beautiful and secluded region to explore.