Doing this 19.4km, one day walk through a volcanic landscape is one of the highlights of my life thus far.
On our climb to the first crater we met Megan, a Californian studying in Australia, and Wayne, a South African who was not only cycle touring New Zealand but doing so while towing his BMX on a trailer. It was by far the most unlikely place I’ve met another rider, let alone one with whom we shared so many mutual friends.
Megan persuaded us (“you’re only here once”) that we should do the off-track side trip up Mt. Ngauruhoe, the volcanic peak that you can see in the first photo (also known to Lord of the Rings fans as Mt. Doom). Along with Wayne and a couple of German guys we scrambled and climbed for two solid hours to get to the top.
Fortunately the fast-changing weather held off long enough for a spectacular view from the rim. From clouds at our altitude lightning struck at the plain below. Dislodged rocks took an agonisingly long time to fall to the crater bottom. I ate a tuna sandwich. Sulphurous steam rose from volcanic vents on an adjacent ridge. We marveled at the effect of altitude on a sealed crisp packet. All too soon clouds rose forming up the face we’d just climbed and began to close on us.
At the beginning of the day I didn’t anticipate the volcano side trip. So I found myself up there in the least appropriate of the two pairs of inappropriate shoes that I had in the car. Going up was fine, but the descent through mist, hail and igneous gravel was… uncomfortable.
From the foot of Mt. Ngauruhoe there was still 12km to go. In total the walk took us 10 hours with over 1200m of ascent. Megan stuck with us till the end—her stoicism neutered our moaning somewhat—and the lift she gave us back to our car was very much appreciated. In my experience you meet the best people while doing the best things. That held true for Tongariro as much as anywhere.