On the Tongariro Alpine Crossing all elements come together. Nineteen kilometers worth of trail, starting in a meadow, crosses through glaciers and volcanoes, ending in a dense lush green forest. It is a land of woods and mountains, of fire and ice, sacred to the Maori and one of the best day walks on the planet.
As I make my way through the meadow, I stop in hesitation as we approach the base of the mountain. Terence, a local whose couch I’m surfing on (not so much couch as his guestroom full of mattress mayhem, which I’m sharing with a few friends I met on the road), stands next to me and pads me on the back. “Are you ready for the Devil’s Staircase?” he asks smiling. I’m not sure if I am. A 700 meter climb through volcanic pebble awaits me. The task ahead looks daunting.
Terence walks patiently behind me, which I appreciate considering I know he can put my fitness level to shame any seconds. He runs the entire trail and back regularly, even in winter.
Halfway through our treacherous climb, Mt Ngauruhoe makes an appearance as the clouds briefly clear to reveal it’s peak. Since catching the eye of Peter Jackson, it is better known as Mt Doom and the summit can be reach in a 3 hour round trip. As I’m only doing the day walk as opposed to the full circuit, I leave Mt Doom behind for another day, so I can reach the end of the trail before nightfall.
Shortly afterwards we reach the Red Crater, which thanks it’s name to the oxidized iron in the ground, turning the crater well… red! Still part of an active volcano, the Red Crater breaths steam and radiated heat. I warm my cold hands up an the warm red rocks surrounding the crater before starting a short slip and slide down a pebble covered slope to the Emerald Lakes. These breathtaking lakes are colored by minerals washed down from the Red Crater, giving them a beautiful shade of turquoise.
Finally we can start descending, making our way past the Blue Lake to the Ketetahi Hut. I’m exhausted and take a little brake to curse at the gods, fuel up and regain strength for the last little stretch to the end of the trail.
As we get up to leave our resting place, it doesn’t take long to get through the last bit of alpine territory and in the blink of an eye we find ourselves in dense green forest. I feel relieved in the presence of the trees that bring protection and give the sign we’re only a couple of hours away from a hot meals and a good night sleep. We stop a few times to admire the serenity of waterfalls along the way before dragging my weary ass into the car and making our way back towards Taupo.