ANZAC* long weekend was less than two weeks away and it was not like me having no getaway plan trip yet! I quickly jumped online to check out some hiking spots around North Island and as I did that I had flashback of how memorable hike I did back in 2011, it was Tongariro Alpine Crossing. A 20km day hike over alpine terrain and active volcanoes. It was by far one of the most amazing hikes I’ve ever seen in my life however it was also the hardest day walks considering I’m not a gym person or very fit runner. I love walking and hiking. I don’t go to the gym for workout even though at my work we have a built-in gym that we got to use for free. I’m not being fussy, some people like gym, some don't. You'll find me more going for a bush walk for hours as I love being in the nature.
Anyway, I was browsing hike options around Tongariro National Park and finally chose the one I wanted to do. The track called Tongariro Northern Circuit, a 3 or 4 days loop hike around the National Park. This track is an extended version of the Alpine Crossing that I did few years ago. As I tried to book my bed in all three huts, I soon found out that they are all fully booked due to it was still in the Great Walk season. Every year in New Zealand, this season commences from October to end of April. There are 9 Great Walks scattered on both islands, with 3 located in the North Island, 5 in South Island and 1 in Stewart Island(third largest island in New Zealand). So I thought to myself, camping it is! I was aware that the weather and temperature could be potentially horrendous due to mountainous area, alpine that can be very exposed terrain as well as altitude level, but I always wanted to try multi day hikes on my own. The idea of being in the wilderness and just walking for certain hours every day admiring the jaw-dropping landscape in front of me really fascinating and with winter approaching soon, I felt that this upcoming long weekend was the time for me to do it.
|Tongariro Alpine Crossing - 2011. Much better day eh?|
|Tongariro Alpine Crossing - 2011|
A week later I started to do some packing that consist of tent, sleeping bag, mattress, cooking utensils, food supplies and couple of thermals and a down jacket. In the end, I think I looked like I was carrying another person on my back, my backpack looked bigger than me! I planned to do this hike for 4 days instead of 3 as I didn't want to rush myself, also when there's a chance to be in the wilderness, I wanted to take my time and enjoyed it while I can. When I felt like stopping for photos or breaks, I'd do it without worrying too much about time constraints. And because I was doing it on my own pace, I didn't hold everybody up and ultimately can soak up the whole experience! On Thursday afternoon, I drove down to Lake Taupo after work to break the journey and spent a night at one of the backpackers there and made my way to the National Park the next morning. Leaving Taupo that morning, the weather was looking pretty overcast all the way until Whakapapa Village, starting point of the hike. I went to Visitor CEntre to find out some terrain information and wheather forecast also to register my car as it will be left parked nearby for a few days.
|Tongariro Alpine Crossing - 2011|
Made my way to the starting point, there were other keen hikers at the car parks, though they did different tracks as I saw them walking away. As I started hiking, I felt that the weight of my backpack was pretty tough on my shoulder as this was the first time I had to carry that many stuff in one go. I kept walking regardless, diverting my thoughts more to scenery and watching this tiny bird flew between branches so close to me as it made a whistle sound. The track was passing through bush area, beech forest and alpine terrain with sounds of native birds kept me company. I was alone but I didn't feel lonely. There was so much things happening around me and I was grateful to be there and enjoying it all. The day turned out to be sunnny and in a distace I could admire an unobstructed view of Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe aka Mt Doom in LOTR movie, they were looking all tall and handsome! Few hours later I arrived at the first hut, Mangatepopo. This hut has 20 bunk beds in total however a group had booked the whole hut so I set up my tent for the night. We had Hut Talk at 7pm where the Hut Ranger explained about temperature we'd be expecting that night, what's the weather going to be like the next day and brief story about the hut itself, oh also what we needed to do in the event of volcano eruption! As night fell, we can feel that outside temperature was definitely starting to drop. With 0 degrees Celcius creeping in, I wore all of my thermals and wrapped myself inside my sleeping bag, may the force be with me, I told to myself before wishing silently for a good night sleep. It was freezing and holding on to my backpack tightly to get warmer was the only effort I could do. I couldn't sleep well the whole night, maybe only and hour or two and got woken up with my alarm. It was 6 o'clock and wished I could sleep in but no time for daydreaming and wishful thinking. With rain overnight soaking my tent, I wasnt to keen when folding it and its base was covered with dirt!
|Northern Circuit - 2016|
|Northern Circuit - 2016|
I started walking at 7am as looking at the weather forecast and from what the ranger told us last night, wind will gradually get stronger up to 65km/hr in the early afternoon around Red Crater area. So he was suggesting for everyone to leave as early as possible as it took around 6 hours to get to the next hut. So right after sunrise I was ready to leave. Oturere, the second hut is situated on the higher altitude than the first one. Also to get there, the track must pass through a place called Devil's Staircase as well as Red Crater. Three hours on the strenuous track, wind was blowing stronger and rain didn't stop either since leaving the first hut. My backpack felt heavier than yesterday due to my wet tent adding more weight on my shoulder. I managed to adjust it so that the weight can be distributed on the waist too. Weather was getting nastier as I kept walking and climbing towards the crater. At this point, I couldn't feel my hands anymore, it was freezing cold, wet and fog just got thicker and lower resulting very poor visibility. Just before we got to the ridge, wind was blowing much stronger and it got to a point where lots of people had to turn back. Safety is paramount and we were all there in the first place for the experience. I didn't need to proof anything. I gave my shot and I am still proud with what I've achieved. Mother nature was just too powerful in the end. I love going on adventures however when it gets to the point where things get worst, I chose to trust my gut and retreat.
|Northern Circuit - 2016|
Hiking back to the base, I found myself repeating some words of encouragement 'hot showers, hot soup, hot tea' as if it was a mantra. Feeling cold, wet and shivering, I was back at the base and with tens of other people, we hurdled up, some blowing their fingers to warm them up, some where doing some exercise also to keep warm, though I saw few people were quite angry for not bearing the cold anymore. Most of everyone who were there had no idea how to get back to their accommodation since they had to retreat early. Some trying to contact the shuttles, hotels transports etc and that could take a while for them to get despatched. I started chatting with this girl who was on her own also and asked what's her plan from here, apparently she was waiting for her other two friends who were walking behind her on the track. She was actually running and as it was just too cold for her to walk. I ended up hitching a ride with them, they were kind enough to do a detour from where they were supposed to go just to drop me off back at the village. With heater blasting in the car and a chocolate bar to wake us up, I soon learned that they are all Doctors who work in the same hospital. As we arrived at the village, I told them they're life savers! God knows how long I could've still stood there in the cold had they didn't give me that ride!
Soaking up in hot pool an hour later, I could not believe how fast things had turned. From getting caught in the horrendous weather to kindness from strangers I received along the way. From people at the huts and hikers along the tracks who were checking on me if I was ok, to Doctors who gave me a lift. It was these kinds of moment that made me appreciate everthing that happened in my life. All the situation taught me something. Yes, it was unfortunate that the hike had to be cut short, however the experience still as powerful and profound as if it was done in four days.
Oh well, there's always next summer!
*ANZAC day is the commemoration to honor Australian & New Zealand soldiers who fought at Gallipoli, Turkey during World War 1