It’s been a month since you last heard from us and it’s been a busy month. We made it to Auckland with no problems and had a well deserved rest for Christmas and New Years with our family away from home. From Auckland we powered down roads and some dense bush before reaching Hamilton. Luckily for us the weather has been outstanding. It has been in excess of 25 degrees Celsius and, thankfully, it’s been a dry heat. The Darn Tough Socks handle the heat just as well as the rain. The longer I wear my full-cushion merino boot socks the more attached I become to them; I don’t think I’ve had a better pair of socks.
From Hamilton we stepped it up and pulled out some 25-mile days, the most memorable of which was the walk from Hamilton to the top of Mount Pirongia. We woke up early and powered 10 miles along the road before 11 a.m. By lunch time we were at the base of our near 1000-meter climb. The Department of Conservation (DoC) signs suggested a 7-hour climb which daunted us a little bit, but as we reached each checkpoint in half the suggested time we were feeling good! It helped that the track was one of the most exciting walks we’ve been on. There is lots of scrambling and a few optional rock climbs so we had the time of our lives with clear blue skies and a relatively mild sun.
Running the last 30 minutes to the top along boards (clearly alot of people do this walk) and seeing the incredible views was so worth the 25 miles and the aches in our legs. Still no blisters though! I thought that the “invisible seams” were a gimmick but it appears to be working. I haven’t had any blisters for weeks now. Anyway we found the views so stunning that we decided to walk back to the top for sunset, so we made ourselves at home in the hut and set off back for the 30-minute walk to the summit just in time for sunset. Man was it worth the extra mile! I think the photos speak for themselves. In one of the photos you can even see Mount Ruhapehu (All the way South near Ohakune and the famous Tongiriro Crossing) — a 14-day walk… at least!
Alot happened over the next two weeks but nothing compared to the Tongiriro Crossing. We had been looking forward to it for a month or so and we were finally here. 4:30 a.m. start to catch the shuttle to the start and a 7:30 a.m. start on the trail. The warm-up walk to the first ascent is entirely in the shadow of Mount Ngarahoe (probably more famously known as Mount Doom) with winds howling down the valleys over the sharp lava flows. We were one of the first groups away so we had unspoilt views of the mountains that lay in front of us. Unfortunately Mount Doom was shrouded in clouds for the entire morning so we never saw the peak. Still, after the one-hour climb up to the Red Crater we had to turn off onto the steep-sided, scree-clad, cinder cone. We had been warned that it was a “1 step forward, 3 steps back climb” but we had just walked nearly 1,000 miles across a country; how hard can it be?
The climb was difficult but not overly so. The warnings we were given made it sound like the most monumental challenge there is, but it is only a one-and-a-half-hour climb and well worth it. The views you are rewarded with are fantastic!
The run down the scree was probably harder going on the socks though. Our shoes filled up with rocks as we sank into the sand and pumice scree which is pretty abrasive. Everything was in one piece at the bottom though and we carried on with the crossing. Incredible views under the clouds and the spectacular Emerald lakes gave us the perfect spot for lunch despite the strong sulphur smell.
We found ourselves at the last hut with either 2 or 1 hours to walk the 6.5 km (~5 miles) to catch the shuttle bus. We decided that 2 hours was too long so we ran. Due the amount of traffic the crossing attracts the paths are seriously well made so running down it was a pleasure and we arrived on the dot to find that the shuttle was late! Like Mount Pirongia though, I can’t possibly describe the beauty of the crossing so thankfully I have a camera that can just about do it justice!
The day after the crossing we hopped straight into the next section of the trail – The Whanganui River. Understandably, you can’t walk this. It requires an 8-day kayak or canoe trip. We packed all our gear into a 2-person canadian and a kayak and headed off down river from Taumaranui. How peaceful on the river, and we don’t have to walk! Amazing. Well, so far so good for Day 1 but then the rain came and the river rose. We ended up canoeing/floating at 5+ mph in a 10m flood! We weren’t in the worst of it but the waterfalls were swollen and became very dangerous.
We ended up taking a safety day at Blue Duck Lodge in Whakahoro before continuing only to be stopped by an enormous whirlpool. Camping the night on the side of the river was an experience in itself. Later we found out that around 65 people had to be taken off the river by helicopter and jetboat! Unfortunately the lower stretches of river were less exciting and slower moving. The last 5 miles had the never-ending feel that we have become accustomed to. Paddling against the tide with incredibly strong winds fought our every paddle stroke but we overcame it and rested up in Wanganui before heading down the final stretch of the North Island to Wellington.
We are now in Otaki and are heading up over the Southern Crossing in drizzle. Hopefully it wont rain too hard and ruin the crossing, we’ve heard that it’s one of the most spectacular tramps of the North Island.