Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | February 14, 2009

Of Sheep and Volcanoes – 3

We woke up quite early on the 7th February 2009. I was eager to get some shots of the sun rising from behind the mountains. Despite being on the highway for nearly an hour I did not get very good pictures of the sun rise because of the cloudy weather. I hoped that the weather holds up during our walk.

Our motel arranged for a heavy breakfast. We also packed sandwiches, nuts, resins, energy bars and 3 liters of water in our bags. We had raincoats inside our bag too incase we are unlucky to encounter rains on the top. At 8.00 AM, we started on the motel bus towards Mangatepopo, from where we were supposed to start our trek. It took us around 15 minutes to reach Mangatepopo Road (Pukeonake Car Park) which is essentially a temporary parking place for motel buses who come to drop off the trekkers. It is not advisable that one takes their own cars and park at Pukeonake Car Park since the locals were saying that there is a threat of them being stolen from there. Since this was an isolated place inside bushes this threat seemed believable. The best way to perhaps plan the Tongariro walk is to rely on the hotels in National Park Village. They arrange for the transport to drop the trekkers at Pukeonake Car Park and also pick them at Ketetahi Road, once they finish the walk. Our motel manager’s son who drove us, informed that he shall come to pick us up at Ketetahi Road Car Park at around 4.30 PM and hopefully we would have finished the trek by then. Post that we were on our own to start the trek and manage ourselves. Of course, due to the popularity of the place and beautiful summer weather there were other people too who were doing the trek but I guess in treks such as these you end up very much on your own.

The trek is divided roughly in six stages. I shall try and explain each of the six stages in the following sections.

Mangatepopo car park to Soda Springs

Mangatepopo to Soda Spring

Mangatepopo to Soda Spring

The first one to one half hour walk was fairly simple on well laid out tracks. Keeping Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu, we started walking witnessing the change in vegetation around both sides of the track. Volcanic areas gives rise to very rugged vegetation. We have seen that earlier in Rangitoto and this was no different. As one moves forward one tends to witness ruggedness as opposed to greenery. The Mangatepopo stream accompanied us to our right but volcanic rocks and landscape were slowly taking a lot of our attention. As we came closer to Mount Ngauruhoe we could see the red colored lava tracts and I must say we were spellbound. It took us around one hour to reach the stage called Soda Springs. There are public toilets in Soda Spring and visitors were queuing up in front of that. Apparently these toilets are very difficult to maintain since they are so remote and also various insects inhabit this area. They were very dirty toilets.

Soda Springs to South Crater

Steeper Climbs from Soda Springs

Steeper Climbs from Soda Springs

I wonder why Soda Springs are known as Soda Springs! The walk from Soda Spring to South Crater is steeper. Suddenly you feel you are climbing to around 1600 metres. We came to know from our motel that this stage is sometime called the Devil’s Staircase, though if I had an opportunity I would have renamed the next stage as that. This was the stage when for the first time we felt that we were climbing mountains and started feeling challenged. I was wrapped around my right knee to protect itself from any undue exposure but I thought I should have even had a kneecap on my left knee as well. Of course people were wearing different types of clothes during the trek, but to my mind wearing shorts helped me a lot. Though it was windy sometimes and one tends to feel cold but shorts minimize the resistance faced during climbing up. While moving up the South Crater we could see by turning behind how much we have come and it indeed gave us lot of courage. In this stage sometimes there are stairs made which one had to climb. For me, it was much more difficult to climb the stairs than the rocks. As soon as we climbed two stairs I was feeling like sitting for 3-4 minutes to get my thigh muscles in order. Thankfully I did not feel any breathlessness in the entire journey but the stairs did pose an unusual challenge. The track is not at all smooth here since as one moved closer to the craters one starts walking on the lava flows and volcanic debris.

South Crater

South Crater

At this stage you also realize there is no going back and one has to finish the walk. That I guess is the best part of this whole exercise. When you know there is no point to return you go ahead and face the challenges.

We reached to see the South Crater of the volcano and took ten minutes of rest as by then we knew what is coming.

South Crater to Red Crater

Trek towards Red Crater

Trek towards Red Crater

Things got a bit steep here

Things got a bit steep here

To me this was the most difficult part of the climb though my wife would say the next stage to be the most difficult. I think since it was windy and we were climbing on slippery pumice rocks, I was very scared. What if it suddenly rains? Thankfully it did not.

This trek was on exposed ridge to reach Red Crater one of the most active vents of the mountain range. The most recent eruptions of Red Crater have been in 1855 and 1926 and one can see it bearing its signs. While we battled the dangerous tracts, some small slippages, going off-track for three minutes, looking back and getting scared once we reached Red Crater we were mesmerized.

Red Crater

Red Crater

Red Crater bears the testimony of how devastating a volcanic crater can be. On one hand, you appreciate the shape it has taken and on the other when you can still see some fumes coming out, you can perhaps feel what lies within. Looking at the Red Crater one can clearly see the left over of lava that has left a vertical cavern on the walls of the crater. It is scary as well as beautiful. I do not know how best to explain the view of Red Crater.

Yawning Hippo

Yawning Hippo

Interesting bit was while walking up the Red Crater one could also witness rocks taking some amazing formation. While one looked like a yawning hippopotamus, the other seemed like a solemn looking man. I wonder why do volcanic rocks take such formations?

The view from the top of the Red Crater was spectacular too. Once you reach Red Crater you feel you have achieved the pinnacle and have passed the most difficult phase of the walk. Others may have a different opinion especially when they are on the forty-five minutes descent from Red Crater to Blue Lake.

Red Crater to Blue Lake

Tough Descent

Tough Descent

This descent may look easy but this is where our hunting boots saved us. The track is steep and one is walking on loose scoria that moves under foot. As soon as we started descending we became instantly prone to fall. The rough surface and the edges would not however make the fall a very romantic one. This part was not so easy and all of us inexperienced climbers were taking lot of pre-caution in doing this descent. Many women were trying to sit and slide but that was not successful too since you cannot possibly sit on such rough surface. This descent seemed never ending.

Emerald Lakes

Emerald Lakes

Most of the noise made by people during the trek was in this stage since the descent suddenly crops up as a tough part. I had no option but to be brave and take charge since my wife was more scared in this stage compared to the earlier one. While descending you could see the amazing Emerald lakes whose green color is caused by minerals leached from the surrounding rock. There were steam vents on top of the lake that produced strong sulphurous smell. I have never seen such lakes in my life. Also beside the Emerald lake there is the Blue Lake that is another acidic lake.

Walking downhill is never easy

Walking downhill is never easy

I would be interested to know more about how the Blue Lake and the Emerald Lakes were formed.

One thing that saddened me was that, one or two people were taking a swim in the Emerald Lake. Not only I thought it is dangerous but also I did not like that they were disrespecting something that is considered sacred by the
locals ? People everywhere have such destructive mentality and I suggest strong fines imposed on such adventuring.

Blue Lake to Ketetahi Hut

These walk tracks are fairly easy. While walking we had spectacular views of Mount Pihanga and Lake Rotoaira. For the first time, perhaps one starts to see some greenery from this stage. During this stage and the following one,
our main objective was to finish the walk by 4.30 and during that time whatever beautiful we could see were capturing them within our eyes. We reached Ketetahi Hut at around 1 PM. Most trekkers freshened up in the hut since this was the first time we reached a toilet (and a hut) since we left Soda Springs at around 10 AM. We decided to carry on because we felt we have taken enough breathers reaching the hut.


Ketetahi Hut to Ketetahi Car Park

Smoke coming out of Ketetahi Geyser

Smoke coming out of Ketetahi Geyser

The last phase of track crosses a stream. However, the water contains minerals which could be seen even on the rocks as stains. There were clear instructions for visitors though not to leave the walking track since the streams are private property. We could see the hot geysers but were not allowed to go near it. This stage of walk is nearly one and half-hours with sometimes bushes on either side. We passed some small waterfalls too. In this concluding phase you enter really thick bushes. We were very tired by then and did not really appreciate the huge stair jumps inside the bush. Good thing however was, the bush cools you off after you have walked under the sun for nearly 6-7 hours. The bush walk concluded our journey and there was joy once we reached the car park.

Why was the journey memorable?

Sometimes it is difficult to express in words why you found something beautiful. Even photographs don’t do much justice to your experiences. Tongariro trek is something like that.

While I wish many people to read me and feel the same excitement but I know, I cannot generate similar
enthusiasm through words or pictures.

Having said that, it shall forever remain one of our achievements. I wonder whether it would be a life-changing one or not. I wish it were since like I mentioned it was the first ever adventure that we have done in our lives. We are proud of that. One may find our excitement is exaggerated but a lack of adventuring has always made us the underdog in such travels. Still we could do it.

As far as the National Park is concerned, while I commend the work done to keep the sanctity of National Park intact, but I hope the toilets are maintained properly. Additionally, I do not know whether it is physically possible but since numerous untrained climbers do this trek there should be boards with Emergency phone numbers written on them. Even I missed some notices that could have told me a little bit about the formation of Blue Lake, Emerald Lakes or even Red Craters. These can be helpful general knowledge.

I love to know about the places I visit that is why I look forward to such information. I hope I can read more about the lake formations or how Rangitoto if at all is different from Tongariro. We would also love to get an opportunity to work simultaneously on conservation matters. This can be our small gift to New Zealand.

The views throughout the track were spectacular. Every thing that we saw brought us closer to volcanoes. It indeed has some attractive quality. Every rock, pumice and even water drop on the Lakes bears the scary eventuality of an eruption.

We reached Ketetahi Car Park at 3.55 PM and after reaching the motel we were provided half-an hour in the spa pool. Of course we were tired but the motel ensured we had a lovely dinner. We were presented with certificates of achievements and t-shirts, which said “Just Done It – Tongariro Crossing”. The managers of the motel did contribute in a huge way to make the journey memorable.

Leaving Red Crater

Leaving Red Crater

I went to sleep that day with a swollen right foot. It did not matter actually because we had something to look forward the next day too.- the journey back to Auckland riding the Overlander.

Last part of this series shall have my Overlander journey experience. Overlander was perhaps the best thing to carry back the Tongariro experience home.

These days I am obsessed with volcanoes and nature conservation.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Beautiful!! I need to take time out to read this later. just managed to scan it… fantastic experience..

    Tanmoy, can you please leave your mail ID in my site, I thought of asking you something… a lil help needed.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: