Friday, February 7, 2014

Our Journey Into Middle Earth Part II: Walk into Mordor?

Thursday 30 Jan 2014

We were up at 5am to drive along Lake Taupo (Toe-po...found out I've been saying this wrong. NOT T-ow-po:P) to Tongariro National Park. It was a misty, winding drive along the lake.  The main attractions of Tongariro National Park are the three active volcanoes that loom over the area: Mt. Ruapehu, Mt. Ngauruhoe (which was used as Mt. Doom in “The Lord of the Rings”), and Mt. Tongariro. Another LoTR fact is that most of the scenes from Mordor were filmed here.

We arrived just in time to be briefed on the hike and then take the shuttle to the trailhead. The wet fog tjat hugged the ground disappeared as soon as we arrived at the trailhead. We started out the walk with an older couple from Connecticut. The first 2km of the trek was through brush-filled fields. Many parts were along a wooden walkway. Finally around a bend, we were able to see ‘Mt. Doom’ alongside the trail :D We were hiking right along its base. 

Here we go!!

Up out of the fog

My ever constant travel companion

Next we came upon ‘the Devil’s Staircase’. (Why do these sorts of things have these sorts of names?!?) It was quite daunting to look up at the staircases winding up the switchback track of this mountain, but we did it-->rising from an elevation of 1200m to 1600m. It was exhausting, but the views were spectacular. 

Preston kept taking my picture right when I arrived at the top of a long set of stairs :P Let me catch my breath!!

At the top of the staircases, we opted out of the side track to the summit of Mt. Ngauruhoe (3 hours straight up the side of a volcanic rock filled mountain).

Made it to the first summit

Zoom lense. These people didn't opt out. Crazies.

We had a bit of a reprieve traveling across the flat South Crater before ascending again to the Red Crater. This ascension was terrifying!! The wind was whipping around us as we climbed along a steep and narrow edge of loose rocks, at times on our hands and knees. It was grueling and I was only able to go about 5 feet at a time before stopping to catch my breath :P 

At the top we stopped for a quick snack and some great photo ops of Mt. Ngauruhoe, which is a classic looking volcano with its perfect cone shape. We rose a little further before coming down the precipitous scree filled side. We had to dig our heels in and skid through the sandy volcanic rock. It was probably the most fun part of the hike. The air smelled of sulphur as we came across the striking Emerald Lakes of aquamarine water.


Again, we were granted a straight and evenly flat walk across the Central Crater before coming to the Blue Lake, where we stopped for a quick sandwich. We had to move quickly since we were in an active volcanic zone.  From there, the hike was mostly downhill for another 10km. We rounded the corner and walked along a narrow path to see the smoking fumes of Te Maari.

Te Maari erupted suddenly in 2012 spewing ash and flowing lahar, which took out part of the trail. We took in the spectacular views of the smoking vents, the lakes, and mountains in the distance as we made our way through the miles of downhill switch backs. We were most impressed with the maintenance of the trail.  People were in place all along the path working to restore and improve the trail. It was very well maintained, especially for the elevation. I can’t imagine carrying all the gravel and wood up so high!!

The downhill part was by far the most difficult part of the journey--even after the terrifying climb up the loose rocks or sliding down the scree or the devil’s staircase!! The downhill walk was nevveerr ending and used muscles that I’m not used to using. It was quite steep, so you had to go slow and really tense your muscles to stay on the mountainside. Despite how comfortable my hiking boots are, the steep descent rammed my toes into the front of the boots. Any small uphill climb we came to was a relief and felt SO good!! Haha :)

Eventually we left the shrubbery of the higher mountain elevation and descended into lush green forest. It was beautiful and the air was cool. Still, we continued downhill. I started jogging part of it just to give my toes a break from the rigid downhill climb. It was easier to go fast and I could pick up my feet. I couldn’t even really feel my legs anymore. 

Bit tired :P

The last 2km were the longest of my life. Preston and I were laughing, nearly hysterical, around every bend that did NOT lead to the parking lot. It went on and on, but we enjoyed the beautiful scenery and little footbridges over the volcanic water. Finally, FINALLY we came into the parking lot!! It was an amazing hike traveling through so many different terrains. It was a real test of our endurance and strength and we felt awesome at the finish.

Our hotel was a charming little operation run by a husband and wife. Our room was cozy and comfy . We threw our filthy clothes into the wash, had a quick dinner and collapsed into bed :D

Friday 31 Jan 2014

We had a pretty easy morning and a big breakfast that came with the night in the hotel. Surprisingly, I was not all that sore. Who knew?

I had a moment of panic when we put the next town into the GPS and it couldn’t find it :P So much of our trip planning thus far was done hurriedly on my lunch break at work that I keep second guessing myself.

Luckily, I was just missing a letter. I’ve been using the website to find hotels and it’s been very handy. The website sends you a confirmation email with a summary of the hotel and the address, etc. I also downloaded an app called TripIt, but it seems not to work more than it works, so I wouldn’t recommend that :-/

We drove out of the mountains along winding, scenic roads to the town of Plimmerton (I had been leaving off the L). Plimmerton is a seaside town that is really a suburb of Wellington as it lays 30 minutes north and is an easy train ride away.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way we lost the hubcap to our car. No idea how it happened, except the obvious gravel filled roadsides. We just have no memory of something being significant enough to lose a hubcap. I’m anxious to know what that will ultimately cost us, since money is so tight. Luckily, we got the full insurance. Never know...don't want to take any risks driving on the left ;)

Our hostel in Plimmerton was worthy of a storybook. Moana Lodge was spectacularly clean and tidy. It had a very cottage vibe to it. The hostel sits right across the street from the water and the views from our corner room were breathtaking. I couldn’t decide it if was better to sit in the garden in the warm sun or to sit in our room and enjoy the ocean breezes and the view.

For real!! This is BUDGET accommodation!!

We walked up to the teeny town for dinner. By mistake, we had Indian Food. It was a mistake, because we thought we’d found a cheap restaurant!! Once seated and ordered, we quickly learned that in NZ…entrée means appetizer!! Whoops!! It was funny in the end and we ended up splitting 2 ‘entrees’  and some naan. It was the first time I’ve had real Indian food since India. It was quite good and brought back a lot of memories from my time there.

For any other ignorant travelers:
Mains=Entrees (this was further down the menu than we had looked)
The waitress thought we were nuts.

We enjoyed the sunset from our beautiful room and fell asleep to the sounds of the ocean. It was the coziest spot we’ve been in thus far. 

Sunsets make me think of my momma :)

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