The Tongariro Crossing
One for the Bucket list
Yes folks this will officially be my last installment of ‘I love New Zealand, look at my travel photos’. I swear I’m not a braggart, just a middle aged woman who gets excited about the things she loves, much like a puppy who wants to lick your face and tell you who much she loves you. I love other peoples’ travel stories, they never fail to capture my imagination. New Zealand, you will forever hold a special place in my heart. After this post, it’s on to other things. The world is on fire don’t you know and that is not just a metaphor.
There are so many topics filling my mind at the moment, everything from the Coronavirus, Impeachment (epic fail), and spring around the corner. Somehow, I’m simultaneously bleak and hopeful. Is there a term in the English language to describe those feelings other than mutually exclusive? Hmmm…..I’m reading Chris Hedge’s “America: The farewell tour” and it illustrates beautifully all that I’ve learned and witnessed about human behavior over the years and what I feel in my gut to be true. While it can be a painful read that has brought tears to my eyes multiple times over the last weeks, it is the perfect mirror for the world I see around me. Debauchery, dehumanization, environmental destruction normalized and people consistently giving in to their baser instincts. It is truly courageous to witness and voice truth with unflinching clarity while willing yourself to be hopeful. It’s a quality I will forever admire and hope to instill in my children. I feel as though I’ve learned so much these last few months starting with New Zealand.
The highs and lows of life, the contrasts we witness make me appreciate my time here all the more. My biggest fear in life has always been not living. I want to squeeze every drop out of the opportunities I have. The Tongariro crossing, one of New Zealand’s best day hikes, arguably one of the best I’ve ever done (including the Inca and West coast trails) afforded me just that opportunity. It was a chance to wonder at the beauty this planet has to offer with some fantastic people and my loved ones.
The Tongariro Crossing is a 19.4 km trek that offers some of the most unusual vistas I’ve ever seen. The weather can be unpredictable so as a family traveling with children, we were especially cognizant of mountain conditions. The wind had been so fierce that the trail had been closed for several days. At one point we were concerned we wouldn’t be able to make the trek at all due to poor conditions. Luckily, the gods opened a the window of good weather and we tramped along accompanied by perhaps a thousand other adventurers.
For my husband, this was the highlight of our trip. He had planned it for months, discussed it like a jubilant puppy headed out for the best walk he had taken in years. Prior to our trek I sat down with my children and offered up a long lecture about this day and what it meant to their father. I told them that is was like Father’s day, Christmas and his birthday all wrapped in a ball and there would be no talking back, no whining, no deviation from the script whatsoever. Breaks and food would be allowed of course but that they must find a way to “dig in”. They would put on their perfect children faces. I will forever be proud of them. They hiked that trail like tiny little beasts, sometimes joyous, tired, mildly sullen and epically proud of themselves. We had one of the most memorable days as a family. I will forever be grateful for it.
Our shuttle left around 6:30 picking up a round of fellow hikers. We arrived at the Tongariro trailhead shortly past 7:00. It was a clear sky with a biting chill. The atmosphere was friendly, my kids were excited and the views were breathtaking. Just like the energy at the beginning of any race, the enthusiasm was palpable. We let our puppies loose and slowly began our trek trying to pace them a bit. Our family meandered past Soda Springs in good spirits enjoying each other’s company and basking in the soul of the mountain.
Taupo is a beautiful area offering something to awe in for even the most seasoned traveler. The region is surrounded on all sides by peaks, valleys and tremendous views. I believe that I’ve written about the Maori mountain legends in previous posts but they are so enchanting I think they bear repeating. The legend of Tongariro follows:
According to Māori belief, mountains were once gods and warriors of great strength. Tongariro was one of seven mountains that stood next to each other around Lake Taupo — New Zealand’s largest lake, and source of the Waikato River and spectacular Huka Falls. In the legend, all the mountains were male except for Pihanga. She was a stunning beauty, and the other mountains were deeply in love with her.
One night, the mountains decided to fight for the right to win Pihanga. The Warrior Mountains fought fiercely with violent eruptions, smoke, fire and hot rocks that burned the sky for days. The land trembled and quaked under the force of their anger. When the fighting ceased, mighty Tongariro was the victor. Having won Pihanga’s devotion and the right to stand next to her, Tongariro became supreme leader of the land.
The defeated warrior mountains were given the night to move away from the couple. At the dawn of the new day, they would be eternally fixed to the place where they rested. Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu moved off to a respectable distance, just to the south of Tongariro. Putauaki and Tauhara headed to the east.
As dawn broke, Putauaki settled at the northern end of the Kaingaroa plain, near Rotorua, and remained there as a mountain sacred to people of the Ngāti Awa tribe. Tauhara, stricken with grief, could not bear to move far from Pihanga. He stayed on the shores of Lake Taupo, perpetually looking back across the lake to Pihanga.
Taranaki, consumed by anger, gouged a great trail in the earth as he moved west to a place where he now stands overlooking the ocean below. The trail he left behind was filled with tears cried for Pihanga, and became the great Whanganui River.
Turangi sits at the foot of Pihanga who protects the town from the cold southerly winds and weather that crosses the snow clad mountains of the Central Plateau during winter months.- Tongariro
Personification of nature feels right to me. Sometimes the earth, forests, mountains, and oceans feel more alive, real and human to me than people do. Their motivations are purer somehow. The moonscape along the hike inspires the imagination and wills the human heart to believe in more than just the tangible.
After some snacks, boardwalks, a ton of volcanic vents, and some elevation gain we made it up to an impressive view of Mt. Doom (Mt Ngauruhoe). Here my daughter posed for a selfie and texted it to a fellow LOTR (Lord of the Rings) lover and dear friend. My husband had been rereading Tolkien’s classic to us in our tiny RV so were all smiles and giggles.
The weather turned a little grey and the winds picked up along the ridge of Mt Tongariro. Its craggy and full of loose sand and rocks. Sprained ankles and injuries are common I”m sure and if I remember correctly a couple of people get airlifted out a week. I was a little concerned about my son who is as strong as a ox but a slight preteen with bird bones. Fortunately everything went wonderfully as we peaked and stood a little dazed at the world around us. What is it about ascending mountains? The smallness of our lives, mixed with our desire to overcome seems the perfect metaphor in our struggles to endure as humans. I’m sure its my flair for the dramatic but pushing yourself, whether it be sports, education or whatever the endeavor, seems forever a quest to know oneself. To know the nooks and crannies of your own soul. My strengths and weaknesses are acknowledged in doing things that challenge me as an individual.
The descent around Emerald lakes was like skiing downhill on volcanic ash. My son the mountain goat, was incredibly agile just as he is on skis and impressed me all the way down. Moods were still high except for some sore feet, blisters, and a few achy knees. You can see the trail cut through this photo, it has great perspective.
At the end of the hike we congratulated each other with a family hug, high fives, and huge smiles. Free beers courtesy of our shuttle service (who doesn't love a free beer?) and sodas took the edge off while we meandered back to our RV. We discussed our favorite parts of the hike and I marveled at my children. Parenting can be a tough gig but every once in awhile you feel like you’re doing something right. After sandals, blister repairs, food and some rest we meandered back into Turangi for dinner. The Turangi tavern offers some great local flavor. The people were lovely, the wine and beer a balm to tired souls and the great food nourishment for our ravenous stomachs. The atmosphere was friendly and warm.
My husband and I tend to sacrifice ourselves for each other and our children as so many others do. However, neither of us have really ever indulged in the usual vices or crutches people use to cope when exhaustion sets in. No real excesses like sex addiction, alcoholism, gambling, pornography etc… Everything is mostly in moderation with exception to my penchant for kickboxing and chocolate. I’m notoriously hot tempered and he is exceedingly calm. He will forever be my rock, even when differences in our political views and perceptions about the world differ. Our arguments can be destructive when they erupt but luckily are few and far between over the years. As you are editing this, I want you to know that I would wish all your days to be filled with this kind of peace, love and joy ♥️… and perfectly behaved children.
I feel like writing this closes a chapter of my life somehow. All travel changes me, but something unique happened to me on this trip. Perhaps its the tying together of concepts I had long been puzzling over. Science, old brain, ancient beliefs and rituals and humanity’s place in the universe. New Zealand seemed to solidify so much for me. Science can exist, be used and relevant in the realm of the magical.
As always, thank you to the universe for all that I’ve been blessed with and the opportunities to meet kind, like minded individuals. I truly appreciate you and while I may seem oblivious, I ALWAYS recognize kindred spirits.
Go forth and Break bread: Try this Salmon! I used kale instead of spinach and use dried sun dried tomatoes for a lighter sauce. A special acknowledgment to all my nieces from their Bougie aunt. I love you and am particularly thankful for your presence in my daughter’s life. ♥ ️My dream soundtrack added to it’s library: Selena Gomez — Lose you to love me.