The typical next stop after Rotorua while going southbound in North Island is Lake Taupo. Taupo is a beautiful vacation destination for families and backpackers alike. People can engage is all sorts of water activities here. However, my most vivid memories of Taupo has to do with the U.S. Presidential Election of 2016. We were here right when the election was taking place. It is so interesting to see how backpackers and local Kiwis follow American politics so closely; they actually know a lot more than what I know about this years candidates. We spent a lazy day wandering the town center of Taupo after our day hike at the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We had our phones in hand refreshing the pages for the election results every few minutes to catch the latest updates of the final electoral count. While still in denial with the election results, we joked about how we would probably not be allowed back in our country after our travels especially since I am a woman and a minority. Imagine I travel for 4 years and skip through the entire Trump presidency.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a very popular day-hike to do in the North Island. Depending on the route you take and the additional summits/mountains to explore, the general track is roughly 21km which people normally complete within 6-8hours. This is the first day hike I have attempted and I did it without hiking boots. While many people strongly advise for hiking shoes, I ended going with my trainers since I could not find an affordable pair of hiking shoes that I liked. Waking up early in the morning, we drove to the starting point of the hike. One of our travelmate dropped us off and drove to the end point of the hike so he can then take the shuttle bus back to the starting point to meet up with us. This is a one way trail. People usually book a shuttle bus on the other side of the crossing, but we did not want a time constraint so we figured it is best if we park our car on the other side so we can take our time hiking. The first 3km of the hike was pure walking on well paved walkways. Eventually it led to the infamous devil’s staircase of steep ascend. I hate stairs – the ascend was definitely not my favorite part of the walk.
We decided to make a detour to climb the Mount Ngauruhoe Summit, also known as Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings. I was hesitant with the idea of taking a 2-3 hour detour because this is a hard hike and I was afraid of slowing down my travelmates. There are no pathways on this trek. You just go up. We went on a cloudy day where the clouds cover half the mountain. After a certain point, all you can see looking down is whiteness. The climb was literally as someone described to be one step up and two steps down. You are climbing on slippery gravel with occasional loose rocks rolling down from above. I especially struggled with finding stable ground which took up most of my time. I really enjoyed the climb because it was so interactive as I was on my all fours – very different than other hikes I have done. We managed to get to the top after maneuvering our through the last stretch of just icy snowy in my trainers. The wind in the alpines are no joke. I did not take many photos up top fearing that the wind would blow my phone away. The summit did not exactly look like the pictures since we were there on a cloudy day. After several minutes, the clouds cleared away and we were able to enjoy a nice elevated view of the crossing. Unfortunately, but the time I have convinced myself to take my hands out of my pockets for better photos, the clouds creeped in already. I had a lot of trouble on our way down. It was so slippery and there were barely anything to grab onto. Apparently, you’re supposed to just slide down. All the sliding against the gravel definitely took a toll on my trainers. With all the struggle, it actually took me 4 hours to do the roundtrip on Mount Doom. We got lost on our way down since there were no clear signs of where to go. Since it took me so long to get off the mountain, most of the hikers had already pass the point. Generally speaking, the Tongariro Crossing gets very crowded in the summer like the march of the penguins. The slow detour to Mount Doom actually worked in our favor as we were able to enjoy the rest of the track without many people in sight.
My legs were so sore by the end of the hike. This was mainly from the way I was walking downhill. I placed a lot of pressure on my thighs to maintain balance and control especially when I was sliding. It was so hard to get out of the car after the hour drive back to Taupo. We were walking like penguins. This feeling of soreness reminded me of my taekwondo training days as a kid. Thankfully, most of the soreness went away by the next day.