For our first full day in New Zealand, Carrie and I decided to take a hike while Tim & Gerry hunted red stag. The local term for hiking is “tramping” which to me has a slightly different connotation, as if less effort is required. Believe me, that is not the case!
We tramped the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is considered the most popular one-day tramp in New Zealand. Since it was so popular, we mistakenly thought that meant that the average person could complete it without problem. Maybe the average New Zealander, but I can tell you that only about 25% of Americans that I know are up to the challenge!
The crossing is 19 kilometers, or about 12 miles. The crossing information suggests that it takes about 7 hours to complete. 7 hours to tramp 12 miles? No way. Maybe for the “average” person, but I regularly walk 5-8 miles at a rate of about 4.5 miles per hour, so I was sure that even with breaks we would complete in less than the recommended time.
What I failed to take into account is that back home I walk fairly flat trails. To complete this crossing, you first have to walk UP A MOUNTAIN and then DOWN THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN!
And not just any mountain. We walked up and over the active volcano of Mt. Tongariro. We actually crossed over the crater, which was pretty cool and was surprisingly flat. That was about the only flat terrain we walked – everything else was either UP or DOWN! The crossing passes the eastern base of Mt. Ngauruhoe, which was Mt. Doom in The Lord Of The Rings movies. It looked the part, too – very imposing with black ash all around.
Some of the tramp was very well marked with obvious paths and even steps. Other parts of the crossing only had tall stakes to indicate the general direction and it was your responsibility to find a path from one stake to the other. The very top of the mountain was the scariest part for me since 1) it was very windy and cold 2) the ground was several inches of ash and it was hard to find stable footing 3) the crossing was only about 12 feet wide with sheer drop-offs on either side. I was grateful that there was sufficient cloud-cover that I did not see the full extent of our vantage point there and only saw it when we were on much safer purchase!
I discovered that although it is difficult to climb up a mountain, it is even more difficult to climb down. The quads take the brunt of the uphill climb, and mine are in pretty good shape from my other workouts. The knees take the brunt of trying to stabilize your body going downhill, and those small muscles were woefully unused to that much exertion. Today my knees and calves are the only muscles that are still complaining.
In the end, we finished in 7 hours, just as originally predicted. Carrie and I are very happy that we did it and it was quite an adventure. We call it the hike of a lifetime, mainly because we don’t ever plan on doing it again!
(If you can’t see more than one picture, click the title at the top of the page.)