Tramping over active Volcanoes

On the ferry going to Picton to start my ‘Magic Adventure’ I met a girl who was telling me about her travels in the North Island. She had done part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing but due to the volcanic activity she couldn’t go all the way over, she had to go up and down the same side. She showed me a photo of the Emerald Lakes and I just thought they looked stunning. I looked in my guide book and noticed that it was 11 in things not to miss, but it’s a mountain and I avoid walking up steep streets, where possible, let alone 6-8 hours of hill walking. Saying that I was really proud of myself for climbing Ben Nevis, I think that motivated me.

Anyway I had a real adventure and jolly on the South Island and it didn’t really enter my head to do the crossing, until I came back to the North Island and met lots of people who had done it and said it was amazing. In Raglan, a guy, I named, Superhuman*, said that he did it with two non – superhuman girls and they survived which gave me hope. I was worried- Am I fit enough? What if I am really wheezey? What if, what if. After Raglan, I went back to Taupo with Megan, who was going to do the crossing, I had plans to meet the Magic Bus and go to Coromandel so I couldn’t do it with Megan as much as I would have liked to. While in Bay of Islands, I looked into how much it would cost etc to do the crossing and I made the decision, to just leave it, too much hassle.

Then first night in Auckland, I was thinking, but why not, you are here now, you might as well, so off I trotted to the library for free internet and bit the bullet. Fortunately in Bay of Islands I met a really great girl called Kirsty. She was at a bit of a loose end, without a plan for a few days, so I suggested that she should come and do the crossing with me. I am so glad she came, because the more I was thinking about it, the less happy I was at the thought of setting out to do it on my own. I knew there would be bus loads of people going but still…

When we both arrived in Taupo, the shuttle company said the weather was too bad and they weren’t taking groups. Not to worry, Kirsty and I booked an extra night in the hostel and went sailing on Lake Taupo with Fearless Sailing. We sailed out to the Maori rock carving, drank hot chocolate and had a laugh- culture, indulgence and fun = fab. Once back on dry land, we phoned the shuttle, no they weren’t going the next day either. Gutted! We decided to go to the iSite (tourist information, in almost every tourist place in NZ) to ask what else we could do that would be exciting. Once they heard our tale they said that plenty of other companies run a shuttle service they could book us on to another one, of course still weather dependent.

The day of the crossing, my last opportunity to do it, I was going to Australia in 3 days, 5.30am alarm clock went off, rushed out of my room to see if it was clear, it was. The bus picked us up at 6.30am and we were at the start of the track just after 8am.

On the bus they gave us a map and information about the walk, well I was a little nervous, but reading the information didn’t help, you must be at this certain point by 9.15am, this point by 11am etc this section hands and knees might be the only way, if the weather closes in too much come back… what am I doing, nervous, unsure of my fitness and wheeze. Deep breathes, you will be fine, take your time and if not, just come back the way you came.

The first 2km were fine, bit grey but we were told it would clear. 3rd km walking up the Devil’s Staircase (actually not as bad as the stairs for Ben Nevis) the mist descended, but the bus loads of people continued to march on. Kirsty and I taking our time, enjoying the “view”, were in good spirits. Some people decided to turn back after another km or so, I did start to wonder, will it be ok, but I’ve started so I wanted to finish, guess I am stubborn. When we reached the red crater, potential hands and knee section, thick mist, really wet, hard to tell it was red. I would walk 5 steps and stop, thinking ‘yuck, this is horrible’ but I clambered on. A lady, coming down, must have noticed my disgust and said ‘you are nearly there’ (people do this going up Ben Nevis and you are still miles away) I chose to not believe her but smiled because I knew she was trying to be nice. SHE WASN’T LYING! Coming down the scree slope, loose volcanic gravel, I pointed out the Emerald Lakes which were hiding in the mist.

At the bottom of the slope the SUN came out and everyone around cheered. It was magic. The way that the light shone, showing the bright, bright green of the lakes, like nothing natural I’ve seen before. I was so focused on the lakes I got such a surprise when I looked around and I could see that we were in a snow covered creator, this is what imagine the moon to be like, it was surreal. I actually felt emotional, maybe it was the altitude, but I had done it, the Emerald and Blue Lakes were stunning, but also the hard slog in mist was over and the sun came out as our reward, spectacular.

We carried on and the view from the other side was amazing, just stunning and you could see for miles. From this side we could clearly see volcanoes, proper looking ones, like in films, not like the Binn Hill in Burntisland, which doesn’t look anything like a volcano.

When we reached the bottom, me with a sore knee, which seems to happen coming down hill, we were in time for the second scheduled bus, so we thought. Loads of people milling around, chilling on the grass, we found our bus, only to be told that we were just waiting on another 11 people. 2 bus loads had left already because people had rushed due to the weather conditions. Oh well fair enough, I was happy for a seat. An hour and half went by with a few people re-joining us, some had gone back to their hostels early, but two remaining girls we still up the mountain. The bus driver, Grandma, was wondering if they should call Mountain Rescue, she was worried about their fitness and sees lots of people doing this walk who wouldn’t walk like this a home, but because it’s high in the guide books they think they should. Guess I was guilty of this but I have walked and walked hills with my parents and friends, so I knew in my heart of hearts, I would be able to do it. Fortunately the girls were spotted and picked up their mobile phone, another lift was arranged so we could go back to Taupo.

Arriving back at the hostel I recoginised people that had been on our bus in the morning, I spoke to one guy-

‘Did you enjoy your walk?’

“I saw nothing”

‘Oh that’s a shame, we seemed to time it well that the sun came out at the top’

“humf, what time did you get down”

‘Oh a bit after 3pm’

“Well that was really late!”

‘Ah well, at least I saw everything’

Who said it was a race, I felt like shouting, feeling very smug that the Tortoise had won over the Hare.


Sailing on Lake Taupo


Lucy and Kirsty starting their adventure


Blue Lake


One of the Emerald Lakes


Moon-like crater


The view from the other side and an active volcano


It’s an active volcano!

*Superhuman, got his name because, he was in Auckland doing the World Triathlon Championships, representing his country. In the same week, he did the Tongariro Crossing, finished it and drove 4 hours in the same day to Raglan then went surfing at 6am.