Welcome to the North Island
3/13/11 - 3/13/11
After our fantastic experience at Abel Tasman, we jumped in our Nissan and high-tailed it to Picton, the city from which we would depart on the ferry for the North Island the next morning. The “two hour” drive to Picton – with Marin’s “short”cut (insert Nikki’s angry driving grumbles here) over the scenic route (turns out one-lane winding roads with incredible views of a bay are not meant to be driven in the pitch blackness of night) – was um, less than thrilling. As were our gross-out digs in Picton when we finally arrived, alive. Luckily we were only there for about 8 hours, which we spent sleeping (after wine and Cup O’ Noodles in bed). We knew we were in trouble when we checked in and were directed to the “back cottage” – code for the place where they usually stash groups of teens, complete with a fly-infested kitchen…aka our very own private hellhole.
We rose the next morning, all ready to jump on the ferry from Picton (on the South Island) to Wellington (on the North Island). Prior to our embarking, Marin picked up an email from her mother, Sharon, who was en route home from Hawaii. Sharon wrote, “Wow, it’s a good thing we got out of Hawaii when we did, had we stayed another day we might have been stuck there.” Marin’s response (prior to checking cnn.com): “Why, was it raining or something?” Then Marin checks cnn.com and sees, for the first time, the devastating news about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Great day for a boat ride! Needless to say we were unenthused about jumping in dangerous waters – especially when the woman we sat next to on the ferry held up the newspaper and the headline read, in big, black, bold letters,“TSUNAMI WAVES REACH NEW ZEALAND!” Nikki spent the duration of the 3 hour ferry journey keeping up to date on the latest headlines via a spotty $7 wi-fi connection Turns out we made it to Wellington unscathed.
We’ve started to develop a bit of “seen one mountain, seen ‘em all” malaise. We’d heard the ferry ride was sooooo beautiful, but really, we were underwhelmed. Here’s a nice view coming into Wellington, though:
After arriving in Wellington, we drove 4 hours north to Tongariro, a town known for its great hikes and great trout. We went there to conquer the 19 KM Tongariro Alpine Crossing, arguably the best day hike in all of New Zealand (and the universe, in our humble opinion). Oh, and conquer The Crossing we did! Boo-yeah!
The day started with a 7:30am shuttle bus pickup and drive to the start of the 7 ½ hour mammoth hike. We were weighed down a bit by our packs, filled with the day’s provisions- 2 PB&J sandwiches each, 6 liters of water, and a whole lot of trail mix. Although the signs detailing the length and hazards of the journey ahead were a bit intimidating, we sallied forth into the volcanic rock:
The beginning portion of the hike was relatively mellow (and level), filled with purple wild flowers, gentle streams, and interesting volcanic rock formations. Here is Nikki (aka Maverick) posing in her 1980s aerobic gear- all she is missing to complete the outfit is the leg warmers (and yes she wore this garb for the duration of the trek- see pics below and notice the additional wool gloves later on- who said lesbians weren’t fashionable anyway?)
Check out Marin below posing in front of Mt. Ngauruhoe. Notice she is smiling (ignorance is bliss). She is completely unaware that the trail ahead will lead her up and over this massive volcano via approximately 4 million steps and extremely steep, treacherous terrain. Just when we were about to give up and jump off the side of cliff, we met a 79 yr. old woman with a fear of heights (also wearing plaid wool pants, love it) who was hiking The Crossing with her daughter and granddaughter. Talk about a slice of humble pie. Take a look at some pics from the initial ascent (notice the lava imprints from previous eruptions...also those things that look like ants in the pictures are people, should give you an idea of the scale).
The portion of the hike atop the volcano just before we hit the pinnacle of our climb involved two large craters, South Crater and Red Crater. The red volcanic rock was Marin’s favorite part of the hike. Take a look:
It honestly felt like walking on the moon- completely uncharted territory ☺- too cool!!! Nikki became a bit distracted with the idea that due to the recent earthquakes in the Pacific region, this volcano might be due to erupt unexpectedly. It was this scene that prompted her worry:
Scary- right? Oh wait, that “eruption” is just a cloud…ok, nevermind.
We came up and over the peak of the climb (it was an extremely steep descent and we were sinking into the volcanic ash- Nikki decided this was the safest way to make her way down…who needs hiking boots?):
At this point, Nikki discovered not only her favorite part of the hike but her favorite part of our travels thus far, the Emerald Lakes. Nikki described these lakes and this moment as the most naturally beautiful thing she has ever seen!!! Take a look:
Oh and we should mention that these hot springs high atop mo are surrounded by sulphuric, steaming, earth. It was an unbelievable sight to behold!
We ate our first of two PB&J sammies at the Emerald Lakes and felt great to have reached the climax of the climb. Unfortunately, at 10k in, we had 9 more kilometers to go to complete our overland pilgrimage. The scenery on the way down was lovely (ocean views and gently rolling hills) the damage to our feet, hamstrings, and ankles was not so lovely☹! Not too many pictures of this as a Marin-meltdown followed us down the trail for the last two hours. Take a look at Nikki trying to alleviate some of the strain by stretching in yoga-like poses with Hanz and Franz:
Completing the walk was exhilarating- check out our happy “after” victory pics:
Thanks for reading this incredibly LONG addition to our Migration Blog. Come back next time for our thrilling cave adventures with stalactites, stalagmites, and glowworms ☺!!! xoxo Marin & Nikki