Last Dispatches from the Land of the Long White Cloud

His Name is Doom
Tongariro National Park is the oldest park in New Zealand and the fourth oldest in the world. It is also a World Heritage site noted for its spiritual significance to the Maori and its crazy, kickass volcanic features. It is also the home of Mt. Ngauruhoe, aka Mt. Doom from, yes, Lord of the Rings. And it is awesome.

The Tongariro Crossing is an extremely popular day-hike that winds up and up and over and around this rocky, alpine landscape. It is about twelve rugged miles, and most people book a ride on a shuttle and hike it one way. I am broke (and/or cheap, apparently) and hate hiking in cattle drives, so I decided I would rather avoid the crowd, start late, hike up to the top from one side, turn back, and then do the same thing the next day, from the other side. Twice the miles! Twice the elevation gain! None of the cost!

The trek starts off normal enough, winding uphill along a stream through open country, getting more and more apliney and rocky with the elevation. Lichen. Flowers. The big Doom himself looks harmless enough from the start, but looms bigger and more badass the closer you approach. Black pumice rocks litter the ground, a ragged foot’s exfoliation fantasy. Then come the craters. The Mars-walk. The moonscape. Clouds of steaming sulphur, blood-red rocks, steep gravel climbs, views down to a chain of emerald alpine lakes. At some point near the top I started cussing because it was just that sweet and foreign and impressive. On the way down, late in the day, I pretty much had the place to myself. It was glorious.

The Great Teen Invasion
Evidence. You see how Big Agnes cringes?
I returned from the hike all dusty-footed and smiley. Then I pulled into the quiet and quaint little campsite where I had set up my tent earlier in the day, and it was as if someone had picked up said tent, and moved her into a circus ring. Infested with heavily-perfumed and popped-collar teenagers. Seriously, there were about 50 of them on a school trip. Those of us campers without membership cards to Teen Nation literally retreated to our cars for the evening. When I checked on Big Agnes, I was horrified to see that a gaggle of giggling girls put their tent up so close it was actually touching her. The nerve! This is extremely poor form in camping etiquette! I realize by now I must sound like a crotchety old lady, shaking my fist at the sky in vain… but seriously. Several other campers packed up their gear and bailed in a huff. I stuck it out, enduring all manner of outhouse-related screeching and teen talk late into the night. The next morning I heard they were staying another few nights, and although I was planning on staying a second night myself, I got the hell out of that hormone war zone while I still could.

The hike up from the other side was lovely, too. Through native forest at the start, then open bush. Over hot springs heavy with the smell of rotting eggs. The atmospheric action higher up kept the peaks veiled in a thick blanket of fog, making the whole landscape that much more eerie. I dunked my head in the cold creek on the way down, sat on a mossy rock eating mandarins, and stared at a waterfall for a good long while, knowing it would probably be one of my last hikes in the country. It was a good day.

Happy Doom’s Day!

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