Live volcanoes surround you. Signs warn of potential eruptions. Turquoise coloured Alpine lakes, surrounded by lava lie near blackened volcanoes. Steam rises from holes on the side of a nearby mountain. A subtropical forest lies beyond the volcanic scenery. There is nowhere else like this.
The bus from Taupo arrives at 6:30 am. The volcanoes stand black against the rising sun. It’s February, but it’s only 6 degrees (43F), and I have three layers of clothing on me.
The climb starts immediately. My heart beats faster as if sending me a message. As I climb higher, it beats faster and faster. Is it trying to tell me something? I rest, but briefly, my determination overcoming my sensibility. As the sun rises, the mountains shed their blackness. The trail is almost straight up. Flights of stairs help make it easier. The scene ahead motivates me to continue, but my legs rebel. I move forward.
I climb the hill for over three hours. It’s steep, no breaks here. I need new legs, but none are available.
At last, I reach the top. There is an active volcano to my right, black, with dark red patches. A second lies in front. Two emerald lakes sit below. No trees or grass anywhere.
At last, a break by the lakes. My feet rejoice. After this, there is little climbing. Steam escapes from a nearby gap on the side of a volcano. Later, the path I’m on descends into a subtropical forest with many fern trees. A stream runs beside us. Soon the end appears, 19 km and 8 hours later along with two fatigued legs that wished to divorce me.
The Tongariro Crossing is be one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done, but it’s also one of the best. You’ll never forget it.