Yesterday could be described as the most surreal of my entire life. The night before I was eating dinner with my manager and her children (the kids and I had just gone on an epic eeling adventure, more on that later) when her husband, a helicopter pilot for Helisika got a call from the lodge. A guest wanted to do the Tongariro Crossing and wanted me to accompany them. (For privacy reasons, I'm not going to talk about the guest, just know that they're wonderful and I'm glad I got to know them).
I've wanted to do the Tongariro Crossing ever since watching Lord of the Rings, Return of the King (not gonna lie--part of the reason I moved here). Home to Mt. Doom or Mt. Nguaruhoe, Tongariro is a fearsome active volcanic landscape with steep ascents and unparalleled views. Most trampers take shuttles and buses at 5:30 in the morning and start the trek around 7, 7:30 am. The guest I accompanied was arriving by helicopter instead so we left much later.
At 9:00 we departed Poronui into a sky heavy with fog and mist. Arching below fields of clouds, our journey was every bit as mystical as riding a Great Eagle from Lord of the Rings. I've been lucky enough to go on a few helicopter rides this season and the thrill of it hasn't left me--I still feel alive and electric as we swoop and swerve, bullied by the heavy winds that surround the Poronui valley.
We traveled over the Kaimanawa Range and landed on the Turangi airstrip. With its 15 dollar honesty box for the landing fee, surrounded by fields and families riding around on tractors--this is by far the most rural airport I've ever been to. The guest requested a guide for the crossing so he met us at the airstrip. Terry of Tongariro Guided Walks is vivacious, wiry and in impeccable condition. He does the crossing 5-6 times a week and knows everything there is about the place: each rock, crater and facet of the mountain. I'm not used to super talkative people on hikes but Terry's knowledge and expertise was an excellent addition to the entire experience.
While I'd rather let the pictures speak for themselves--I'll just say this: normally thousands of people hike the crossing each day. Due to our late departure (we started around 12pm), we were able to tramp in relative isolation.
What we saw--the undulating mist that concealed and revealed Mt. Nguaruhoe as quick as breath, the burnt desolation of the red crater, the pungent scent of sulpher and steam--we experienced on our own. We hiked the 19 kilometers (2,500 feet up, then 3,000 feet down) nearly alone.
It would be impossible for me to describe how profoundly lucky I felt yesterday but perhaps these photos will give you a taste: