Today was a holiday in New Zealand which meant there were lots of families out and about enjoying the day. We decided to do a “family friendly” hike called Tongariro River Trail. While it was fairly flat and had minimal uphill or downhill it was still almost 7 miles, or 11.265 kilometers. They must have different families in NZ. I cannot imagine taking a seven-year-old on this trail…maybe one of the shorter ones that abound around the area. Prior to starting the hike, we wandered around a trout farm and saw some gargantuan trout, any one of which could feed a family of 5!!! Vargo, your son would have loved it!! Further downstream, we saw men fishing outside the farm area and they were catching fish that were as long as my arm!!! Hiking in the heat is hard, but then I saw pictures of the snow piled up in Saranac Lake, I thought, “Okay, quit your complaining! You could be trying to find a parking spot at the hospital!!!” (We know how those disappear once the snow falls.)
While lunch was a little delayed, we enjoyed the traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich after the long hike. Dave still had his apple, carrots, and Oreos—some things never change. He has yet to find Diet Mountain Dew, so I am pretty sure he won’t be moving to New Zealand anytime soon.
A quick trip into town to get shuttle tickets for the bus to take us up to the trailhead for our 20 kilometer hike up the Tongariro Alpine Pass tomorrow and then some quick groceries for our pack lunch. Pleasant way to spend the afternoon. Now time for a good old American BBQ (or grill if you are southern…just for you Lisa. Would hate to confuse you!!). Chicken on the grill, potato salad, and a green salad followed by boysenberry ripple ice cream. How else do you celebrate holidays—even those in New Zealand!!
Tuesday. Ahhhhhh, the almost 20-kilometer hike. We had to get up at 4:45 Am in order to walk to the location where the shuttle bus would pick us up. We were out of the Airbnb by 0525 hrs. Then back in at 0527 so Dave could run back and get his watch and phone. We made it to the pickup place by 0541, just in time to see a bus from our shuttle company whiz by. “Maybe he is picking up someone else and will be back for us at 0550, like we were scheduled?” we thought. At 0555, Dave was on the phone with the shuttle company about to ask if they forgot about us when another bus stopped at our location. Nope, this one wasn’t picking us up either. Finally, out bus stopped to pick us up, then went to 5 other paces to pick up others, before getting us to the trailhead at 0700 hours.
It was a cool morning for a change, thank goodness. Less than 100 meters into our 12-mile hike, the battery on Dave’s GPS died. (Do you think that little nugget will make it into the After Action Review??) The first hour was an easy hike along a wide, flat trail through crushed lava. (Did I mention this trail passes by 3 ACTIVE volcanoes??) The next was spent trudging uphill and conquering stair steps – Oh, those steps! There was a light mist in the air which kept us cool along with the 60-degree temps and a nice breeze. Once we climbed to the top of our first ascent, it was suggested we put on more clothing as the next uphill would be colder and windier. We donned our rain jackets just in time as the winds picked up. By the time we began our next ascent, the 30 mph winds began their effort to toss us down the hill…and pelt us with that lovely “light” mist. As if the weather and steep climb weren’t enough, the footing became very unstable. Luckily, the winds made the footing even trickier. At one point, Kathy looked at Dave and asked, “Why do people do this?” Dave could only manage to reply, “For fun?” We finally made it to the saddle between two volcanoes, and thought, “Thank goodness the hard part is over!” Wrong-o! After a short section of easy flat, came the descent. The loose sand and pebbles descent. The loose stones and rocks descent. The loose boulders descent. More like a semi-controlled series of slides. Dave caught a glimpse of that look on Kathy’s face that he has only seen a few times previously. Staring daggers!!! After about 30 minutes of scree-ing, the footing finally began to solidify…mostly. Then came the long and winding gently downhill portion of the trail. At some point, the clouds and fog gave way so that we could see a few beautiful views. One or two of those views were at steaming volcano vents, reminding us that we were hiking past 3 very active volcanoes. At about mile 10, we actually entered a forested environment. We made it down to the parking lot at just under 7 hours, faster than many, but behind quite a few others. We had leap-frogged past many along the way, only to be overtaken by them later, then past them again. We met people from all over the world on New Zealand’s most famous day-trek. We couldn’t have picked a better day. After the heat we had been in the last week or so, it was nice to have clouds, pleasant temps, and mist to keep us from overheating. Yes, the views were not as great, but I’ll trade that over blistering sun on that hike any day. The final stats: 401 move minutes, 189 heart points, 35,453 steps, 2,826 calories, and 15.1 miles after walking back to our Airbnb for a shower and cold drinks.