A Backpacker's Tale

Conquering the Tongariro – A Flu-ridden Day Through Mordor.

15 June, 2016
Stephen
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The brakes on the bus screeched as it came to a sudden halt.

“Please, don’t spill” I whispered as I juggled the coffee cup in my hands. I was determined to save every precious ounce.

The bus doors flung open and sleep deprived, zombiesque people walked down the stairs and into the cool breeze blowing through Tongariro National Park. It is one of the most beautiful and biggest points of interest in New Zealand

I chugged the remaining contents of my cup, zipped up my coats, and stepped out into frosty New Zealand air of a New Zealand morning. I couldn’t help but smile.

Today was the day we were trekking the world renowned Tongariro Crossing.

What is the Tongariro Crossing

Mt Doom Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Crossing is a world renowned, and known as the best day hike in New Zealand.

The Tongariro Crossing is a 19-kilometer hike. The trail leads through the stunning and unearthly landscape of New Zealand’s North Island.

My fellow Lord of the Rings geeks or those wondering where Lord of the Rings was filmed will recognize the Tongariro Crossing as both Mt Doom, and the land of Mordor….where the shadow lies. ( Sorry for the geek out)

By the end of the day I will be able to say I have traveled from the Shire to Mordor!

A couple of years ago, on my first trip to New Zealand, I was beyond excited to trek the Tongariro.

However, the night before the hike the weather turned and dumped enough snow over the park that I didn’t do the hike.

This quickly became a huge travel regret for me. Since then every time I heard anyone mention the Crossing I always had to suppress a twinge of jealousy.

Needless to say, the Tongariro has been on my travel bucket list for a while.

There was only one tiny problem. I was sick.

A couple of days before the flu hit me faster than a hobbit can cook second breakfast.

In my heart, I knew if I was here again and let this chance pass me by for a second time that it would gnaw at me inside.

Yep, I was conquering the Tongariro. It was a sniffling, coughing, and flu-ridden day through Mordor.
.
Tossing my coffee in the nearest trash I gathered my fellow Haka tour mates Laura, and James and we began our day in the mountains of New Zealand.

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Hiking the Tongariro Crossing

Tongariro Crossing New Zealand

One of the highlights of this hike is that the landscape changes so dramatically. The hike starts out looking a lot like Scotland.

James, who is Scottish by the way, remarked at the outset of the hike “Why did I leave home.”

For me, I thought the bush was beautiful as we stuck to the trail and watched the sunrise over the towering mountains.

Soon, after passing through Soda Springs, the path morphs into a rocky, craggy landscape filled with dark brown boulders the size of a small bed and beige rocks all over the mountain.

This section is the Mordor part of the hike which ventures up to the base of, Mt. Ngauruhoe or Mt Doom. Which I did my frist skydive over in my last visit.

As the path became steeper and the road harder, my sickness began to take effect. I started coughing and hacking. Every time I took a breath, there was a deep burning that crawled down my throat and into my lungs.

I could feel the sickness in me, and anytime I pulse started pumping I broke out in a cold sweat, gasping for breath, and tried not to let the usual burning in my lungs freak me out.

As we summited one of the biggest cliffs, we overlooked the insane view of the land we had been hiking through for the last couple hours. I wish I could say something epic like “ The view made my sickness melt away.”

But the truth is I was dying.

I was gasping for breath, and a light heave came out of my lungs every time I exhaled. I wasn’t feeling better, and we were not even halfway but gazing at the untouched surroundings made it all worth it. 

Yep, hiking the Tongariro Crossing with the flu was worth it.

Looking out over this landscape, feeling like I was living my last moments on this planet I couldn’t help but reflect on how much I love New Zealand.

After a brief lunch in the southern crater and a couple of disgusted looks from Laura and James as I hacked up my favorite lung, half of my liver, and some gum I must have swallowed as a small child we continued.

The next part of the hike stretched out through a flat valley. My entire body shake with joy as we walked along between two mountains. Before long there was yet another cliff face. The biggest one of the day.

But getting to the top and one the other side we were rewarded with stunning pools. The light blue, and rich green water of this lakes resembled otherworldly colors.

The hikes down towards the Emerald Lakes was more of a slide. Which each step the ash and gravel went up to my ankles.

This meant I you run down the mountain at almost top speed because you sunk into the ground with each step.

We took a small break at the Blue Lake before starting the home strech.

We spent the next few hours hiking down. By this time the landscape has changed again looking more like a hilly meadow, and soon into a forest.

Going down was easier on my body than going up. But I was still breaking out in cold sweats and chugging vitamin water. Soon we were at the end of the hike.

The Tongariro is an unbelievable trek. It was a relief to have finally completed it.

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Was it Worth Hiking the Tongariro Sick?

Traveling the world can make you as wise as an old hermit. You learn countless things about our world, the land, the people, and their cultures.

You observe both the ancient and the modern, yesterday’s ghosts and tomorrow’s dreams, the young and the old, and how they all exist together.

You learn firsthand about the good and bad decisions countries and governments have made. You witness their effects and you hear multiple points of view.

Basically, you gain valuable insights into various parts of the world that you would never otherwise have the opportunity to see.

Things to Know Before Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Hike time: 7 – 9 hours

Distance: 19.4K (11.8 miles)

Elevation: Starting elevation is 1100m (3608 ft). The highest point is 1886m (6187ft)

Difficulty: Beginner – Intermediate

What to Pack: Rain Gear, Water, Snacks, lunch, camera, good boots.

How to Get There: On the North Island head to Lake Taupo. From there book the Tongariro Expeditions bus.

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