New Zealand Road Trip Part II: A Love-Hate Relationship with North Island.

This is the second part of the story I started about our New Zealand Road Trip back in December. We only had 18 days, with some of that time shared with Australia. In hindsight (but with no regrets whatsoever), JH and I really should have bypassed Australia this time around, but we wanted to finish the continents. It was a bucket list goal, time is ticking in my head, I could get hit by a car tomorrow – what else can I say. We also should have spent more time in South Island, because we absolutely fell in love with everywhere we visited there, but we did not actually know that until we went through the experience. In truth you never know how a trip itinerary will actually turn out until you get there; and well, with only 18 days, you are not really in a position to hippy-backpack-hitchhike your way through the trip. Something has to be planned and structured, and every so often, you can throw in some spontaneity and stardust for kicks.

JH and I had mixed feelings about North Island. The weather really slammed us everywhere we went, and when you hit back-to-back-to-back cold rainy days, it definitely dampers your spirits. But, when it was good, like our good day(s) in Tongariro or Waiheke Island, it was really good. So all in all, we had a good love-hate relationship with North Island. At the end of the day, I most certainly would trade a Toronto winter for a New Zealand summer any day, even with the rain.

As a reminder for my story, our journey continues slowly up North Island – from Christchurch (which is in South Island, but I forgot to mention) to:

  • Wellington;
  • Tongariro National Park;
  • Waitomo;
  • Hahei in the Coromandel Peninsula, and then;
  • Our final stop to Auckland (with a day trip to Waiheke Island).

Our story with Tongariro is really long, so for the purposes of making this readable, I have decided to split the New Zealand road trip up into three parts.

Current:

  • Mood – Travel dreamy.
  • Focus – Trying to remember all the details about North Island, but day dreaming about travel in general. I need time to go by faster so I will wake up and it is time to either leave for our trips to Norway or Tajikistan & Kyrgyzstan. Just a few months to go Ro.
  • Craving – The tangy laksa at Little Penang in Wellington.
  • Feedback from the husband – JH was starting to get used to the road trip driving. Some of the stretches were really long, but I think he enjoyed at times, the exhilarating thrill of passing up to 2 or 3 cars at once, and the continued gorgeous views of the rural country spotted with herds of sheep everywhere. The roads were really easy for driving so long stretches went by really quickly (at least for me), especially since we sang and kind of car danced along to a lot of random alternative (and even country) music. We tried to make a habit of stopping into small towns to collect Pokemon GO gyms on the way. At some point, we maintained up to 10 gyms. We actually met a couple of tourists along the way who also played Pokemon GO, and it made for nice bonding. Yes – we do both still play Pokemon GO.

Christchurch

As I noted, I actually forgot in my North Island post that we briefly touched in Christchurch (a pit stop really to catch a flight to Wellington). I am not sure if it was because we did not take the proper time to explore the city and the tourist spots, or because the city was still ever-recovering from the 2011 earthquake, but the city in some ways felt like a ghost town. We were there on a Friday night, and we did see some packed bars and restaurants, but the streets felt dark and lonely for some reason. Even as we were driving in, something about the city seemed gloomy. JH commented that it was not fair to compare Christchurch to Queenstown or Wanaka for example, which were both smaller vibrant lake towns. Queenstown and Wanaka were in some ways like a Muskoka. Christchurch, I guess in comparability, could be more like a Brampton or a Kitchener (For the foreign readers out there, this is Ontario, Canada suburb speak). Needless to say, we did not really love Christchurch, but as I brought up, we were there for barely a second.

Hotel Food
·        We stayed at Amross Court Motor Lodge (61 Bealey Ave.)

·        A room with a queen bed is $140 per night through Expedia (as of 2016 when we booked).

·        There is ample parking outside the lodge.

·        I figured that because we were in Christchurch for such a limited period that I did not need to make a reservation to any restaurants.

·      However, if you ever fly into anywhere on a Friday or Saturday night, make a reservation (same rule to follow as if you were at home).

·        We were upgraded for free to their honeymoon suite which had a jacuzzi and a kitchen. We had to climb one flight of stairs with our suitcases to reach this room.

·        It is located on the motel strip, but is about a 15 to 20 minute walk to most decent restaurants.

·        All the restaurants on my list for us to try were fully booked. We ended up settling for a restaurant that looked decently adorable (Victorian look) and had an indoor patio seat with natural light – The Villas.

 

·        The lady at the reception was a polite Chinese woman. She was very particular in describing the room and all its various details. She was pretty adorable.

·        Wi-Fi is free; there were no signal problems.

 

 

·        JH ordered a halloumi salad (for 26 NZD), and I ordered a rocket pappardelle for (30 NZD).

·        Halloumi is just delicious in general and the salad was great. My pappardelle however was less than acceptable. It was pretty bad pasta. I think they were going for the rustic cut pasta, but it looked nothing like pappardelle, and tasted like really chewy pieces of green cooked flour.

 

 

·        I left with a bad taste in mouth, and chided myself for not making a reservation. Lesson learned.

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After dinner, we casually strolled back to the hotel, enjoyed our jacuzzi, then went to sleep. The next day, we woke up and flew to Wellington.

 

Wellington

My friend Cindy had done the road trip through New Zealand the year before, and she had mentioned that I would probably love Wellington. In truth, Wellington has a million restaurants and cafes, and potentially, if we had visited in the true New Zealand summer I might have loved it. Not sure, who knows. Anyhow, Wellington was a constant cold and rainy rainstorm for us. We barely had a chance to walk the city because it was raining like it was the apocalypse. We hid in restaurants, the museum and our hotel, and mainly tried to rest because we were supposedly due in the following days for a multi-day hike in Tongariro National Park anyhow.

Hotel

Food

·        We stayed at Cambridge Hotel (28 Cambridge Terrace).

·        A room with a queen bed is $90 per night through Expedia (as of 2016 when we booked). We got one of their rooms with a private bathroom.

·        This is a backpacker’s hotel. It looks a bit dingy, and the hotel sits over a bar. Our room was directly above the bar, and so we could definitely hear the ‘nightlife’ throughout the night. Try to request a room on a higher level if possible.

·        The room was clean. It looked a little older, but the bathroom (which is super tiny) appears to be renovated.

 

·        Our first meal in Wellington was delicious. While in Australia and New Zealand, all I wanted to eat was South East Asian food because the availability of options in Toronto is low.

·        By the time we arrived in Wellington, it was pouring. So we made a good dash from our hotel to Little Penang. Thank goodness Wellington is well aware that its weather is bat-shit-crazy, so all of the main streets are lined with awnings to cover pedestrians from the rain.

·        I have read that normally this place is packed with long lines. Luckily for us (and maybe because of the weather), we found a table easily. JH had the laksa, and I had their hokkien mee. We also ordered a BBQ pork pastry.

·        They do not have free parking. We parked at the 69 Tory Street covered parking lot for $10 (includes overnight parking).

·        Wi-Fi is free; there were no signal problems.

·        The hotel is in a bit of a dingy area as well, but is walk able to most tourist sites, and most of the restaurant strips.

·        Reception & service is a bit passive. It took us a little bit to even get reception to notice that we were standing there at check-in.

·        The laksa was especially delicious. It had pineapple notes, and the citrus made the broth really tangy. I want a bowl right now just thinking about it. The hokkien mee was also good with the right level of spiciness. The meal was pretty cheap.

·        Later in the evening, we went to Ortega Fish Shack Bar near our hotel. I had a reservation, and was grateful that I made one, because even at 6pm, the restaurant was packed.  JH had the grouper with leek risotto and green beans (39 NZD), while I had the snapper with tomato and chickpea ragout (39 NZD). We also ordered a side of shoestring fries with kimchi salt (9 NZD). All dishes were excellently cooked, the fish tasted really fresh and our waiter was pretty nice too.

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Activities

  • Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa)
    • JH and I are not museum people admittedly. Our trips usually revolve around exploring cities randomly on foot, eating a lot of food, and then getting out into nature (itineraries usually dictated by my personal interests, but JH has never really complained).
    • As mentioned though, the rainstorms in Wellington were so bad that we had to find an option that would keep us indoors until the weather subsided (or at least calmed down enough for us to walk down the streets without water whipping in our faces).
    • The museum is located by the waterfront. There is no entrance fee, and the space is multi-levelled and beautifully constructed. I think we only spent about 2 hours in there, but we could imagine that a museum or history enthusiast could easily lose half a day or more in there. There is a lot to explore and walk through.
    • The exhibits range from how New Zealand was formed geographically, to exhibits about Maori history and culture, and the country’s natural environment – re: animals, and even bugs (bugs were a paid exhibit – 15 NZD). There were also a number of large children’s areas, so the museum is perfect for families to spend a day.
    • I cannot even remember the last time I went to the Ontario Science Centre, or properly walked through the ROM (Friday Nights at the ROM – with the drinking and dancing- do not count), so this was a good experience for us.
    • There were a lot of people (given the weather), but it never felt too crowded. JH and I moved at a fast pace, and whenever we saw exhibits with too many crowds, we just moved on.
    • By the time we had walked through all the floors, the rain somewhat subsided, and we ran across the street to the supermarket to buy groceries for our upcoming hiking trip.
  • Wellington Cable Car
    • The Wellington Cable Car is located on 280 Lambton Quay a little north of the core. Tickets can be found here.
    • The shiny red cable car runs every 10 minutes in both directions. Basically, it goes up, waits a few minutes for people to get off and enter, and then goes back down. It is possible to go up one-way, and walk 20 minutes downhill back to the city. JH and I were afraid there was more rain to come given heavy clouds moving in the distance, so we bought a return trip (7 NZD per person versus 4.50 NZD – as of 2016).
    • The ride is relatively short, but it moves through tunnels completely decorated with twinkling colored lights. You feel tripped out for a few seconds.
    • The entire ride reminded me a bit of the cable car leading up to Victoria Peak in Hong Kong, though maybe a bit less steep.
    • The car passes by a couple of stepped neighborhoods leading all the way to the top, so you can imagine that it is perhaps not just used as just a tourist means of transportation. New Zealanders are really fit though, so they probably walk the whole way every day.
    • The top was really windy the day we visited, so we did not stay for long. There is a paid observatory that you can visit, as well as botanical gardens, but it was cold, and I just wanted to get a few pictures and head back to our hotel.
    • Truthfully, the views were not that amazing. We never made it to Mount Victoria, so I am not sure what the comparative view would have been like. I took a bunch of pictures, but it was not the panoramics I was hoping for.
    • On the way back to our hotel, we walked by Cuba Street – a pedestrian-only walk-way (Toronto needs more of these). There were a couple of little night market stalls set up, and the restaurants and bars seemed to be bustling. JH and I however had already eaten at senior citizens time, so we explored curiously for a short bit, and headed back to our hotel to pack and sleep.
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A bunch of stuff we packed for the hike.

Tongariro National Park

Early on December 11th, JH and I left Wellington and headed north towards Tongariro National Park to attempt the Tongariro Northern Circuit. I had dreamed about this hike for a really long time, after seeing the most stunning pictures of these multiple teal-colored lakes on the track – Blue and Emerald Lakes. The track also leads to Mount Ngauruhoe (more notably, Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings – but we had not considered the additional route to this summit in our plan). It also helped that in all my reading, this track was named one of the best hikes in New Zealand (and one of the top in the world). I had scheduled for JH and I to complete the circuit over 3 days (though it can be spaced out a little more over 4 days). The original plan was:

  • Day 1 – To start from Whakapapa (the “wh” is pronounced with an “f” sound) village, and hike to Mangatepopo hut (staying overnight) – 3 hours approx.
  • Day 2 – Trek from Mangatepopo the next day to the Emerald Lakes & Blue Lakes. From there, trek to Oturere Hut for a short rest break; and then finish this longest day at Waihohonu Hut (to stay overnight) – 9-10 hours approx.
  • Day 3 – On our final day, we complete the full circle, heading from Waihohonu Hut back to Whakapapa village where our car would be parked. – 5 hours approx.

Unfortunately for us, the weather was horrible. For some reason, we had pictured in our minds, beautiful sunny shorts-worthy days similar to the day we hiked Roy’s Peak; but instead, we received another wave of horrible shit-storms. When we arrived at the park, it just looked scary. There was nothing but large thick grey clouds covering everywhere. You could not see Mount Doom; the visibility was pretty much non-existent. Ignoring all this, and trying to pep each other up, JH and I went to pick up our rented gear from Ski Biz. Back in Toronto, we had decided that we did not want to lug sleeping bags and huge packs overseas, so we contacted the only rental place in town (at least to our knowledge and research). The store is managed by an incredibly nice lady named Shona. She lives somewhere nearby, so even when the store was not actually open, she zipped by and opened shop for ten minutes to let us pick stuff up.  She laughed at us in shock when she saw how unprepared we were. Yes, normally I am very prepared (ugh), but once again, I had it in my stupid head that the weather was going to be summery. Anyways, long story short, we ended up renting snow pants, rain covers for our packs (JH wanted to use garbage bags but Shona laughed at us again) and an extra wind-proof base layer, in addition to the packs and sleeping bags. We wearily and nervously said goodbye to Shona and headed on our way.

The Whakapapa visitor’s center has a decently-sized parking lot, which is the best option for when you decide to do the whole track. We would later discover that the Mangatepopo lot is the best option for the day hike (which we really should have just chosen to do in the first place – me and my ambitions). You can leave your suitcases and extra bags at the visitor’s center for safety. They tag your bags and lock it up in storage. The reception there provides you information about routes you can take, and gives you up-to-date weather forecasts and advice on whether you should start the track, or wait for another day if the conditions are less than optimal.

When we left the center, it was only mildly drizzling, so JH and I tried to stay as positive as possible. We anticipated a 3 hour trek, but as I will describe next, the trek turned into 5 hours of slogging through mud before we reached Mangatepopo. The trail starts out pretty easy and it kind of curves up and down for the first 30 minutes. You walk through really thin areas of grass (thus the name, bush walk), and every so often, there are sets of stairs where you walk all the way down leading right into a nice steep up-hill to work the glutes. Because it was raining, the stairs were pooled with water, so we had to take very careful steps to ensure our hiking boots did not become too wet (even though they are technically waterproof, we did not have gaiters so water could seep in from the ankles). Because of the rain, the trails had no dry areas to walk on. You literally had to choose between pools of water, thick mud, or scrambling up and down to wet grassy areas to avoid the water or mud. Stupid us, we also did not think to pack our walking poles (what the hell did we bring???), so we both had to use a lot of branches for support. I do not have the footing of a mountain goat, so I fell into a lot of pools of mud. Thank goodness for the snow pants – by the time we arrived at the huts, it looked like I crapped myself hard.

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The trail continued for hours between walking downwards into bush and muddy trails to ascending to some clearing where we were met with gloomy views. It was a vicious circle of walking downhill only to find the next round of muddy uphill, some of which seemed incredibly daunting without proper support (yes, damn myself for not bringing walking poles). We tried to take pictures, but everything just looked like crap to be honest. The grass looked like hay, the skies were depressing, and my backpack cover was a colour of orange that made me want to puke. As we always do (unless we get into fight), JH and I encouraged ourselves through the process. We tried to make light of the situation, and before we knew it, hours somehow passed and a visible clearing emerged. A few minutes later, we arrived at the hut (forgot to take a picture) – this was five hours after we started. We had made a late start, so we were the last ones to arrive there (I think with the exception of two other guys, but I do believe they drove directly to the Mangatepopo parking lot).

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We tried to dry our shoes over the fireplace in the cabin, washed up, signed in with our park ranger Jared, and then found two bunks in the cabin. The cabin was fully booked out (luckily we had booked right on the day bookings opened up for our month – back in May).  There are two main bedrooms with a couple of bunk beds. Everyone shares the kitchen and dining room which is the main part of the cabin. The washrooms are located outside, about a 30 second brisk, cold walk away from the cabin. Toilets exist versus squat holes.

For the first time ever, we tried ‘gourmet’ vacuumed camping food. It was pretty good actually, though not that cost conscious. Everyone else seemed to be making and eating pasta or soup. However, unlike everyone else, I am pretty sure we were the only ones travelling through New Zealand for less than a month (less than three weeks really), so we did not necessarily have to penny scrap as much.

We ended up talking to a couple for a while who actually used to be from Toronto. I listened to their stories with starry eyes and vivid imagination as they were exactly that couple I described in my last post. They were that couple who picked up and left their normal lives, and just decided to travel without a clear plan to come back – my dream, my ULTIMATE DREAM. They told us about how they drove from Canada all the way down to the tip of Argentina in one straight road trip. They then told us about how they joined a several-month trip spanning most of Africa. I could not help but be ridiculously jealous. JH is so logical though that this would never happen for us. I just hope one day that we can maybe take a three-month sabbatical and properly cover all of one continent (or go around-the-world in 90 days). I can only hope. Probably my next option is to travel across some continents with my teenage kid one day (presuming I am actually fertile, and he/she wants to travel with me).

Years ago, JH and I shared a tiny cabin with friends while climbing Kilimanjaro. Aside from the fact that one of the guys had night terrors, the experience was actually decently ‘comfortable’. Sleeping in THIS cabin however was bit tougher (though I can only imagine camping outside in a cold rainstorm would have been a hundred times worse). There was one guy who snored rhythmically all night; I was half unconscious so I kept on yelling at JH to shut up even though it was not him. Half way through the night, the wind was really howling, so the combination of the wind and the snoring ended my sleep for good.

The next morning, there was no visibility out the window, and the wind was practically shaking the hut. JH looked at me pleadingly and said that this was not what he envisioned for his vacation. He was really frustrated and tired. I am such a stubborn cow though, and I truly wanted to finish what we started. I told him I wanted to hear back from the park ranger on what the appropriate next steps would be. While we gradually started to pack our things and decide what to do the next, Jared called everyone into the main room. Now, to preface the situation, one must know that Jared is super laid back. He looks and sounds kind of stoned, so when he began describing the dire situation, you are not really sure HOW serious he is, so you really have to focus on his words (without imagining moving colours and wide-eyed unicorns in the background). The park rangers are constantly in contact with each other about weather and conditions. Jared was in contact with the rangers at the other huts. After speaking with the other rangers, he confirmed that there was no visibility on the trail and the top of the track had winds at speeds greater than 100 km per hour along with snow. He also told us there was one section where the ledge is really narrow, and you need to move yourself across safely using chains. This would be really dangerous at such high wind speeds and icy conditions. He contacted the visitor’s center and confirmed that if we headed back, those who had made bookings at other huts for the continuation of the track would receive refunds for those bookings.

At this point, pretty much everyone in the cabin decided to turn back. No one wanted to make the risky track with no guarantee of visibility. It would essentially be torture with no actual returns. There was also no possibility for us to wait the storm out in this particular hut; it was fully booked out for the next evening. So, from there, everyone worked together to help each other as much as possible. JH went with one guy who had parked his car at the Mangatepopo lot. That guy kindly drove JH back to our car. JH then came back to pick me up, as well as another couple who had also parked back at the visitor’s center.

We got our refund, picked up our suitcases, and stared at each other blankly unsure of what to do because we now had two free days originally allocated to this hike. Normal couples would probably just get into the car, and drive on without a plan…be a little spontaneous. I pretty much had an anxiety breakdown. For the next hour, JH and I argued over staying, and seeing what the next day’s weather looked like, in between looking at what was around in surrounding areas. In my heart, I did not want to leave. I had spent a year wanting to do this hike, and I just did not want to give up on it despite everything that went wrong. I think, after pretty much an hour of mulling, I gave up, and we decided to move onwards.

We went for a 15 minute hike to Tawhai Falls near the visitor’s center, which at ground altitude, was not really affected by the weather. We then returned the rented equipment to Shona, and drove onwards for an hour to Lake Taupo which, surprise-surprise was beautifully sunny.

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I will not really describe Lake Taupo in too much depth because being there made me more upset than ever, and we really did not stay there for long. JH got us a room in a beautiful nice lake-side hotel (Gables Lakefront Motel). We walked the streets for quite a while, but my mood was somber.  All I wanted to do was finish that stupid hike, or at least get to the point where I could see the lakes I had dreamed about seeing. JH, the amazing husband he is, was super patient with my mood swings. He agreed to us going sky-diving the next day instead, and tried very hard to cheer me up. But, at dinner, I embarrassingly broke down.

For the longest time, I had not been working, and I felt like I could do or achieve absolutely nothing. The major depression and anxiety last year culminating into my current diagnosis had broken me in every which way possible. Completing a hike is not really an accomplishment at all by any means, but I could not conceptualize not finishing something at this point in my life. Not finishing that hike validated every thought in my head that I could achieve nothing, and I felt every feeling of worthlessness that had consumed me for most of 2016 returning.

At this point, JH begged of me to be more definitive with my decisions next time (given he had drove an hour away only to have to drive back). He then dialed Shona’s number and handed me the phone. I told her to prepare our stuff (along with walking poles) and we would be back in the morning. When we woke up the next day, we could see Mount Doom from across the lake. It was clear. Luck was with us, and thanks to the most understanding husband, we took the early one-hour drive back to where we came from. We would not complete the full trail, but we would instead do the 19.4km one-day hike – more formally, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

This time, we drove directly to the Mangatepopo parking lot. It was pretty full by the time we arrived at 8AM, but we looped around the lot and managed to find a spot. The sky was really clear and blue, so we could see the tops of the volcanoes. Mount Doom just looked spectacular. We started back on the trail down to the hut for about twenty minutes, and this time moved onwards to the rest of the track. Because of the good weather, there were lots of people on the trail. However, everyone was really polite; if you moved faster than certain people, they moved out of the way to allow you to pass, and vice versa, we did the same.

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It took us about an hour to reach the first ‘pit stop’ in the trail – Soda Springs. This part of the trail is pretty easy. You walk along some man-made wooden paths alongside some streams, with a couple of reasonable up-hills and curve-arounds. The valley looks absolutely beautiful, and you see pops of plants, moss, lava rock and terrain in amongst the aforementioned streams. At the end of this point, there is a port-a-potty (which when we passed through there was an insanely long line for).

At this point, there is also a sign asking hikers if they are really prepared, and to turn around if they are not fit enough, or do not have proper clothing. In all cases, I think JH and I were over-prepared (which were okay with because we constantly layered and de-layered depending on the wind). We were amongst few people in snow-pants and visible layers. Some people were in shorts. One woman went up with her baby in a swaddle (JH and I had a little debate on that one).

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At this next part of the trail, the scenery began to change. The ground is darker and you see a lot more lava rock. Everything around you just looks like lava rock…like doom. As we gradually climber higher and higher, the views of Mount Doom became more and more beautiful and prevalent. There were many chances to take pictures of Mount Doom, and the volcanic valleys below. Case in point, JH had me take a picture of him pretending to throw his ring at Mount Doom. My memory is a little fuzzy, but if I remember correctly, you go through a couple of up-hills, and then you reach the point where you can veer off to go up the Mount Doom or Mount Tongariro summits. Because I already tortured JH through all of this process, and this was never in the original plan (which was supposed to be harder and longer re: the 10-hour day), I did not push for any extra summits. We instead descended down into a valley that looked like Mars. At this point in the track, You ‘rest’ a little by dancing through a straight and wide path that passes through a valley strewn with volcanic rock and mirror-like pools of water.

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My memory is still a little fuzzy, but I think at this point we reached Devil’s Staircase (this paragraph and the last paragraph might be interchanged in terms of the route – forgive me). This is literally a continuous switchback of stairs and steep uphill. The uphill had bit of snow, so it was a little slippery at times. Thank goodness we rented walking poles this time around. Normally, I might have been a little nervous with this area, but there were so many people that you moved quite slowly, almost like an assembly line. If you do not look down, you cannot be afraid; you just focus on your next step. At some point, we reached the area Jared spoke about – a thin ledge, where you grab onto chains to move yourself onto the next area. It was a little daunting, but not as scary as I thought it would be (Stok Kangri was 80 times scarier, but that is a story for another day). Luckily for us, the wind in that area of the climb was not too bad. At the top of Devil’s Staircase is another viewpoint onto the valley. It was aggressively windy here, so JH and I had to buckle back up our layers. From here, you walk across a caldera, and then make one final tough, steep uphill (the summit of Red Crater) and then there it is – the lakes. Blue Lake is to your left in the distance, and the three Emerald lakes are downhill to your right. If you take a 360 turn, you see Mount Doom, Mount Ruapehu, and all the lakes. Even though the air smells like sulfur, the views are just breathtaking. The views make you want to cry. I literally cried.

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At this point, your brain kind of stops, and you mentally think the hike is over (never mind the going back part). However, in order to get great shots or angles of the lake, you have to descend a really steep downhill path of sleet and gravel to make it to any of the great view points or even the lakes themselves. I cursed and bitched like you would not believe. I hate sleet and gravel, and especially sleet and gravel going downhill. JH made it down easily because he treated it like skiing. I on the other hand had to turtle my way down there. I am pretty sure the pack of tourists walking down next to me sub-enjoyed me screaming the f-word every other second. JH tried to back-seat coach me down, but I ended up freaking out even more (I am only like this with downhill gravel). Eventually I made it to the ‘point’, we smiled and took pictures, rested for a micro-second and then headed back up.

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The trail allows you to continue upwards to a different parking spot (Ketetahi), but we left our car back at Mangatepopo. We did not want to spend a bunch of money to book a ride back, or worse, wait for hours trying to hitch a ride. So, we walked the entire way back in the way in which we came from. Naturally it was much easier in the reverse, especially Devil’s Staircase. We kind of flew through it (even with many more stops to take pictures), so overall the entire hike took us about 5.5 hours. We were so happy, because as we approached the end of the hike, looming clouds returned, and visibility of Mount Doom completely disappeared. For once in too many days, the weather finally worked for us with little room to spare.

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All in all, this was one of my favourite hikes ever, even the parts where I screamed and cursed. It was just absolutely beautiful; and aside from the first day trying to reach Mangatepopo, the terrain was interesting and approachable to deal with (in hindsight, even the downhill sleet and gravel, silly dramatic me). I am glad my crazy heart and mind told us to go back. I would have returned to Canada feeling empty if we had walked away. When we got back to the car, I happily ditched my roughed-up hiking boots, hugged JH, and we continued our road trip.

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Additional Tips:

  • Pray for good weather; conditions in New Zealand are unpredictable and as mentioned, bat-shit-crazy.
  • Layer up – you go from hot to cold-sweat to freezing in a matter of seconds. I wore my thermal base, windproof jacket, thermal leggings, snow pants, double socks, hiking boots, winter hat and gloves. Note – we climbed in December (supposedly the brink of summer), so in the real summer, you probably need a lot less. We were told that in previous years, weather in December has been much calmer; we just happened to arrive in a bad year.
  • Bring lots of water and snacks. I needed the water, much less so the snacks.
  • A day pack is fine for the one-day hike. Everything of course is different for the full circuit.
  • On our day, the sun and wind were both reasonably strong, so we applied sunscreen and chapstick before we left.
  • We did not see too many people with walking poles, but I appreciated having them, especially for downhills. Even though I hope I one day will be, I am just not confident with downhills. You do not even want to know what I am like with downhills and crampons (once again, a story for another day).
  • We started at 8AM, and ended back at the parking lot a little after 1:30PM. While we saw people still heading up as we were heading down, we probably would not recommend starting too late in the day
  • Appreciate the entire experience. Given I am from Toronto, scenery like this just does not exist, so even though your body feels like breaking at points (and it really should not since it is only a day hike), take the extra minutes to really breathe everything in.

Author: Roro

Home baker. Sugar obsessed. Casual traveller. Fighting a fight. All photography and content are copyrighted by Roro @thechewishkitchen unless otherwise stated and referenced, and cannot be used without permission.

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