Friday, 28 December 2012

Cycling the North Island - Day 11 - The Tongariro Disappointment

Tongariro National Park.
Photo borrowed from
Tuesday, 4th December
Tongariro! The Lord of the Rings! Mount Doom! Frodo and the ring! I'm finally going to see the famous mountains used to film Mordor, and one of New Zealand's most stunning places. Or so I thought.
Tongariro National Park takes its name from Mount Tongariro (1978m), but there are two more - Mount Ngauruhoe (2291m) and Mount Ruapehu (2797m). The latter two have been used in the Lord of The Rings movies, Ngauruhoe being Mount Doom. All three are active volcanoes, which makes them a popular tourist destination. The park offers several walks, the most popular being the one-day Alpine Crossing. It wouldn't be me if the volcanoes, quiet for over a hundred years except for a big burp in 1996, hadn't decided to erupt just as I finally included them in my travelling plans...

But that's not the only reason why my visit to Tongariro National Park was so brief, so disappointing, and why I decided to come back another time. Due to the volcanic activity, the walks I was interested in were closed. In addition, there was still too much snow on Ruapehu, and if that wasn't enough, a whole lot of bad weather was coming from the north.

In the light of these facts, I decided to save time and hitch-hike from the 60km-distant camping ground I was staying at and do at least a day's worth of walking. The hitch-hiking went pretty well until the very last bit, the 6km to the Whakapapa village. Due to low traffic, I decided to walk and try getting a ride along the way. At least fifteen cars passed me, most of them big jeeps with plenty of room, and none of those selfish bastards bothered to stop. I'm not saying they had to, but even if somebody doesn't normally take hitch-hikers, it's quite mean to ignore a person walking in the hot sun on a NO-EXIT road with only one, obvious destination. This kind of people really piss me off. Anyway, after having walked half of the way, I eventually got a ride (from a shuttle bus...) to Whakapapa, only to find out that the Alpine Crossing I was interested in doesn't start there. There was no point wasting more time trying to re-hitch to the right place, especially since the track was partially closed due to volcanic activity, so I ended up choosing a supposedly nice half-day walk to a lake. It turned out to be one of the most boring walks ever and after half an hour I was already on the way back. Really not worth my time.

Given the unfavourable circumstances, I decided to leave Tongariro for another time and use the rest of today to cycle, thus avoiding another night in the super expensive Tuamarunui campsite). Unlike the morning hitch, the ride back to town was a perfect example of a hitch-hiker's dream: wave at the first car and get a door-to-door ride. Back at the campsite, I packed my stuff and was on the way by 3pm. The weather had deteriorated a great deal, clouds covering the sky and drizzle threatening to break into full spread rain at any moment. Luckily, it stayed drizzly and spared me the misery of a wet ride. It was frustrating enough having to cycle on a HW4 busy with trucks and consisting of a 38km long, consistent climb to the central plateau. Although optically flat, it felt as if someone was pulling the bike backwards and no matter how hard I tried, it wouldn't go faster than 13km/h. Except for the big climbs...

It took three excruciating hours to reach the summit at National Park (yes, that's a town's name), but I eventually made it, and guess who I met - my new paddling friends, who were just driving past and saw me on the road, so they stopped for a chat. After National Park, the ride turned into a delightful downhill, allowing me to use the highest gear with hardly any effort and clocking 40kmh! Some fun at last!

By the way, I should probably specify my itinerary for those familiar with NZ's geography. I had been planning to go straight north, to Taupo and Rotorua, but due to the weather change, a cold and wet northerly front and strong winds, I opted to go south instead and then east to Hastings. If this westerly/northerly hell lasts for another few days, it'll be a hell of a ride! Ok, I've been writing for over two hours, time to sleep, and this time for free! It's been ages since I didn't have to pay for accommodation. I found a patch of pine trees near the road, a perfect spot unless a branch snaps in the wind and falls on my head... good night.

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