As we had to postpone our longer hike due to Ellie's illness, we found ourselves in Taupo, which has a direct bus to the Tongariro Crossing, (part of the "Great Walks" promotional campaign). Jane and I had taken the route way back in April last year, and the experience was best summed up by the phrase "disorganised queuing" and visibility for the first half of the day was somewhere between limited and non-existent.
Hoping for better weather and less trampers, Ellie and I signed up at the campsite and I got up at 4am to make us some soup and tea. The plan is always to take warm things in flasks and there were a few others awake and doing the same. Something jarred with me in the kitchen when I overheard the phrase "we should probably get moving - we only have 5 minutes". This wasn't too troubling as we had been told to be outside by 5.10am for a 5.20am pick up and it was only 4.45am. Having said that - I was still in my pyjamas so it did motivate me a little.
Once the food and tea was ready, I jogged over to Ellie's tent to see if she was awake. The jog was partly motivated by time and partly by how cold it is on a clear morning in Taupo, pre-sunrise. To my relief, she was awake and almost ready. We had one final check of the bags and headed to the front to wait for our carriage.
Rather than the ten minute wait for the coach we had been expecting, we were met by a guy in a pick up truck barking at us to get in. We did (perhaps we should think about the safety of this strategy in future) and he took us across town to catch up with the bus that we'd missed. It's rare that I've been late and it's genuinely not been my fault but this is one of those fabled occasions. Reception had given us the timings from two years prior - leaving us around 25 minutes behind schedule.
Happily we caught up with the bus, sadly the tea was cold, but the journey was a warm one and it didn’t phase me too much as I was getting pretty excited to do some hiking. Ellie had a relatively attainable list of things she wanted to see in NZ and the day hike seemed like a fun and simple one to tick off. As we got off the bus, it was chilly but we had plenty of layers and significantly less company than our first visit to these lands! We set off and hoped we could see the many coloured lakes along the way.
The hike itself wasn't too strenuous and I had a good idea of what to expect. Our conversations were punctuated with Ellie saying "Mount Doom?" every 200 metres or so. Eventually we made it to "Mount Doom" (or Mount Ngauruhoe as it’s known outside of Mordor) and the Red Crater beneath. This was a new experience for me as previously this was just fog, so I made sure to take lots of pictures for Jane who also hadn’t seen the gaping rouge hole.
We commenced the climb to the peak and winds reached around 100km. I tried to video this on the go-pro but it's the shakiest thing ever as it turns out I am not stronger than nature herself. Ellie spent most of this time with a balaclava on - making it feel like I was on a weird quest with "the Fonejacker". I did not hand over my bank details.*
Once we had passed the peak, the mountain provided some welcome shelter from the wind. We sat and had soup whilst watching many tourists pose for risky selfies. The descent is a long but easy one and we were fuelled by some tasty snackballs (nut butter) so we made it to the bus well before the first departure at 2pm.
We sat down, rather than queuing and ultimately missed the first bus. The second bus opened its doors and we both immediately fell asleep. Hiking takes it out of you. When we eventually set off, there was some drama as a Spanish couple had got on the wrong bus, complained to the bus driver who kicked them off as they hadn't paid and were 20km in the wrong direction, and they had to hitchhike back to the bus stop. What a nightmare after a long day!
Fortunately for us, things were only going to get better. Jane had generously picked up some beers and ciders and offered to get some vegan pizzas from Hell Pizza whilst we showered. We'd eaten at Hell (in Hell?) before and not really rated it but had since heard great things about the vegan options. Given our plant-based friend was with us, we gave it a go and I can confirm that those pizzas are GREAT.
Satisfied and exhausted, we napped.
*this reference probably won't age well.