The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

20 March 2010, New Zealand

As with all of our trips, the contents of my backpack includes several books. I’m currently reading The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam, which tells the story of how the United States became involved in Vietnam. It’s an interesting book although I have found that I’m lacking, or have forgotten, much of the prerequisite knowledge of U.S. history. Normally Wikipedia would be my constant companion for a book like this, but reasonably priced internet access has been hard to find in New Zealand. This is actually my second book of the trip; I first attempted to read A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace but the seemingly aimless musings about tennis and wind in Illinois didn’t quite capture my attention. However, the title of the book is a perfect description of our experience with one of New Zealand’s most beautiful day hikes, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a 19 kilometer walk through the Tongariro National Park, on New Zealand’s north island. The hike passes two volcanoes including Mount Ngauruhoe, the perfectly conical Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings movies. We woke to rain on the morning of our hike, which subsided during our drive to the trailhead. A dense fog unfortunately persisted and obscured the views for the first half of the supposedly beautiful scenery. Although disappointing the comparison to Wallace’s work actually stems from the hoards of fellow hikers as well as our experience near the summit of Ngauruhoe. The most beautiful day hike in all of New Zealand is also the most popular day hike in all of New Zealand, and much of the trip was spent stepping on the heels of other hikers.  As we approached the summit the winds gusted to 55 kilometers per hour, challenging our footing and cutting through our fleece and thin jackets. Incidentally we later learned that the locals don’t hesitate to attempt the hike until the winds reach about 75 kilometers per hour, and actually appreciate a stiff breeze at the top. Apparently the summit can get quite hot when the air is calm.

Conditions improved markedly after we passed the summit  and in hindsight my comparison to A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again may have been premature. The clouds parted to reveal spectacular views of the barren volcanic landscape and the sun on our backs actually made for a pleasant afternoon. We walked past emerald colored lakes, a bright red crater, and active steam vents. We descended through alpine brush and native forest, finishing the hike in a little over six hours.

4 Responses to “The Tongariro Alpine Crossing”

  1. Bridget says:

    That water looks GORGEOUS! Some great adventures already!

  2. Andy says:

    That looks spectacular. Please update liberally you two, as you can only imagine the amount of vicarious living which is going on here in the states.

    And to whomever posted the book reviews, I would give a chance to both books. Particularly the Wallace essays – the cruise ship essay which gave the collection its title is wonderful. As is the essay on David Lynch.

    Many good wishes to you both, thinking of you.

    A

  3. Shannon and Jeremy says:

    Looks like you had a much different experience than Jeremy on the same hike! He is jealous that you actually got to see the view from the summit, while he could not even see 2 feet in front of him due to the fog! Plus it looks like you had a lot more company than he did! He and his buddy were alone … ok, the fog may have had something to do with that. Looks like the weather is treating you well! We are enjoying reading your blog!

  4. Jason says:

    Andy,

    Thank you for the complement.

    I definitely plan to read the book about Vietnam, and I’ll give the other a second try as well. The painful part is having to lug around all that weight…fortunately we left some things in Manila so our bags are a bit lighter for now.

    Jason

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