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Friday, 13 April 2012

Wonders of Tongariro

'Mt Doom' - Ngauruhoe at dawn
Based in Pukawa Paradise in a cosy bach just out of Turangi, we found ourselves spoilt for choice. The bucket filled with the wonders of Tongariro was overflowing, and over three days we attempted to soak up as much of the adventure as we could. A well deserved day of rest was indulged in after an intense day in the Kaweka Ranges. So we feasted on many brews and weighed up our many options.

Clicking into gear at the crest of the 'Devil's Staircase'
 The Tongariro Crossing may be a cliché for some people, or a long-term goal for others.Over used, over-used or not - on a pristine autumn morning, you don't get much better than this in Tongariro National Park. Setting off at 7:30am we were able to pass most of the traffic by the South Crater. This was my fourth time on the crater, and have never seen it so clear and calm. The atmosphere was incredible, we were in awe of the bellowing mountains.

Royal red - and not an ounce of snow - still a true summer crossing in the middle of autumn

Vibram FiveFingers - Ben's Bikilas ticking over on the smooth South Crater
Ben and Kristian both decided to take on the Crossing running in their Vibram FiveFingers. Despite the trail's outward appearance of being rough mountainous terrain, since the trail is so well used the actual surface is about 75% finely crushed volcanic rock - an ideal running surface - the Vibrams had no problems skipping over the occasional rocky section. With a zero-drop heel and virtually no cushioning, each footstep would be placed exactly where it was intended.

An inspired mountain dance at the Emerald Lakes

The final climb to Blue Lake before the buzz downhill!
We were in two mindsets on the run - half of us wanted to push ourselves and see how fast we could churn through the 19.8km trail. The other half wanted to savour the rare occasion of a completely clear morning in the midst of the mountain arena. In the end we managed both, taking photos on the run and stopping for the occasional intoxicating sulphur whiff at the lakes.

Blue Lake

A sensational view over Turangi and the gleaming Lake Taupo. Kristian cranking a casual mid-descent air guitar riff
 Once past the North Crater we took on the 1100m descent with full force not stopping till we reached the Ketetahi Carpark. From Mangatepopo to Ketetahi in 2hrs15 sounded good to the ear, but upon learning that the record was 1hr25 set by Callum Harlind, we felt put in our places!

Lake Rotopounamu - pristine

Lake Rotopounamu is found secretly perched behind Turangi, a local taonga to the Maori. We shared their treasure on another crisp Tongariro morning, encircling the 7km lake-loop slowly, still recovering from the past week's activity. The huge amount of net downhill had punished our quads like never before. Even so it was worth the brief pain warming up to discover another beautiful new place. 

Clear reflections

A familiar footprint

Blitzing the trails at Craters of the Moon
 To cap off a sensational week, Craters of the Moon mountain bike park on the outskirts of Taupo was the last item on our list. Named after the volcanic craters that steam away in the park, a quality network of trails were just waiting to be explored. The fast flowing Outback trail gave us a good warm-up tour before we sweated up the Grinder, earning ourselves a fun and long winding descent which was aptly named Better than P.

By the time we arrived back in Auckland, after eleven days of glorious adventure by kayak, foot, and mountain-bike, we were exhausted. But not for long. Checking in on the teams from the 5-day GODZone Adventure Race in Queenstown, we almost forgot that these teams had been on the go for up to 120 hours with less than 3 hours sleep per night. I enjoy my sleep, but there is something extremely elusive about racing non-stop through the mountains of the south in a teams of four only kept together by an overwhelming sense of adventure, fun and insanity. What could be better?  

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