The agenda for the day was to head south towards Taupo for a day of hiking in Tongariro National Park (Manawatu-Wanganui 4691, New Zealand) also known as the site of Mordor.
Since Andrew drove yesterday, I drove today. It took about 2 hours and a bit. It’s a weird feeling to be driving on the left side of the road but you get the hang of it. The turns still get me though. This Hyundai Gatz has absolutely no pickup when you try to gun it. There are passing lanes on the highway which are nice. I tried to floor it past a truck and almost didn’t make it.
The first stop of the day was to Huka Falls which was a recommendation from a fellow traveller and told us it was a must see. And it was. Huka Falls is where New Zealand’s largest lake drains into its largest river; the Waikato.
Driving past Lake Taupo and passing by a few small towns we made it to Whakapapa Village – the village/chateau area inside Tongariro National Park and we decided to hike one of the smaller trails inside – Taranaki Falls which lasted about an hour and a half. This park is the first park to be both a cultural and historical world heritage status. We then wanted to hike up to emerald lake but we were running short on gas so we went to find a gas station to fill up first because we didn’t want to get stranded in the dark on unfamilar roads (no street lights in this area). Its a 46km drive out of the Tongariro area to the station. Our real destination was along Mangatepopo Road, the Tongariro Alpine Trail. By the time we got back we started hiking toward the Emerald lake by teh Red Crater (its actually a 4hour hike in and a 4 hour hike out) and Soda Pop Falls but the sun was already setting fast. To get to either locations (springs or lake) we had to go up rocks and I mean rocks. No actual bridge or path and when there was a path or bridge, it quickly would turn into cliffs and hills of rock. The ranger or person who worked there flew by us so quickly but told us we weren’t too far from Soda Pop Falls and that we would have maybe an hour left of sunlight. We finally made it to Soda Pop falls but it wasn’t as exciting as it would be made out to be. We did however see other people hiking nearby and because its a national park, there were cabins where people could come and just stay the night. We quickly turned back out the way we came since the sun started setting fast (6PM) and the paths become very unclear. Our eyes did adjust to the lighting and we could partially see nocturnally. We ran parts of the way back and would stop on occasion just to stare up in the sky. With no light pollution for miles, the sky was lit up with stars. Let me tell you though, I haven’t seen stars that since Toronto had the blackout in 2003. It was magnificent. It’s also weird to see Orion’s belt on the opposite side I usually spot it. What I also noticed and found strange is that I haven’t seen the moon since Sydney. The drive back to Rotorua took about 2 hours and night driving is very intimidating not being able to see 100M ahead so we were driving with our highbeams on and switching between passing cars.
I do have to say so far, Tongariro National Park is my favourite spot. Being outdoors and hiking through this magical place… I think I left a piece of myself here and I’m sad that we never got to finish our main hike to Emerald Lake. I guess it’s something to make note of on my TO DO list one of these days.