As the tour bus rolled out of Waitomo and on it's way to Taupo early in the morning, I was thinking about the hike I was going to do the next day. Before I had gotten to New Zealand I was told that the Mt. Tongariro Crossing was one of the greatest hikes to try in the country. So, I was looking forward to trying it out the next day. The weather couldn't have been better when we arrived in Taupo. Bright sunshine bathed the town and the surrounding area. The weather report confirmed that the next few days should be clear and devoid of any rain that might turn the day hike from an amazing experience into a miserable one. After my fellow travelers and I settled into the hostel we were staying at for the next two nights, most of them scattered to take part in sky diving or to visit the local hot pools. A few of us chose instead to go to a barbeque at the park with free food and beverages. Upon arriving at the park a few of the guys there were starting up a touch rugby match. I had watched a rugby league match the week before so I was extremely confident in my ability to competently compete with the rest of the guys that were playing. The rugby match turned out to be a lot of fun. I held my own and even scored once. After the barbeque we rode back to the hostel in a van with no back seats that was chocked full of approximately 12-14 people. Another interesting feature to the van was the back door that didn't latch, so it flew open around every corner, daring the person nearest the door (me,of course) to stay inside the vehicle. The night consisted of the usual meetup at the pub by everyone in the tour group. All though, the lot of us that were going on the hike the next day managed to tear ourselves away from the fun fairly early.
In the morning we took an hour bus ride to the trailhead of the crossing. As we headed for the mountain the clouds became darker and more foreboding. The bus driver told us that it was rainy on the mountain, but it should clear up the higher we hiked. The pessimist, nay, realist in me privately disputed the driver's assurance that it would be a pleaseant hike. The deciding factor in my thoughts that it would be a less than ideal hike was the bus driver's warning that if the weather was too bad when we reached the peak and were about to start the descent down the other side, we should turn around and go back the way we came. That was the point of no return. I scoffed at the notion of turning around when I was halfway through a hike, but I suppose the driver was morally, and maybe even legally, bound to issue the warning. I started the hike out at a steady but not overly fast pace and soon found myself passing everyone that had set out ahead of me. The weather quickly turned from bad to freakin' ridiculous as rain, sleet, and what seemed like gale force winds bombarded me as I made my way up the mountainside. I must admit, when I reached the point of no return I actually contemplated whether or not I should continue. But, stupidity disguised as bravery pushed me onward to the harrowing descent. I've been told of the captivating views that can be seen from the peak of Mt. Tongariro. However, on this day I was unable to see more than 10-20 yards ahead of me at most times because of the think fog that enveloped the mountain. As I made my way to the lower reaches of the opposite side of the mountain, the fog lifted and I had some magnificent views of the landscape below. The frightful weather inclined me to tramp through the hike without many stops. Which, allowed me to finish what I was told to be a 7-8 hour hike in 4 hours. That would be all well in good, except the bus was not coming to pick people up from the finish point for another 4 hours. The ensuing wait was not the most exciting time of my life, but I suppose there are worse things to do over a 4 hour period.
After Taupo we headed to a small lodge at River Valley which was in the middle of nowhere. Whitewaer rafting was the activity of choice at this stop, but I chose to save my money and not partake in it. We had just a one night stay here and moved on to Wellington afterwards. Wellington was a 3 night stay. Wellington seemed like a cool city, except for the horrible weather. It was very rainy and windy the whole time we were there. The locals told me that the heavy winds were a normal occurence for the city. There were a few interesting sights to take in around the city and the nightlife was ok. Other than that, not much happened in Wellington in the time we were there. Next up.....the South Island..............