Our first excursion on our North Island road trip was to Tongariro National Park. Mount Ngauruhoe was featured as Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings films, so it’s a pretty popular destination for the adventurers that come to New Zealand. The Tongariro Crossing is a 19.4 km (12 mile) one way track that takes you through an active volcano zone and up close to Mount Ngauruhoe. We only had one clear weather day in the next five so we had to act fast. We woke from Palmerston North at 5 am for a two-hour drive to the park. On arrival, we grabbed the last two spots on a shuttle bus to take us to the trail start.
The trail was demanding but amazing. Due to the volcanic activity, it wasn’t like any trail we’d hiked before. We had wide open views of the volcanoes as we worked our way up the mountain. It was like heading directly into the heart of Mordor and Mount Doom. Eventually we hiked above the cloud level, and it truly felt like we were in a different world. Gasses steamed up from the ground, and at the top there were three emerald lakes. We watched the clouds roll in and out of these lakes like a fog machine. On our way down the peak, our clear weather was gone and we were shrouded in heavy fog for the remainder of the hike. Our timing was very lucky! It took 6 ½ hours to complete the one-way track back to our vehicle.
We found a nearby free campsite run by the Department of Conservation to spend the first night in our campervan. There were a few other vehicles but it was quiet during the shoulder season. We cooked dinner out of our trunk and rolled out our bed in the back seat!
Glow Worm Caves
From Tongariro we went to Waitomo, which is a small town that is famous for its glowworms (wiki) and caving adventures. We booked a tour last minute and didn’t have high expectations, but this excursion turned out to be one of our favorites! We were driven out to farm land, where past some grazing sheep, a sinkhole had opened in the ground. Our first task was to abseil 100 ft into the ground. If Taylor would have known this was required, we probably would have booked a different tour!
Once at the bottom we went up and down the cave, trekking and tubing to look at the interesting rock features and most of all the glow-worms. These worms live on the ceilings of the cave and glow so bright that it looks like the night sky. It is truly incredible to turn off all lights, stay quiet, and sit and stare at the glow worms. After a few hours, it was time to leave the cave, which required us to harness up again and rock climb back out. We had no idea we had signed up for such an adventurous tour, but it was unbelievable fun. We even put our cameras away for this tour, and didn’t opt to buy any from the company. So unfortunately, we can’t share any pictures but we were glad to focus on enjoying the experience for a change. We stayed the night at a holiday park in town, which costs some money but also has some nice things like showers, which we probably needed after two days of hiking and caving!
Chris & Taylor
Read our travel blog as we visit three continents in 2017.