Ceiling of the North Island

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13/01/08
Yeehaw! I did it! I reached the highest point in the North Island of New Zealand. Yup, Ralph and I achieved our goals yet again on another glorious day in Tongariro National Park. We managed to summit Mount Ruapehu, through the aid of both a car, and some chairlifts. Hows that you say? Well, the start point was 6km up the road, very much uphill, so we decided to hitch-hike up and back instead of biking. Also, rather than try to scale the entire vertical distance by foot, we took the park people’s advice and paid 20NZD for the chairlifts to take us up to 2000m, leaving us only an extra 700+m of vertical to climb. Our plan was to be on the first chair at 9am, and be back in Whakapapa Village around 1pm, and in National Park Village and the included spa by 3pm. Read on for a bit more of the day, and check out the map. Sadly, the GPS was paused at some point early in the climb, and I didn’t realize till much later, so a lot of the pictures are in the wrong place. Sorry, but that’s the best I can do for now.

Everything was pretty much on track for us, and we were on the road fairly early in the morning, so that we could try and catch a ride up the hill in time for the 9am chairlift ride. The first car passed us by, but the second one stopped and gave us a lift. We had our tickets and were first in line at 8:47am. We were on the first lift up, after having chatted briefly with a guide in the souvenir shop about the route to take and what to do on top. There were two chairlifts, and the end of the second one was at a cafe overlooking the whole valley. It was a nice place to stop, but not for us, we got right on with the task at hand.

We climbed, scrambled and slid our way up the vertical meters, crossing some water, going up snow, scree, and lots of volcanic rock. The path wasn’t always easy, but we didn’t expect it to be. We’d been told that with our current feats on the Northern Circuit that we should be able to get to the top in about an hour and 15 minutes. We took only slightly longer than that, mainly because we weren’t 100% certain of the route, and had no map. We just looked up, and tried to pick the best lines. Happily, we got to the top without incident, and the view was worth every effort. Oh yeah, we also got to stop at a porta john way up in the mountain. Not sure why it was there, but we used it just to say we did.

Once at the top, we spent quite a bit of time exploring the crater and surrounding features, including an emergency shelter. It was a bit eerie being up there, as they tell you all the time that the mountain can and does erupt at any time and with no warning. The last such erupiton was on Sept. 25th, 2007, at which time a guy sleeping in the Volcano monitoring hut was almost killed. He lost a leg and has had over 20 operations to date. We think we actually saw his discarded pant leg in the hut at one point. Very odd and unsettling. Nonetheless, the adventuring was a ton of fun, and we kept going around the crater trying to climb to ever higher peaks. The official altitude of Ruapehu is 2795, but we didn’t reach that peak, but we were at about 2750m. The top of Ruapehu is quite a large area, and has several different peaks.

After having our fill of the top of the North Island, taking pictures and having snacks, it was time to head down. The best way to do that? Well, slide down the scree as best as possible, then take the steep snow patches and slide it. This was a wild ride, and got us pretty soaked, but a hell of a way to get down. It took considerably less time! Once back at the cafe, we laid wet stuff out to dry and got sorted out again. From there, it was two more chairlifts down to the main parking lot. From there, we started walking back to Whakapapa Village with our thumbs out. We were passed by several cars before finally being picked up. We managed to get to the village only a little later than hoped. We had a quick lunch, then got our gear re-packed for the final 16km ride to National Park Village.

Luckily, that ride was mostly downhill, so we made good time, and were able to book our spa time for 4pm. Basically, it’s just a hot tub, but it was a heaven-send with our weary bodies after spending 4 days doing lots of hard hiking. We had a great meal up the road, and are now getting ready for tomorrow’s 70km or so trip down the road to a middle-of-nowhere place. I forget the name, but it’s about halfway between here and Wanganui, the next major stop on my journey. Alls still going well, and the bike felt okay after several days off. Now for a snack, and off to bed. Laundry is done, and I’m clean once again. What a life I live, eh? Talk to you all later.

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