Emerald green lakes, a spectacular volcanic landscape, cloudless blue skies….. these were the enticing travel magazine images of Tongariro that had been tempting my partner, Teresa and I for years. Supposedly one of the best day hikes in the world, it was high on our bucket list. At last, we were on our way!
We took a Naked bus (New Zealand’s version of Greyhound) from Auckland down to Turangi, the nearest town to Tongariro National Park. We were planning to stock up on food there, as the remote campground where we had booked a cabin for two nights only had a basic café. We rolled into Turangi nearly an hour late and a mini-bus was already waiting to take us to the campground, 26 km away. No time for supplies and not a shop in sight, we had a problem.
The friendly Maori driver confirmed our fears, in fact the situation was worse than we had thought. The café was no longer open. When he realised that we didn’t have enough food for two days, he asked us if we still wanted to go. As far as we were concerned, we had no option. We had discovered, to our surprise that buses in New Zealand were extremely limited, and therefore it was vital to pre-book. This would be our only chance to do the trail, as we had already booked onward transport and accommodation.
On route, I pondered on the food in my backpack that would have to sustain our appetites over the next forty eight hours – a small piece of cheese, a quarter of a jar of salsa, a bar of chocolate, two cereal bars and some dextrose tablets between two of us! Ironically, we had skipped lunch that day, as we had been on the bus, heading south. That evening, ensconced in our cabin, we enjoyed tiny sticks of cheese dipped into salsa, followed by half a chocolate bar each. There wasn’t even a drinks machine at the campsite.
Next day, however, I was able to purchase one can of baked beans and one can of spaghetti in tomato sauce from campsite staff. Woohoo! After a night of heavy rain pounding on the cabin roof, at 6.00 am I slipped through the darkness of the campsite to a phone booth to arrange transport to the trailhead. A recorded message explained that there would be no transport that day, due to adverse weather conditions. No transport meant not trail! It was deeply disappointing, we knew that we had missed our only chance. It was unlikely that we would be passing this way again. We had to stay another night in our cabin, as our bus to Wellington didn’t leave until 3.00 pm the following day.
We resigned ourselves to our fate and tucked into half a granola bar each for our breakfast. The rain continued. The day’s highlights were half a can of beans or spaghetti each for lunch and dinner. That evening our neighbours fired up their barbeque, as our stomachs rumbled. Next morning, after our final half a granola bar each, we were extremely hungry. The mini-bus was due to pick us up at 2.00 pm to connect with our Wellington bus in Turangi. We considered our situation and decided that if we were to walk to Turangi instead, we might have time to pick up some food somewhere before catching the bus (a six hour journey).
The sun was shining as we set off along the tree-lined road, with our backpacks. In the distance, we could see the elusive volcano, still shrouded in cloud, despite sunshine elsewhere. Apparently, you were in the minority if you were lucky enough to undertake the trail on a clear, bright day (the travel magazines didn’t mention that!) The scenery was fabulous and we trudged past lakes and forests.
After a couple of hours, feeling in need of a break, we sat down to re-energise. Our only remaining food source, a packet of dextrose tablets, was opened with great anticipation, only to discover they had been contaminated by soap and tasted foul! Onwards and upwards. Literally upwards! We were now winding our way up an incredibly steep hill. The sun, blisters, empty stomachs, dehydration and physical exertion were taking their toll. We struggled on, but after another couple of hours, Teresa was lying at the side of the road, completely exhausted.
After ten minutes, we carried on, but by now we knew we wouldn’t make our bus if we continued walking. I stuck out my thumb, in a bid to get a ride into town. Vehicles were far and few between, but after about half an hour, a lovely man from Golden Bay on the South Island, pulled over. Hurrah! We had a ride! He said he liked the fact that we were ‘getting out there’ and wished us luck as he dropped us off at the bus stop. We had arrived with time to spare! We bought drinks and food and within half an hour, were sitting back in our seats enjoying the passing landscapes.
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