And sometimes stinky. The last several days here in the Taupo Volcanic Zone (a roughly 200 mile stretch north from the center of the North Island) have quickly magnified the geographic differences of New Zealand. And the sulfurous, rotten egg smell generated from the bellows of the underground that often hangs in the air comes with the territory.
All of this geo thermal activity though does indeed produce some unearthly, if not eerie, sights. The string of steam rising through a random bush on the side of the road. A puddle-size mud flat percolating next to the sidewalk. The colors of the water in the natural pools that could come only from a child's imagination. And then there was my hike of death.
Touted as New Zealand's best one day hike, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (in the middle of the Tongariro National Park) had my name written all over it. Although a section of it was blocked to the public due to recent activity, this estimated 6-8 hour hike through the saddle between two of the parks' peaks (including active volcano Mt. Ngauruhoe, or Mt. Doom for all you Lord of the Rings fans) was, umm, challenging to say the least. Best hike? No. Most treacherous? Absolutely. Most hazardous? Without question.
At the crack of dawn, I started the journey of what was essentially 3 straight hours on the steepest-setting stair master made of loose lava rock, slippery sand, and pulverized boulders. The cliff-hugging ledges and good-lord-let-this-rock-I'm-reaching-for-be-stable grades just added to my terror. Did I mention the change in weather from desert-like conditions at the bottom to cold, hold-onto-your-hats wind at the summit? There is no question I earned my hiking stripes on this one. If only the volcano had begun to erupt.
I think I'll be hot on the heels of milder temperatures this week!
Hei kona ra!
A percolating puddle
Devil's Bath at Wai-O-Tapu
Tongariro Alpine Crossing looking across at volcanic Mt. Ngauruhoe