Words can’t really describe this walk. We managed to do it in November 2009 in pretty near perfect weather conditions and as you can see from the photos the views were spectacular. Even given the fact that I walked the route with 63 15 year old girls and several colleagues, mountain guides and outdoor instructors didn’t detract from the experience. I guess in a way it even added to it! We walked from Mangetepopo and it took us about an hour to get to Soda Springs. Our main guide, Sarah, was an amazingly enthusiastic and passionate woman despite having done the crossing hundreds of times. She was very knowledgeable and set a perfect pace to make sure that we all kept together but without anybody feeling that they were being held back or being left behind. The first part of the walk is a fairly gradual climb, sometimes on board walks, alongside a stream and around old lava flows, and as you climb the landscape becomes quite stark and grey. The reddish/yellow of the vegetation coupled with the grey/black of the rock was quite reminiscent of the high Lakeland Fells or Scottish landscape so I had a feeling of familiarity and a sense of being home!
At Soda Springs there is the ubiquitous long drop toilet, and the steps up
to it were a magnet to the girls who inexplicably felt the need to sit on them to eat their snacks despite the grandeur and beauty of the landscape around them!
The infamous Devil’s Staircase was next on the agenda, although it is seemingly considerably easier but longer now that a walkway with steps has been built. As we climbed higher the wind gained in strength and despite the bright sunshine the temperature dropped. It was a bit of a struggle to keep our balance as the wind gusted over the ridge but the views in both directions were stunning. We could see a white capped Taranaki in the distnace . Colin, one of the guides, pointed out huge boulders that he said had landed when Ngarauhoe erupted in 1975, and the ancient and newer lava flows made the going pretty uneven and rugged. Being so close to Ngarauhoe and given the great conditiions, it was frustrating not to be able to head to the summit, but we had to get everyone across safely so I’ll have to leave that for another day. We made it through the wind – all rugged up as the wind chill factor was poretty severe and then across what is called the Sothern Crater which apparently isn’t a crater at all. It is a pretty desolate spot – very desert like – a flat dust bowl with the sides Tongariro and Ngaruahoe rising around it. We traversed this with our heads down to avoid the sharp, biting grains of dust hitting our eyes, and as we came through a nick to our right was the most amazing array of colours in the rock. There is such depth to the scenery – the richness of the colours – a whole range of reds,oranges, ochres, browns. The brightness of the sun made them glow and the contrast with the blue of the sky was stark. We still had the climb up the ridge where I was amazed by yet more wonderful formations and colours – old but still active volcanic vents the form of which I was fascinated by. Then the the descent down a loose scree slope which gave rise to the opportunity for lots of shrieking and hysteria from 15 yr old girls, to get to the Emerald Lakes. The clarity of the colour and the contrast of the vivid blue/green against the barrenness of the rest of the landscape is just incredible. On the way down you have a tremendous view of Lake Taupo, another lake the name of which I can’t recall, and the land out towards the desert road. Apparently the lake who’s name I don’t know was the lake where the Haka originated; one of the guides told us an interesting Maori tale about it but I haveto confess that I only remember about half of it so I had better not relate it here. The last hour of the walk down to the car park is through a delightfully shady, but sunlit bit of bush, with a stream bubbling through it. It was lovely to cool down a bit and enjoy the birdsong and the smells of the bush.