From Lake Taupo we drove down and camped at the Tongariro National Park alongside a kiwi family who happily shared their campsite, picnic table, and conversation. We made dinner on our portable stove and Dan and I almost killed ourselves by mis-loading the gas canister into the stove and having it light the entire stove on fire. I don't remember laughing when this happened, but both Mike and Tim have assured me post-fire event that they were yelling and Dan and I were laughing. Don't worry, we all survived- even the food.
Hiking the Crossing the next day was hands down one of the most beautiful and strenuous experiences I've had. We woke up late at 6am and I thought for certain we wouldn't make our 7am bus. Tensions were high and it was absolutely FREEZING - putting on shorts was total torture. We did make the bus (our luck is astounding) and we reached the start of the pass at 7:30am and began about 10 minutes late. We hiked it in 7 hours and 15 minutes with a longer lunch break and many many short rests.
We hiked up craters, past volcanoes, through lava deserts, up and around mountains, down rock slides, through forest, prairie, and past sulfer pools. It was great to be physically active in such a breathtaking environment though I certainly said "I'm going to die. This is hell. The most beautiful hell ever" multiple times and repeatedly requested the boys carry me. I was definitely That Girl. It's hard to say which portion was the most difficult: perhaps The Devil's Staircase which took around an hour to climb up a gravel staircase. The entire hike was filled with looking ahead and feeling as if I could never make it that far and then finally reaching that point to look back and be astounded by what I'd just accomplished.
Perhaps the most surreal thing was hiking past Mount Doom from Lord Of The Rings and having Daniel perform Aragorn's speech from the black gates of Mordor at the foot of the volcano. My favorite views were of the Red Crater: which was just almost as difficult as the Devil's Staircase to climb but this time there was WIND. I've never been so grateful to have my windbreaker with me. Just brutal winds as we climbed up this mountain side with no stairs, just rocks and gravel, and two cliff drops on either side. Finally reaching the top and trying not to be blown off into the crater was incredible: there was this brilliant burnt red crater to our right, Mount Doom behind us, and three emerald sulfer lakes down the mountain in front of us. The rock slide down was sort of thrilling for our legs: Dan literally just ran down the gravel drop to get it over with as the rest of us skied down side to side trying not fall.
After lunch at the emerald lakes, we hiked up to a much larger lake across a flat desert (where the best views back to Mount Doom and the Red Crater were), and reached the Alpine Valley which was one of my favorite parts. Finally walking on relatively flat/downhill paths that wound around this grassy mountain was great and the view encompassed lakes and fields for miles and miles. I enjoyed hiking alone most as I wasn't being worn out by hiking at someone else's pace. After finally relieving ourselves at the second bathroom on the hike, we pushed through the wonderful prairie portion that turned into a difficult downward climb and poured into a tropical forest -- the last part! We were hurrying to catch the 3pm bus and when Mike and Tim stopped at a waterfall to sing Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls, I told Dan I couldn't stop or I'd never be able to start walking again. It felt as if we had gone the wrong way through the forest because there were no people: we'd spent all day climbing over mountains with so many other people (including this German woman who was carrying her BABY strapped to her body as the wind and rocks and cliffs smashed everyone around) and suddenly no one was there. It was strange.
We were the last people on the bus but we made it! We drove to Okahune, about a half hour away, to a ski lodge that had a hot pool that we paid to swim in. It was the most magnificent medicine for my body. We exchanged back massages and while the boys drank their beer I ordered us takeaway from La Pizzaria next door. We drove off into the sunset towards Foxton Beach eating this incredible salty thin pizza, our bodies aching but grateful for the swim.