Spending time with Dad on the Tongariro Crossing

Earlier this week, the girls and I joined my parents (aka Nanny and Poppa) and we zipped down to Taupo for a little holiday. The purpose of this wee trip – besides some much need rest and relaxation – was to take my dad across the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty apprehensive about it, being 6 months post-Maia’s birth and my exercise over the past 12 months was up until a month ago, pretty non-existent. I’d done it before, a fair few years ago,but being older, less fit, and post two kids, I knew I was in for some serious muscle pains afterwards – if we even made it through.

My dad is a stubborn kiwi bloke, so once he set his mind to it, we were doing it. We argued the week leading up to it (I inherited his stubborn-know-it-all-ness) about the best gear to take, cotton vs dry fit, boots vs sneakers, back packs vs camel packs. I’m pretty sure I checked the weather forecast ten times a day, crossing my fingers that 0 degrees precipitation would rise just a bit. I didn’t really fancy freezing my butt off.

I’ve always struggled with packing too much when I go tramping, and this time on top of everything, I had to pack four days worth of stuff for the girls too. Have you ever had to pack for a family holiday with a baby and a toddler? So much to pack!! We had one giant bag, and 75% of it was nappies (Maia’s, Amelia’s and swimming nappies!), mega blocks, favourite blankets, wipes, favourite cushion, and lots of clothes. The last 25% was space for me to squish in my shower bag, a few clothes and a pair of shoes tied onto the outside. We also had a day nappy bag, and an Amelia sized backpack full of her tools, coloured pens, books, Doc McStuffins check up kit, toy camera and two balls. You’re probably thinking I went overboard on the toys? Believe me – you don’t want to see the mischief Amelia gets up to if she’s left to her own devices for too long.

So we jammed everything into one car, and off we went! Thankfully a stress free ride with the girls sleeping all the way there. We unloaded into our “sleepover house” as Amelia called it, and made ourselves at home. We had planned to head up to the Tongariro Crossing the following day, so it was a late night packing (still checking the weather forecast every hour) and an early morning rise. We planned to leave Taupo at 6.45am, but Maia and Amelia didn’t get the memo, so we were out at 7.30am.

The drive. Had we realised actually how far it was, we might have organised a shuttle. But, mum being the trooper she is, drove us 1.5 hours to the Mangatepopo car park. The longer it took us to get there, the more guilt I felt, knowing that she was not only going to drive all the way back to Taupo, but return to pick us up in the evening as well. With two grumpy kids in the car, six hours of driving was a mammoth ask, and she did it without a grumble – very unlike her!

 The first hour of the Tongariro Crossing to Soda Springs is fairly easy, but it’s a little test. If you’re feeling buggered after, it’s recommended you turn around and head back, because the rest is challenging to say the least. I had this in the back of my mind and was watching Dad for any signs of struggle. But he was on a mission, happy and enjoying the scenery. We sat down for morning tea, then mentally prepared ourselves for the rest of the track. We were going on – no turning back.

The Devils Staircase. It’s self-explanatory. It’s torture. The stairs just keep coming. An hour of steep stairs everywhere you look. Don’t be fooled by the smile in this photo – it was painful on the legs and the lungs. But the views, as we climbed higher, seeing back over the valley were spectacular. Being up close to Mt Ngauruhoe was amazing. Worth the pain.

Climbing up a mountain from 1120m to 1886m above see level is no quick feat. It’s gruelling, long, tough work. Reaching the Central Crater was like a breath of fresh air. It was flat (thank goodness!), warm, and easier on the body that’s for sure. It’s  actually quite incredible when you realise you are walking across a crater. A mixture of steam rising through the ground and low-lying fog, can be seen all around. 

Red Crater – the highest point of the trip, at 1886m above sea level. The best views are from this point, you can see for miles all around. And of course there is that feeling of elation, knowing you don’t have to go any higher than this! Unthought of at the time is the fact there are still a few spots where you’ve gone down and have to climb back  up again, but for the most part, you know you’re on the way down from now on.

Now would you believe, after all that huffing and puffing climbing up, going down the mountain is bloody hard! Crumbly, loose, debris on the descend to the Emerald Lakes wrecks havoc on your knees and ankles. The slower, more careful you are, the more you seem to trip up. But these lakes are breathtaking. A hidden beauty, one of the highlights of the Tongariro Crossing.

  After the Emerald Lakes and Blue Lake, you start to notice the joint pains, tight muscles and chill in the air creeping on. Heading through South Crater and around towards Ketetahi Hut there are some stunning views of lakes and towns in the distance. And then comes the hardest part of all. Entering the forest. The sign says 45 minutes to the car park, so we broke it down to three 15 minute blocks. We couldn’t stop anymore, for fear that if we did, we wouldn’t be able to move again at all. We were mentally and physically drained. And when we realised after 1.5 hours that either we were going around in circles, or the sign was grossly underestimated, everything became a whole lot harder.

Needless to say, despite the complaining in our heads, after 9 hours of perseverance, we made it to the end, and I can’t tell you the emotions that were running through me when I turned the corner to see the exit and hear the sound of a screaming, grizzly baby and a whining, tired toddler. A massive sense of pride mixed with a crashing plummet back to reality. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was the best feeling ever seeing the girls waiting at the end, when we were completely, utterly, understandably buggered.

In life, the experiences you treasure the most are the ones that challenge you. The ones that push you way beyond your comfort zone.

I am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to experience this with my Dad. It made me appreciate how important it is to spend time with my family, and how much I value the time we have together. I’m excited about the activities I can enjoy with my own girls, now that I’ve made the decision to work part-time.

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