For someone who has worshiped The Lord of The Rings their entire life, a tourism internship in New Zealand is a pretty big deal. My internship with Hiking New Zealand couldn’t have started any better! I would like to sum up my first week and getting to join the Ultimate North guided tour with a well-spoken quote:
It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.
— J.R.R. Tolkien
On walking to the Sky Tower in Auckland to meet Justin (our guide) and the group, I contemplated whether I should wear my warm winter jacket or just complain about the weather - as we do back in Sweden.
I felt relieved to leave the hustle and bustle of the city. Over my first Flat White (espresso coffee with milk that New Zealand has claimed as it’s own) Justin briefed the group about what would happen for the remainder of the day. We finished our coffee and continued our journey to Rotorua.
After stretching our legs along the way, we continued our journey and arrived at the first camp. But no rest! We parked the custom-built trailer, packed our day bags and then jumped back into the minibus and headed for the hills. We got to see the lovely forest around Whirinaki River and we wouldn’t have been surprised if a dinosaur stepped out in front of us as it felt as if we were in Jurassic Park!
After our first hike, we headed back to our camp for some kai (food) and a chance to ‘get to know each other’ presentation. This was actually one of my favourite moments during the whole trip - no internet connection, so an uninterrupted chance to talk to each other and discover why everyone was on this trip. At that moment I think we realised that we were very much alike each other and that we have one big thing in common, we loved adventures and we had all been bitten by the travel bug.
The second day we officially left civilisation behind us and headed for the wilderness. At this point we understood that our phones would probably not work for anything more than taking pictures. Being ‘disconnected’ was a somewhat foreign experience for me. In the evening when we sat and played Banana Grams no one really missed having their phones. And for you who are wondering what Banana Grams is, it’s a game like Scrabble but faster! And with nationalities from all around the world, it becomes very interesting very quickly.
The hike up to Lou’s Lookout point provided a stunning view over Lake Waikaremoana.
I think this hike was the first time in ages that I felt my calf muscles burning like they were on fire! It was at that point I wished I had done a little more hill training, although I can assure you it was totally worth it.
On the third day, we hiked for an impressive eight hours; at the beginning we thought that the uphill would never come to an end! We were probably the first people out hiking that morning and the silence of the forest struck us. This day was the only day we had poor weather, but it didn’t matter, it just made the lush green forest even greener.
As we climbed up the slippery path to the top we couldn’t see anything except for the thick fog that lay over Lake Waikaremoana. We enjoyed the forest that looked like it could have been taken out of a painting and the fog made the atmosphere even more amazing and mysterious.
After a quick lunch we hurried to one of the lookout points because the fog had started to lift and the sun was about to come out. We headed back down the trail and got the chance to see the stunning view over Lake Waikaremoana.
Tongariro National Park
After two rewarding days in the Waikaremoana area, we packed up the minibus and trailer and started our drive towards Tongariro National Park. To stretch our legs on our way to Tongariro we got the chance to enjoy the Huka Falls on New Zealand’s longest river, the mighty Waikato River. After gazing in awe at the power of these falls we headed to explore Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Even if there is a lot of us (tourists) in this place, it is worth a visit. Absolutely stunning and the Champagne Pool is more than Instagram friendly, it’s amazing!
After the excitement of visiting the thermal park we stepped into the minibus and steered the wheels towards the lakeside town of Taupo. Here we loaded up with more food for the Tongariro Hike, more fuel and a pint at a British pub. The weather was stunning so we had a picnic dinner on the shores of Lake Taupo before the drive to Tongariro National Park and our accommodation for the night, the Skotel Alpine Resort. This was our final stop, so buckle up – one does not simply walk into Mordor.
Entering Tongariro National Park during sunset was perfectly timed!
After a breakfast for champions - pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, fresh fruits and coffee, we jumped into the van and drove to where the hike starts. We strapped on our backpacks and the overnight hike had begun. Our destination this day was Oturere Hut right next to the foot of Mount Doom. The name Mount Doom is actually from J.R.R Tolkien’s saga, Lord of the Rings, but the proper name for the volcano is Mount Ngauruhoe.
As we walked we got the chance to see the oldest existing mountain hut in New Zealand, Waihohonu Hut. After some historical exploration around the hut we headed for some fresh spring water. I found it fascinating that you can go and top up your water in one of the springs in the National Park, and I can promise you, it tasted better than any bottled water you can buy in the store.
Later that afternoon, we walked alongside with Mount Doom and I was amazed at its size and grace.
The excitement of reaching the hut helped us up the last bit of the track before reaching Oturere Hut. To answer your question, yes, the hike was tough and my legs were burning, but it was totally worth it. We were lucky as the weather continued to behave and we got to see the sun go down and cast its last light on Mount Doom.
After watching the sunrise (it’s a must if you have the opportunity) and having had a good breakfast we wandered off into the moon-like valley. After our moonwalk, we stood face to face with a steep uphill climb, this is where I faced my fear of heights and learned that hiking is a sort of team sport as well.
With sore muscles, but the adventure on our minds, we started to climb up to the Emerald Lakes. All the tiredness went away as soon as we got to the top and spotted the first of the three Emerald Lakes.
It’s a lot of work, but the journey is worth it!
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
As we came from the other direction we never had to climb the Devil’s Steps, we descended the steps instead. Having started early and getting to enjoy the moon-like valley of lava flows and ash fields, and then the Emerald Lakes without the peak of the crowds, we joined the infamous Tongariro Alpine Crossing and cheered on the walkers and hikers who were heading up the Devil’s Steps and assured them that the climb would be worth it.
I really challenged myself on this multi-day hike, I swore (under my breath) over the sun, the heat and cursed everyone on this planet and at some points wondered why I ever said yes to joining this trip. But the answer is quite simple because it’s amazing and gives an incredible sense of achievement. I didn’t have to have multi-day hiking experience but I needed to be reasonably fit and have a great attitude.
At times, I wished I had trained with a backpack on and hiked up more hills and if I was to do it again I would definitely use it as a motivation to train.
I can’t describe the feeling we had when we got back to our accommodation that day, but I think it was happiness mixed with pride and relief. Later that evening we had dinner together and it was a dinner for champions!