In a recent piece about the most wondrous place on earth, Hobbiton, I let slip the fact that I am a class one Lord of the Rings nerd. Now, there is no point in trying to deny this and sweep it under the rug so I am going to do the opposite and embrace it. I will freely admit that there were a number of times while I was in New Zealand that my decision making was heavily influenced by the epic trilogy. I may have even purchased a location guide while in Hobbiton. Well, I am now going to tell you about one of those times: the Tongariro Crossing.
Firstly, I must say that while there is a Lord of the Rings connection here, the Tongariro Crossing owes none of its reputation to the movies. It was most certainly used as a location during the filming (and you will see why in a minute) but people were crossing Tongariro long before Sam and Frodo made the journey.
The Tongariro Crossing is the name of a hike. A hike through the most incredible active volcanic landscape that I have ever seen. I was doing the hike as it is one of the quintessential stops of the Stray bus and one of its most highly rated experiences. I only found out while in New Zealand that it is also the site of the infamous Mount Doom, the volcano into which Gollum swan dives with the One Ring. The hike itself takes you right to the base of Mt Doom, whose real name is Mt. Ngauruhoe, while traversing another volcano called Mt. Tongariro. It is known as the Tongariro Crossing because you begin at one side of the mountain and, you guessed it, cross to the other side. However, this was not the case when I undertook the adventure. Months earlier the volcano erupted! While people were hiking! As a result part of the track was closed and hikers were advised to turn back upon reaching a certain point.
I, Dale “Kingsley” Walker, decided that such advice was for the weak. Did Frodo turn back when the slope of Mt. Doom was too steep? Did Sam give up when he was hit in the face with a rock thrown by Gollum? No! And neither would I. After climbing what felt like a million stairs, crossing a barren volcanic crater and scrambling up sheer rock faces I saw the sign advising that I give up, lest I be squashed by raining volcanic debris, and pushed on to reach the Blue Lake. When I came to another sign that told me not to stop, to prevent myself becoming a static target for falling rocks, I took it to heart and pushed through the final kilometre, finally reaching my goal.
I now know how Frodo and Sam must have felt as they lay, exhausted, upon the rock having saved Middle Earth from annihilation. As I reached the lake I collapsed onto a tussock of grass and gazed upon the beauty that surrounded me. It was a truly spectacular landscape made all the more impressive by the barren, volcanic surroundings complete with steam venting from the ground and ancient lava flows scarring the hillside. After spending 20 minutes absorbing the silent serenity I gathered myself to myself and prepared for the journey home.