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Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Central Plateau, New Zealand

Mount Tongariro is one of several volcanos in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island. It’s the northernmost of the three volcanic cones just to the south of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake.

Mount Tongariro is also the location of one of the most popular hikes in New Zealand: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is a 19.4 kilometre hike that climbs over the Tongariro massif, past the summit of both Tongariro and Ngauruhoe.

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Map is © Copyright Tongariro Alpine Crossing Please visit that site for more information.

A group of us decided to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing towards the end of the season. We made arrangements and drove down from Auckland on Friday night with the intentions of climbing early Saturday morning. The four-hour drive turned into five and a half as we left during Auckland’s rush hour. We arrived late in the evening and bedded down for the night with alarms set.

A Bad Start
When we awoke on Saturday Morning it was raining and didn’t look pleasant. We went for breakfast and waited to find out if the we could still do the walk. The answer came back a resounding no. The rain and strong winds meant the mountain was closed. All we could do was hang out for the day and hope for better weather on Sunday.

What Tongariro should look like, apparently…
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Ominous News
We were up and had breakfast early on Sunday but the weather still didn’t look great. The mountain was still not visible from our lodgings and when our driver arrived he had bad news. He believed the mountain was again closed and wouldn’t take us, leaving us a little downhearted. We asked the owner of the lodge and he was unconvinced. He rang another driver who confirmed the mountain was in fact open and would take us up.

We were driven to the trailhead in the rain with trepidation, but with the number of other vehicles heading up, it seemed others would also be braving it.

Trailhead – Mangetapopo Carpark – 1100m
We began at the Mangetapopo carpark in a slight drizzle. There were no views of the massif or much else due to the low cloud. The trail was a mix of mud, stones, wooden platforms and people. There were hundreds of others doing the track with us. If this many were doing it on a bleak day, who could guess how busy it would be on a clear one.

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The walk was easy and for the first seven or so kilometres we barely noticed the 250m climb towards Soda Springs. I walked in a quick dry sports singlet, my hiking zip-off shorts and boots. The drizzle was constant but not heavy and I was fairly warm. Others wore long pants and full Gore-tex jackets.

Soda Springs – 1350m
At Soda Springs there is a warning sign: STOP! Are you really prepared? It suggested it was going to get difficult and to turn back if you weren’t prepared. As I waited for my group, I watched several people get to the sign, stare at it for a while and then turn back. With the drizzle picking up I put on a rain poncho over my singlet and began the climb.

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It became more rugged, with a rough dirt trail and steps weaving up the side of the mountain towards South Crater. The drizzle continued and the climb became more a little more difficult, but not by much. After a while of steady climbing we began seeing people returning along with trail with warnings of how bad it was higher up.

With the constant drizzle and the warnings I was tempted to turn back. Why do a climb when you can’t see anything the entire time? You climb for the views and the experience, but the only experience would be a wet cloudy one. I put on a jumper under my rain poncho and we continued on.

South Crater – 1650m
We climbed onto the area described as South Crater and out of the wind. With visibility around 20m we walked on the flat for a while, happy for the rest from climbing.

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Red Crater – 1886m
After the mud flats of South Crater we began up the ridge and discovered the wind that had been putting everyone off. It was blowing an absolute gale and you could see the drizzle sweeping over the ridge into the cloudy nothingness. I was not surprised people had turned back but since we’d come this far it seemed silly to head back. We pushed on, dodging between rocky outcrops so as not to be blown off.

We reached the top but couldn’t see anything so just kept walking, beginning the plunge down the other side, some members of our group going arse-over-tit on the slippery silt.

Emerald Lakes – 1730m
The small Emerald Lakes would have been amazing to view from higher up but they only appeared out of the gloom when we were 10m above them. It was still good to see something other than dirt, rock and rain. By now we were completely soaked, we continued on down.

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Not far below the Emerald Lakes we came to the Blue Lake covered in the same clouds.

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Ketetahi – 1456m
After several switchbacks we finally emerged from the clouds to see the Ketetahi Hut. The drizzle let up but the wind did not. We stopped briefly for a snack before pressing on.

For the next part of the trek we were in open ground along a winding trail. Since a great many people had turned back, we only saw two other groups on the way down. Then having spent much of the day hidden in clouds we finally got some views. Lake Rotoaira appeared and we even got the occasional glimpse of Lake Taupo beyond.

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Ketetahi Car Park 800m
With 4km to the car park the trail dove into rainforest and grew warmer. We crossed a river on a wooden walkway and eventually arrived at the trail’s end after what seemed a lot longer than 45 minutes the sign had suggested.

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Overall, due to the weather, out Tongariro Alpine Crossing was disappointing mainly of the lack of views. In the rain and cold, the hike didn’t feel overly difficult. It took us only 5.5 hours of the suggested 8 hours and of the 2.5 litres of water I took with me, I came out with more than 2.

Perhaps it would have been more difficult in direct sunlight, but I’ll have to come back another time to see. Maybe the next time I’m in New Zealand.

The Trail Wanderer

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Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 3

I’m currently riding the length of Vietnam on a Scooter.

Incase you missed them:
Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 1
Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 2

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Day 12 – Hoi An to Kham Duc – 110Km
Today started out cloudy, but once I got into the highlands it began to pour. Before long I was drenched, even though my supposedly waterproof clothing, drowning my phone in one of my pockets. Then at one point I came around a corner too close to the road’s edge and came off my bike. My clothes took the brunt of the scrapes and I got off fairly lightly thanks to my sedate pace in the rain.

On arrival at the hotel I changed into dry clothes and surveyed the damage. While my phone was wet on the outside, water had only found its way into the SIM slot. This stopped my phone from connecting to the network via the SIM and removes my only navigation tool.

Day 13 – Tham Duc to Hoi An – 110km
As country Vietnam has less than optimal signposting and without the ability to navigate on my phone, I made the decision to head back to Hoi An. This was in hope of getting to an Apple store in Da Nang to get my phone either replaced or fixed. For my ride today the weather was clear with no threat of rain, and the journey back was actually enjoyable with some interesting views.

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Returning to Hoi An was fairly easy, although there was the occasional junction without adequate signage that was confusing. In Da Nang I located the Apple Service Centre but as it’s Chinese New Years getting parts would take weeks. I had no choice but to continue my journey without it.

Day 14 – Hoi An to Quang Ngai – 127km
Instead of heading back into the highlands, I rode south along the AH1, the main Asian Highway which stretches for over 20,000 km and crosses 16 countries from Japan to Turkey. As in previous days on the AH1 there were too many road works and even more trucks to spray up the dust. It took me 3 hours to get to the outskirts of Quang Ngai, but finding the hotel without my phone was troublesome. After settling into my room I headed out to find an ATM and to buy a cheap phone. After my purchase I stopped by the tomb of national hero Truong Cong Dinh, famous for leading an army against the french invasion force.

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Huang Ngai is also the site the Song My massacre. During the American War, the area was incorrectly identified as a Viet Cong stronghold. More than 400 innocents were slaughtered by American Soldiers, mainly women and children.

Day 15 – Quang Ngai to Quy Nhon – 204km
Today’s long ride was fairly uneventful. The AH1 continued to be the same with many road works, trucks and dust. Today the road cut through many flat, deep green rice paddies on the plains.

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Quy Nhon is an industrial city littered with large car dealerships and malls. It was nice to find a decent supermarket to stock up on some needed items.

Day 16 – Quy Nhon to Nha Trang – 218km
This morning I woke to find my back tyre flat, so after finding coffee, I located a mechanic to replace my entire rear tyre. With that fixed, I headed off, but when I stopped to take a photo 5 km along the highway, the bike wouldn’t start again. The starter motor cable had sheered off so I jury rigged it and headed back to the mechanic who fixed it for free.

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Today the AH1 followed the mountainous coastline and in the sunshine there were many beautiful views.

Unfortunately, when I arrived at the hostel, I discovered that the screen of my new macbook had cracked. With the ongoing issues with my scooter and damage to other pieces of my equipment, this adventure is starting to be an expensive one. While I have enjoyed many parts of it, I’m starting to look forward to it being over.

Day 17 – Rest Day in Nha Trang

Nah Trang is a resort city on the sea. With direct flights from Moscow, it’s very popular with Russian holiday makers especially during the Russian winter. While it’s warmer here it’s not hot enough for me to consider it beach weather, but the many tourists used to cooler climates seemed to enjoy it immensely.

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Like most larger Vietnamese cities, the streets of Nha Trang are crazy with motorbikes flowing everywhere. I rode around the city in search of some of its sights and found the Nha Trang Cathedral, a neo-Gothic structure built by the French in 1933.

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Then on the north side of the city I found the Po Nagar Towers. The temple complex was built over 1,200 years ago by the Cham people, the civilisation that preceded Vietnam. The towers were part of a temple dedicated to the goddess of the country, which encompassing much of what is now Vietnam, Cambodia and southern Laos.

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For the final part of my journey – Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter Part 4 – I head back into the Central Highlands then along southern beaches to Vietnam’s largest city.

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The Lone Trail Wanderer

Bali, Indonesia – Adventures

When you have three weeks in Bali you can’t just languish around the pool or at the beach the entire time. Actually, I guess you probably could, but I can’t. There’s just too many other things to see around the island…

Mt Batur

In Bali’s highlands there are several volcanos. Mt Batur is the most active, having erupted 20 times in the last 200 years.

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It’s a fairly small volcano that lies in the caldera of a once more mighty volcano, one that stood over twice Mt Batur’s current height. And on the south-eastern side of the caldera is Danau Batur, the largest crater lake in Bali.

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Coffee Tour

Indonesia is the fourth largest producer of coffee in the world and Bali’s highlands has its share of plantations. During the tour we discovered the many tastes of Bali’s coffees and teas, all of which were delicious, although some were overly sweet.

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Indonesia has a most unusual coffee called Kopi Luwak. It’s the most expensive coffee in the world because the beans are fed to the Asian Palm Civet, collected from its droppings, cleaned and roasted. Enzymes in the animal’s gut react with the beans to give them a rich and smooth flavour.

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There are growing concerns about the ‘farming’ of Kopi Luwak as the animals are held in battery cages and forced to eat the beans. The two animals at the plantation weren’t so cramped in their larger cages although seemed quite disinterested in our being there.

Highland Cycle Tour

A gentle way to see the highlands of Bali is via a bicycle tour. A large group of us ventured out one morning on a tour which started in the highlands and worked its way down quiet roads. This provided plentiful views of rural Bali including many rice paddies.

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We were introduced to many of the local traditions as we rode through several villages and past many small temples, including this temple to the Destroyer, surrounded by palm trees.

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Midget Fun Boxing

Beyond all Bali’s standard evening entertainments of fine dining, drinking, beach-side bands and dancing there’s Midget Fun Boxing. While this might seem like a strange and violent form of entertainment, it’s actually quite fun. Reminiscent of the classic days of WWF wrestling, it’s more of a comedy fare with the midgets wearing gloves that cover more than half of their arms. Midway through a bout the competitors stop to dance to whatever music comes on, head banging to AC/DC or bopping to other types of music. But should one opponent take his attention from the other he gets belted. With a low centre of gravity the midgets are easily knocked over and then it’s a free for all. Here, after knocking his opponent over, this boxer jumped on top and pretended to hump him.

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Between bouts female midgets dance around on stage with some of the younger members of the audience. Cheeky boxers would stuff a boxing glove down their oversized shorts and chase the dancing-girls. Overall it was a fun night with much hilarity. No midgets were hurt in the process, although that can’t be said for this audience member during post event photos.

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Manta Ray Safari

On a hot and humid island in the tropics there’s usually plenty to do out on the water. I took the opportunity to go out by boat and snorkel with Manta Rays. Four metres from wingtip to wingtip these placid creatures fly through water without a care. Unperturbed by us being there they would come up close to have a good look before swimming on.

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Bali also has some very diverse coral reefs, with 500 species of coral recorded around the one island. This is more than the entire Caribbean Sea. We snorkelled around the reefs in the warm waters for much of the day.

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Next, we hired some scooters and checked out some temples, but that for another day…

The Lone Trail Wanderer