Photo: Sarah Nottage
Crossing into splendour B Y S A R A H N O T TA G E
mbarking on a road trip with a photographer as a companion would be annoying if you were intent on reaching your destination in a hurry. They want to stop every three minutes to capture the light, the derelict shed or the cow with the aggressive facial expression. They also never switch off from their role as photographer. Can you imagine a doctor stopping to diagnose someone in the street on their day off? Photographers, whether they are being paid or not, are always looking at the world with curiosity; they use their eyes as the lens to conceptualise the image they are drawn to, then attempt to capture it digitally. Fortunately, both Steve and I love taking photos, especially here in the rugged heartland of the North Island. We eventually arrived at National Park Village, Ruapehu, just in time to collect our hired crampons and load up with carbohydrates before attempting the 19.4km Tongariro Alpine Crossing the following day.
A ground-breaking park Tongariro was New Zealand’s first designated national park and the first place in the world to be listed by Unesco with dual World Heritage status for natural and cultural values, making the park a world-famous superstar, and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing a renowned trek. In Britain’s Got Talent terms, it gets the ‘golden buzzer’. Jewels come at a price, however. Without protection they can be exploited. Just as the majestic, white-capped Mt Ngauruhoe at the head of the Mangatepopo Valley appears to stand guard over Mt Tongariro to the north and Mt Ruapehu to the south, local iwi and the Department of Conservation are vigilant guardians of the national park. They continue to work together to manage visitors and facilities so that its priceless taonga (treasured possessions), 90
volcanoes and ecosystems are preserved – no easy task with as many as 3000 people walking the Crossing on busy days in summer.
Avoiding the crush I don’t like queues. Since leaving London, the only time I would consider queuing is to buy tickets to a Jason Momoa movie. To avoid the crowds, we decided to attempt the Crossing in winter. Together with its extraordinary beauty, the Crossing is also famous for its notoriously fickle, extreme weather, which can be underestimated by visitors, with grave consequences. In 2007 the Tongariro Crossing was renamed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in an attempt to highlight the need to be prepared in terms of equipment and expectations. Our early morning drive from National Park Village through the u-shaped glacial Mangatepopo Valley, thick with richly hued alpine grasses, to the start of the Crossing was carried out under blue skies, but we knew that the forecasted storm would arrive mid-afternoon. Having donned numerous layers of thermal gear and a waterproof shell, we started the gentle climb up the valley to Soda Springs, which were frozen into hundreds of jagged blue dragon-tooth icicles draped across a prehistoric lava-flow. The snow deepened as the gradient steepened, so, puffing, we removed a clothing layer, wiped the sweat from our eyes and donned our crampons, preparing for the steep ascent to South Crater. The slog (otherwise known as ‘The Devil’s Staircase’) to the Mangatepopo Saddle was worth it, not only for the breathtaking views,
Together with its extraordinary beauty, the Crossing is also famous for its notoriously fickle, extreme weather …