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A Day of Daring in New Zealand

During a recent trip to New Zealand, I was determined to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Located in Tongariro National Park, on the North Island, it is one of the country’s most popular full-day treks. I’d seen the Emerald Lakes, rocky terrain and vast craters in pictures—and The Lord of the Rings—and I believed their beauty warranted my witnessing them in person. So, I was drawn to the trail. This despite the fact that, although I love a good challenge, I tend to shy away from hikes described as “potentially icy” or “terribly windy on a bad day.” Plus, I don’t fancy myself much of an athlete: If I were to compete in an Olympic event, it wouldn't take place on a track. Or a field. Or a court.

My sister and best friend were to accompany me. The plan was to make the hike during New Zealand’s winter, which is highly unpredictable: Would we be too cold with four layers of clothing? Or too hot? We figured we'd know only once we were on the trail, with the fierce wind swirling around us or the sun beating down on our backs.

Contact Indagare for assistance in planning a trip to New Zealand. Our specialists can plan a customized itinerary with great meals and activities.

The night before we were to set out, I made the mistake of reading some nerve-wracking reports on online message boards. One woman wrote that she had been forced to scoot down an entire stretch of the mountain on her rear. Another described a section of the trail with a set of wooden steps known as the Devil's Staircase as “unending, and when you think it’s ending, it’s just beginning.” Needless to say, I went to sleep feeling anxious about the treacherous ascent.

In the morning, we filled our water bottles, inhaled some gas station coffee and headed to the trailhead with our private guide. We walked, climbed and took casual breaks in which we pretended we were soaking up the views but were really just trying to catch our breath. It was challenging, and some moments I felt both tired and out-of-shape, but at a certain point, I gave in to the experience and focused on each individual step.

Related: Into the Wild: New Zealand

We were greeted by stunning views of the brilliantly green Emerald Lakes around three hours in, after passing countless craters and steaming sulfur vents. My shoes were filled with dark soot one moment, squishy volcanic soil the next. Sliding over gravelly terrain, I appreciated how lovely the weather was: not too cold, not too hot. We avoided small pockets of ice, preferring to grip larger jagged rocks for support as we climbed.

The trek was peaceful, cathartic and gorgeous. A wide-open caldera beckoned me toward its edge. Fellow hikers cheered me on, and I was overcome with a sense of camaraderie. This is traveling. This is experiencing. What initially appeared daunting—a 12-mile hike in unfamiliar territory—ended all too quickly. Even the reportedly endless, steep Devil’s Staircase formed a memory I’ll cherish for years.

Contact Indagare for assistance in planning a trip to New Zealand. Our specialists can plan a customized itinerary with great meals and activities.

Published onSeptember 22, 2017

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