Cycling New Zealand Part 8: Through Desert, Lava and Snow

We stayed there for half an hour.

We stayed there for half an hour.

Cycling New Zealand Part 8: Through Desert, Lava and Snow

Country: New Zealand

From Wellington to Taupo

Lesson learned: Downhill in the North Island still means Uphill

Laughed about: A tetra pack wine is all it takes to sleep like a baby in a crowded campsite

Most wonderful miracle: The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Greatest challenge: Sulfur smells 24/7

Days on the bike: 3

Kilometers cycled: 174.19

Average Kilometers per day: 58.06

Total Kilometers cycled till Wellington: 18,814

Cheeting On the Train

Cheating On the Train

Cycling New Zealand Part 8: From Wellington along the Desert Road to Taupo

The day of departure was the first not-so rainy day in Wellington. We rode a little circle before we reached the train station. We had decided to take the train out of town, in order to avoid city traffic. In Waikana we got off and biked the last 40 kilometers to Colleen’s and Brian’s place in Levin. They are friends with Ken from Motueka, and he had brought us in contact.

Colleen from Levin

Colleen bakes and cooks mouthwatering dishes!

As we biked along Highway 1, the contrast of North and South Islands were huge. In the south we had often stared into the horizon hoping for a village and spotting nothing but single farm houses for many kilometers. We would read all signs several times (Roberto usually read everything out loud) and started bleating with the sheep. Here there was town after town and there were so many signs pointing to places, I couldn’t possibly read them all and still ride safely.

Our House...for three nights!

Our House…for two nights!

Dinner time is always Prime Time

Dinner time is always Prime Time

We reached the beautiful big house outside town half an hour after nightfall. Colleen had texted us shortly before arrival: “Beer is in the fridge, wine is breathing and roast is in the oven”. We got excited and reached a day’s average speed of 18 km/h.

Colleen was a fun lady full of giggles and clever little jokes. Brian had a dry and acid humor that we got right away. We got along wonderfully from the first moment on.

Colleen’s roast was to die for and we served ourselves a big second portion each.

Brian and Colleen invited us to spend another night at their place and we happily accepted. On our rest day, they took us out to see the area. We drove all the way up a high hill, but were forced to turn around when we reached a closed gate. The farmer, who lived behind the gate, had lost many sheep lately and installed a gate to keep thieves out at night. Today he must have forgotten to unlock it for the day.

Brian and Colleen

Brian and Colleen

Later in the day Colleen took me out to meet her girlfriends from the Marathon-Club. All together they organized the annual Marathon in Levin. And this was a lot of work! Today’s task was, to prepare the medals. During work we just chatted, giggled and had coffee and scones afterwards.

At night we prepared fish tacos, Colleen showed me how to cook fish chowder and we watched their great photo albums from their various long travels through the USA.

Driving through the town of Bull where everything is Possi-bull

Driving through the town of Bull where everything is Possi-bull

Brian and Colleen decided to have a short trip up north and offered us a ride to the start point of the Desert road. If we could save those kilometers, we could actually cycle the scenic central eastern route instead of the slightly shorter central western one!

The drive was beautiful and regardless our reasons, we were still a bit sad not to be able to bike. In Waiouru we had one last pie and coffee together before Colleen and Brian headed back. We spent the night in the tent on a small dog park just behind the public toilets.

Colleen trying out our bike

Colleen trying out our bike

We got onto the start of the Desert Road early next morning. Soon on our left we saw Mount Ruapehu. Ruapehu was the North Island’s highest peak (2797 meters) and the entire country’s largest active volcano. Despite its activeness there were three very popular ski resorts situated on it. Season would start in about a month’s time.

Desert Road

Riding the Desert Road

Behind Mount Ruapehu there was a volcano that was shaped like a typical volcano: the 2291 meter tall Mount Ngauruhoe. Mount Ngauruhoe was much better known under the name of Mount Doom (Lord of the Rings). Much easier to pronounce. Further back there was Mount Tongariro, another Volcano, we couldn’t see it yet.

Puff New Zealand!

Puff New Zealand!

Annika

Annika

Me

Roberto

There is a legend, that the maid Mount Ruapehu, was married to Mount Taranaki. But one day she had an affair with handsome Mount Tongariro. When Taranaki came back and saw them, he was so angry, he ran off all the way to the westernmost part of the island, forming the Wanganui River’s bed.

The Desert Road alongside the Mount Doom!

The Desert Road alongside the Mount Doom!

Up and down on the Desert Road

Up and down

The road looped higher and higher. To our left were kilometers of tussock and in the horizon the volcanoes. To our right the same tussock and more hills. The New Zealand Army was owner of all that land and several signs asked the visitors in the most polite way, to please stay out of the area and stick to the road. Just behind the 1074 meters high peak of the road, the tussock disappeared and for a moment we really cycled through a desert.

Desert in New Zealand

Now this is how I imagined a desert!

Desert at the Desert Road in New Zealand

Deep sand, icy wind, hard sun and few bushes

Annika and Roberto

Annika and Roberto

We stayed there for half an hour.

We stayed there for half an hour.

Annika and Roberto

Annika and Roberto

New Zealand landscape was just awesome. So far we had seen coniferous forests, beech forests, rainforests, alpine highlands, snowy mountains, grasslands, cities, beaches, farmland and now even a small desert. There was a surprise every single day.

Polite signs by the New Zealand Military

Polite signs by the New Zealand Military. Everywhere else I guess there would have been written “Keep out or you will be fined $10000000”

After the peak we went downhill. In the North Island, going “downhill” meant to loose meters in altitude. It didn’t necessarily mean going down an incline. Today we cycled up for half a kilometer, down for 700 meters, and repeated this very often. So we did loose altitude, but not in a very relaxing way.

Down Hill form here!

Down Hill form here!

Near the intersection we finally saw 1968 meters high Mount Tongariro. We continued our way to Turangi, where we pitched the tent in the Lazy Dog Hostel’s yard. The yard would have made a great ski slope, but a quite poor campsite. We didn’t care too much and put our pillows up the hill so we’d have the feet downhill and not wake up with a lot of blood in our heads.

Two backpackers standing on their campervan in Tongariro National Park

Backpackers (nowadays they keep their backpacks inside their campervans) enjoying the scenery

Roberto on the Desert Road

Roberto on the Desert Road

You are now entering Tongariro National Park

You are now entering Tongariro National Park

Cycling Tongariro National Park on the Desert Road, New Zealand

We were absolutely impressed

The hostel was small and very cozy. There was a fireplace in the common room, hot showers with great water pressure, a clean kitchen and a well-behaved dog.

Desert Road

On the Desert Road

We got up at 5.30 am. Today was the day for a hike and we had booked a shuttle to the start point and from the end point of the 19.4 kilometer Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It was 7am when we reached the start point. There were thousands of other hikers around us, some in shorts, sandals and shirts, others in down jackets and winter boots.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing Start Sign

How exciting!

Mordor

Mooooordoooooor!

For the first hour and a half we hiked through the fog, It was quite a steep path and the “Devil’s Staircase” really deserved its name. Eventually we had climbed higher up than the clouds and now we hiked under a bright blue sky. The views were just stunning. Mount Tongariro’s and Mount Ngauruhoe’s peaks were so close!

Frozen mud

Frozen mud

Tongariro Alpine Crossing in fall

We left the fog and walked under the sun

We hiked through frozen mud and small snow fields. The wind blew very strong while we continued through deep frozen sand, snow, wet mud, frozen mud, and debris. We reached the top of the red crater and were welcomed by a strong smell of sulfur. In between gusts the smoke rose up into the sky.

It wasn’t far to the Emerald Lakes. The contrast of the color of these lakes and the auburn sandy debris was made even more beautiful by the snowy fields.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Many many stairs

Yes, it is also MORDOR

Yes, it is also MORDOR

It was incredibly stunning and even though I think it is nonsense to rate hiking paths in ranks of “beauty” (as beauty is very relative and changes from person to person and from season to season), we did still understand why the Tongariro Alpine Crossing was said to be within the world’s ten best day hikes.

Emerald Lakes on Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Emerald Lakes

The Red Crater

The Red Crater

Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in autumn with snow

Roberto

It was 4pm when we reached the end point. Most hikers took six to seven hours, for us it was nine. That’s how beautiful it was up there.

Annika and Roberto in MORDOR

Annika and Roberto in MORDOR

Volcano Crossing

Volcano Crossing

We took a day off to relax our legs. Hiking muscles were nowhere close to biking muscles and I had trouble getting up from my chair for three days.

Tip of Volcano

Tip of Volcano

Roberto walking towards the Emerald Lakes

Roberto walking towards the Emerald Lakes

Steam Coming Up form the Earth

Steam Coming Up form Roberto’s magic hands or from the Earth?

The Finish

The Finish

Our route led us along the Lake Taupo into the town of Taupo. There was only one long hill, the rest was all flat and easy. For the last ten kilometers we followed a beautiful shared path along the lakeside.

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves

Riding in the Fall in May

Riding in the Fall in May

When I saw steam coming out of the water, I parked my bike and carefully touched the lakeside’s rocks and then the water itself. It was nice and warm!

We didn’t spend too much time downtown, but headed straight to the Waikato River. At one point, a hot thermal creek merged with the cold river. Where they met, there was a great natural hot pool. We parked our bikes, grabbed our swimsuits and sat right down just behind the little hot waterfall. Everything around us was green, steamy and hot. There weren’t all too many people and we relaxed our sore muscles until it got too hot.

Natural Hot Spring

Natural Hot Spring

I still can’t believe how many awesome activities and places are actually free of charge in New Zealand.

Taupo was home of a big free campground called Reid’s Farm, that was open to non-self-contained campers as well. Reid’s Farm was situated pretty much right on the opposite side of the river, but the next bridge was many kilometers either North or South. As we couldn’t possibly swim all our stuff over, we went for the Northern route. Bad idea. This was a very steep and narrow path and it took us forever to reach the campsite. It had long been dark night when we finally pitched the tent. There were many other campers, most of them Germans and Austrians.

Jo and Tom

Jo and Tom

We went for a walk through the park to mentally prepare ourselves for a loud and uncomfortable night, when we met Jo and Tom from England. They invited us to help drinking their tetra pack of wine and half a bottle of Whiskey. After some very good chats and one or another glass, we slept wonderful, despite all the noise.

Our Sleeping Bags

Our Sleeping Bags

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