How time flies when you're having fun! It seems like only yesterday that I arrived in Taupo for my nice relaxing break and all too soon it's time to move on tomorrow after three days here. It's been a nice detour from the TA route but likewise my head is now thinking about the next section of trail and heading south again. The best thing about being here was seeing my friend Claire, we had a lovely chilled day yesterday by Lake Taupo, had a little swim, ate brunch and a huge ice cream and it was nice to have a day off riding. By some strange coincidence it turns out that another two of my work friends, Kasia and Sam are also travelling in New Zealand and arrived in Taupo the same day as me and so we all went out for a drink which was fantastic. Although I meet a lot of people in my daily cycling, sometimes you crave a conversation with someone who knows you and someone who you have some history with and I feel truly blessed that I've had that over the last few days.

Friends

I also went to see Huka Falls where the Waikato River is squeezed between a narrow ravine and over Huka Falls waterfall at a rate of 220,000 litres per second - pretty incredible.

Huka Falls in all it's glory

Today I ventured south around Lake Taupo to the Tongariro National Park. My alarm rudely woke me at 5am and the bus picked me and 11 others up to head to Mangatepopo where we would start the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It's a 19.4km hike across a volcanic alpine landscape up the valley to the saddle between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe. Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings film was based upon Mount Ngauruhoeis.

Setting off just after 7:30am it was perfect weather for hiking, cool and fresh. Cloud hovered over the mountains as the days light started to shine.

The start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

This hike is known as one of New Zealand's best day hikes and so the path was busy with walkers of all nationalities. The ascent was gradual along well marked paths as we entered a world of volcanic activity.

Lava flows of old eruptions

Climbing slowly it felt good to be hiking again, I really don't do much hiking since I got into biking but I do really enjoy it and it felt so much easier to climb the hills than on a loaded bike, haha! Reaching Red Crater at the highest point on the crossing I couldn't believe my eyes, sitting there by the crater rim were Kasia and Sam! I knew they were going to be hiking the whole route here but the chances of seeing them were very slim. A great setting for a group selfie if ever there were one with the magnificent deep ruby and rust colours of the crater in the background.

Sam, Kasia and I at the Red Crater

It was pretty windy and a bit nippy at the crater and so I continued on to keep warm and soon approached the Emerald Lakes known as Nga Rotopounamu (greenstone-hued lakes).

Emerald Lakes

Their vivid colour was beautiful and offset with the steaming geothermal rocks nearby and the red crater behind us it really did feel like I'd stepped onto another planet.

After a rather tricky descent down the scree slope (I only fell once) I walked around the lake. Having been to Iceland twice before, the scenery looked very familiar and yet still just as stunning as the first time I'd seen a volcanic-esque landscape. The smell of sulphur in the air was a reminder that this land was alive and we were just passing through in the hope that it would remain calm and quiet.

All is calm

Climbing a little up to the blue lake it was then a matter of descending around 400 metres to Ketetahi where our shuttle bus would take us back to Taupo. The path was a series of switchbacks winding it's way down the northern slope of Tongariro and it took it's toll on my knees. I was very glad that I'd asked to borrow some walking poles as it helps massively to take some of the strain of the descent. We were in hot sunshine now, around 28 degrees and it felt like an age before we got to the last few miles of the trail. All I could focus on was my feet whereas I feel that when you're climbing it's much easier to distract yourself with the scenery. Stopping to take in the view definitely eased my aching knees.

The long and winding path

It took me just under six hours to complete the hike and I joined the hoards of other trampers (another kiwi-ism; hiking is called tramping here therefore hikers are trampers) at the car park fighting for the shade as we all waited for our respective shuttle buses to arrive. Once I'd stopped the fatigue set in and in the van I could have easily nodded off. I really enjoyed myself today, slowing the pace of my journey from pedalling to plodding and taking life one step at a time. Another day done and today is exactly three weeks since I arrived in New Zealand. I've seen so much already but there is much more to explore....