Silence is a funny thing. We never experience true silence. There is always some background noise. When I am camping, sounds of a river, bugs, birds, and other sounds of nature are pervasive. When laying in a hostel at night there are the sounds of people breathing, small squeaks of the beds when people shift in their sleep. Driving in the car, even without the radio on there is the constant sound of the car and the road. During the day the sounds of people living are inescapable, here in this remote place that is not truly remote. There is nowhere without other people on these islands. Unless you want to hike off into the woods. But there is none of the solitude and silence I had been seeking.
But here in the mountains, I experience the closest thing to silence I can remember. I realize suddenly that the only surrounding noise is the wind. If I stand still and cease the crunching of my boots on the volcanic rock, the wind is the only thing I can hear. The soft rustling of the wind whipping at my coat and clothes underlies the louder howling of the wind itself. Lower on the mountains, the background noise of birds and bugs and other creatures was present. But I am high enough now that only the toughest of shrubs exist, not enough to sustain an ecosystem robbing the environment of any ambient noise. It reminds me of a lunar landscape, rocky and barren, and unlike the alps in Switzerland, devoid of any color from snow or other signs of life.
A long plateau stretches out behind me growing sharply into Mount Doom. Mount Ngauruhoe is the real name of the volcano, but it was used for the Lord of the Rings trilogy’s famous mountain. It is an impressive and imposing sight, as it was meant to be. Steep slopes lead to the summit crater, and I consider going off the path to ascend it. When else might I get the chance to climb Mount Doom? But I choose not to. The cliffs are steep and I do not think I am fit enough to climb it safely, especially on my own, off the path and away from potential help were something to happen.
The pictures I take of my hike through the Tongariro crossing do no do it justice, nor could any words I write. I will simply say that if one has the chance, I advise that you go. I would not blame anyone for missing it though. For most, it will be an entire day, and exhausting as well. And it is close only to lake Taupo for other things to do, though the lake is marvelous. On a shorter vacation, skipping it in favor of other adventures is permissible and perhaps advisable. But if you love hiking and mountains, it is spectacular.
I have finished well before I thought I would. I slowly munch on one of the sandwiches I had packed, having eaten the only one of the three I made during the hike and realize I can make it down to Wellington today if I want, though it will be a long drive. I abandon my original plan to stay in the area tonight and recover from the hike. My boots served well and my blistered feet bothered me little.
It is raining by the time I make it to my campsite for the night. A short drive from the city, I am relegated to the inside of my car for the night due to a constant drizzle, reading and researching. This is the first time I wish I had a van instead of my station wagon. At least I would have more space to sit instead of laying down all the time. I thought rain would be the only instance when I would wish this. But it is more a combination of the rain and the continued lack of seclusion here on the North Island. Camping has not provided the solitude and space I want.
It is still drizzling in the morning. It is supposed to cease later in the morning and I hope it does else I will have a miserable time walking in Wellington. There is a waterfall walking track from the campsite. I decide after five minutes down the track I do not feel like continuing another twenty minutes down the track. I decide this standing at a part of the track that crosses the river without a means to not get wet. Walking in the cold water with my still raw blisters in the already cold rain with only a pair of flip-flops is simply not appealing.
I park a bit outside the city proper and shove my battered feet into my sneakers. It is going to be a long day of walking. At least it has stopped raining.