“Just 400m more,” urges Terry Blumhardt, my guide from Tongariro Guided Walks.
I grunt, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. It has been almost nine hours since we started on the 19.4km Tongariro Alpine Crossing on New Zealand’s North Island. On the final leg of the trek, we’re surrounded by lush podocarp-hardwood forest that I no longer have the energy to appreciate.
Mind you, I started out trotting from Mangatepopo Valley to Soda Springs with ease. And then came the 340m climb to South Crater. Heaving for breath as I trudged up wooden stairs, I was distracted by the sight of Mount Ngauruhoe – better known as Mount Doom in The Lord Of The Rings films.
To reach the summit of the nearby Red Crater, we pulled ourselves up an exposed ridge – while being buffeted by wind – using chains bolted into rocks. The panoramic view from the top was worth it, but the descent to the greenstone-hued Emerald Lakes below frightened me.
With every step I took down the 45-degree slope, I sank into loose scree. Past this precarious obstacle, we headed for Blue Lake – the halfway point of our journey. The track hugged the flanks of North Crater before slanting downward; it was slightly after this that I felt my energy forsake me.
Ahead of me, the path winds around steaming vents dotting tussock-covered slopes. My calves protest, my toes slide towards the front of my boots, and every step I take hurts. I must look like I’m about to collapse because Blumhardt offers me walking poles and relieves me of my haversack. Even with the extra weight, he gallops ahead easily while I plod behind like an old, dying horse.
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When I finally stumble out of the bush into a nondescript car park marking the end of our journey, I’m awash with relief and exhaustion. Would I trek again? Probably, albeit on a shorter route.
More treks around the world
Nakasendo Way, Japan
Starting in Kyoto and ending in Tokyo, Walk Japan’s 11-day tour takes you on a roughly 534km ancient route through the mountains of central Japan.
Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Test your stamina on The Nepal Trekking Company’s Annapurna Circuit Trekking trail: a 230km trek that circumnavigates the Annapurna Massif.
Take in the Icelandic Highlands’ gorges, hot springs and glacial rivers on a 55km trail with Extreme Iceland’s Landmannalaugar Hiking Day Tour.
PHOTO: RACHEL AJ LEE
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.