My alarm clock went off at 6 a.m. and my slim hope of hiking Mt. Ngauruhoe was immediately dashed. Lying in bed, I could hear the sound of the wind whipping through the bushes outside my hostel window. If it was this windy at 590 m, it would be gale force at the Red Crater summit of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (1886 m), and who only knows what the winds would be at the summit of Mt. Ngauruhoe (2291 m). The predicted winds of 60-80 kms/hr were going to make the trek across the narrow passage impossible.

Sure enough, the dreaded call from the tour operator came a half hour later to tell me she had called the hike off and instead recommended the option of The Old Coach Road. It was a respectable 16+ km hike from Horopito through the countryside back to where I was staying in Ohakune.

The Road had been built in 1906 to connect the small town to the Main Trunk Line train. As the name suggests, it was used by horse-drawn coaches to bring people to the train which ran between Wellington to Auckland.

This was not exactly what I was hoping for. When you want the cardio of climbing a mountain, especially “the best one day hike in New Zealand” which also includes (as our bus driver informed us yesterday, in a tone tinged with disgust) “the mountain the tourists call Mount Doom”. It’s true, it has the added fame of standing in for the dreaded destination of Frodo and Sam in the Lord of the Rings movies. I have to admit it, I’m a huge LOTR fan. There, I said it. It’s good to let it out. And I’ve wanted to do this hike for a long time.

Unfortunately, I have chosen the worst New Zealand summer in a very long time to try and realize my dream.

But, I know enough now that when you travel, you have to be flexible; you have to compromise. Plans don’t always go your way. And the weather is something you cannot control, so you need to be smart and be safe. Even when you mostly feel like throwing a hissy fit at your annoyingly bad luck.

So, after getting fuel (a long white coffee) for the long journey ahead of me, my driver dropped me off at the trailhead for Old Coach Road.

It started off nice and easy – a narrow country track splitting a large sheep pasture in two. I met a local woman walking her dog and we chatted for a bit (her son is coming to Canada to snowboard, of course).

Over the next four and a half hours, I passed through damp rainforest, filled with birdsong and crickets, took in panoramas over vast farmlands, and timidly walked over the Hapuawhenua viaduct (a very loose meaning of the word is new mother bathing – the stream was used by new Maori mothers who came to bathe after childbirth), which spans the green valley (far) below. It was also the site (for a short time) of the first commercial bungee jumping operation in the world.

It would have been more enjoyable if I was a train enthusiast or was in any way interested in trains or perhaps even just an engineer who thought bridges were cool. But sadly, I’m none of those things. I did learn quite a lot – there were many plaques detailing the construction of the Coach Road as well as the rail line and viaducts. And the hike was beautiful, with just enough difficulty that I felt I was getting a workout.

And don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful time – I stopped to meditate and to enjoy my lunch in a small clearing. I also marveled in the fact that I was the only person on the track. (The Alpine Crossing can have hundreds of people each day, so you often have to stop and wait for people to pass.)

Am I disappointed that I didn’t get to hike the Crossing and Mt Ngauruhoe? Absolutely. But I’ll come back and try again. This time was like my trial run. I know better where to stay and what to bring for next time. It was a good exercise in patience.

And a reminder that Mother Nature always has the last word.

Note: Several of the other guests at my hostel did end up doing the Crossing (minus “Mount Doom”). They said it was cloudy and they didn’t really get to see anything. So I feel good about my decision to skip it. Battling 60-80 km/hr winds while not getting to see any of the magnificent scenery around you would be a terrible waste. I’ll be back to try my luck again. And this time, I’ll stay several days in case of bad weather, so I don’t miss my chance again.

Flexibility – a necessity while traveling

Park sign for Tongariro National Park stands in the grass

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