The alarm woke us up at 5:30 and it was that shocking as I expected - we went to bed around midnight. It is really cold, we took almost all our clothes on us, had a quick breakfast and moved to the village, where we found the first bus (different to the one we reserved the day before, but nobody cared) and at 7am we are on the way to the beginning.
We arrived with another 3 or more buses (there are about 3 main companies providing the shuttle service and a lot of other buses from different hostels and hotels) and the car park was full of people, we could see a long queue already at the track and also a long queue for toilets - don't expect to get to the toilet for the first one or two hours :-)
Quickly started and tried to get to the head, which we slowly managed. The Devil's Staircase helped us a bit and after about an hour we are at first checkpoint - turn to Ngauruhoe Summit. This side track is marked as very challenging and we wanted to do it.
It is really hard to go up, sometimes you use all four limbs you have, do a step ahead and it took you two steps back, the surface is like sand with ash and some rocks. Really hard to climb on it, but after a while there is an old lava stream with a lot of rocks and it is much easier here.
The scenes are awesome and you can see you are pretty high (the top is at 2291m). On the top you have a bit dilema where to go, as it looks like two summits, but the correct one is the left one.
Snow under you and it is time to climb on the other "summit" as well. This is much better as it has the crater there and you can see how deep it is and how vertical the border is at top. And it is also perfect place for some snack.
If the ascent was challenging, the descent is more than that - it is several grades harder, you somehow run, ski, roll or use any other manner how to get down safely and quickly (well it is impossible to go slowly). Also stones tumble down several times and they are really dangerous - one girl almost catched it in her back.
Just short walk over South Crater and another small ascent is here up to Red Crater, which is the halfway point and there are really nice red rocks.
Just over it and three Emerald Lakes in front of us - they are really nice and perfect place for lunch, during which we also found that we are a bit late to catch the last bus - has to run for a while.
Central Crater isn't really photogenic, but Blue Lake is. Especially when you depart (of course that by accident) from the track (marked with poles) and hike to some hill near by.
And then we have around three hours trip which need to be done in a maximum of two hours. It is downhill the whole time, which is really annoying and my knees are sore at the end. Next time I would go just to the Blue Lake and back to start, it'll be probably much easier.
Back to car and quickly move to Piropiro camp at Pureora Forest Park. This DOC campsite is really nice, but really far away from the main road, we were searching for it for maybe two hours but finally made it there.