World Heritage Tongariro National Park is an exciting adventure playground for hiking, biking, rafting, skiing and a place of extremes. The famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing tracks over the volcanic masses of Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy).
It was an early start, taking the Tongariro Expeditions bus from Taupo at 6am. It was a glorious clear yet fresh morning, with all of the mountain peaks visible. I arrived at Mangatepopo (the southern end of the track at 1150m above sea level) to begin the crossing. The majestic Mt Ruapehu, the third mountain (one of NZ’s largest and most developed ski areas) was catching the first golden rays of dawn.
Within an hour I had trekked up the valley to Soda Springs and Devil’s Staircase to the Southern Crater. Reaching up to the sky was the mighty Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom!). It just had to be climbed; despite signs telling us how volcanically active it’s been in recent years (producing over 70 eruptive episodes since 1839) and the steep 40° slopes made up of loose volcanic rock!
After 90minutes of climbing (scrambling on all fours at times); pausing to catch my breath and enjoy the amazing views across towards Mt Tongariro, I reached the summit (2291m) and was amazed at the size of the crater! Look at the pictures below and spot the tiny human figures at the crater rim. The wide range of rock colours that I found here also impressed me. The temperature was below 10° with light winds…quite comfortable after all that physical exertion.
Fortunately the day began with few clouds so I enjoyed great panoramic views of the vast volcanic region. Plumes of steam from the Te Maari Crater (in the active volcanic hazard zone on the northern flank of Tongariro which last erupted in August 2012) were clearly visible.
The descent was fun, bouncing and skidding down on the loose scree slopes. For the thrill I took a more challenging ridge route back to the main path, which became harder than expected – having to navigate my way down a steep rocky crag!
Then it was back up hill to Red Crater (the highest point on the main track at 1886m); past Emerald Lakes and North Crater. As this region is volcanically active, there is natural underground heating and plenty of evidence by the steam billowing out of fumaroles. The remaining 3hour hike was all down hill, past the active volcanic hazard zone, into the valley and lush forest. There I met the bus and got back to Taupo in time for sunset where I was treated to a beautiful view of the Tongariro peaks from across Lake Taupo.