Tongariro Alpine Crossing

With just three days left in New Zealand I knew that I only had one last opportunity to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I had been in Taupo a month earlier and had intended to hike the Tongariro Crossing on my birthday but due to bad weather my trip was cancelled at the last minute. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing hikes are very dependent on the weather and they can be cancelled right at the last minute just as my first one was. However, on the second time around my luck was in and I was able to hike the Tongariro Crossing and it was probably one of my greatest adventures in New Zealand. I had heard from fellow travellers how wild the trail could be due to the combination of the weather and the dramatic landscape but to me that just sounded like an adventure I wanted to participate in! As most of my New Zealand travel buddies had returned home, I was prepared to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing virtually on my own which added to the sense of adventure! There was literally a mountain to be conquered!

I was up early to check my hike on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing was going to take place and I was relieved and then excited to learn that it was! Be prepared for an exceedingly early start but for me this really was not a big deal. I was ready to go in 15 minutes. Transport from the hostel to the Mangatepopo Road end is efficient and when I was dropped off, I was struck by how cold it was so make sure that you are dressed correctly for it! I was also very sleepy, but the cold woke me up and I began the epic trail.

The Tongariro National Park has been awarded duel World Heritage Status for the wild natural landscape and for its cultural significance to the Maori. Ngati Tuwharetoa paramount chief, Te Heuheu Tukino IV gifted 2630 hectares of the central volcanic area to the New Zealand Government. The gift included the summits of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. For those who are fans of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ films Mount Ngauruhoe really is Mount Doom! For me, this really did add a unique sense of wonder and excitement to the whole experience! All three volcanoes have erupted in recent times and there are signs and warnings along the track that you are entering an active volcanic hazard zone! Most people seemed to be using these as photo opportunities and then pressing on with their walks!

The first stretch of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is from Mangatepopo Road to Soda Springs and is gentle and flat with long stretches hiking along a boardwalk. Although the weather was very cold at this point the chilled nature of the start of the walk allows you to really take in the landscape and get some good photos and enjoy the beauty of the scenery around you.

Mangatepopo Road to Soda Springs boardwalk

Make the most of this part of the trek because as you scale the Devil’s Staircase the path is steep climbing from 1400 to 1600 metres above sea level. The landscape changes and becomes distinctly rocky with ancient volcanic lava flows and here there are some amazing views of Mount Taranaki. Sometimes the track appears lost, but I was often relieved when I saw the poles marking the trek!

On my hike along the Tongariro Crossing the South Crater to Red Crater section was the most dramatic as you cross an exposed ridge to Red Crater. I will never forget crossing the ridge. It was windy and foggy with extremely limited visibility and the ridge was narrow and like gravel. Your feet sink into it like sand. I was afraid the wind was going to blow me right off the ridge and when the weight of my backpack suddenly shifted, I thought it was going to pull me over the edge of the ridge! With adrenaline pumping around my body this experience rivalled some of the other adrenaline-fuelled activities I had participated in including white water rafting and ice climbing. Somehow, I managed to navigate my way across the ridge, and I was relieved when I reached the other side!

Crossing the wild ridge

The track then continued around Red Crater and the fog seemed to lift so I could view over the Oturere Valley, Rangipo Desert, Kaimanawa Ranges and down towards the Emeral Lakes and views of Mount Doom! Some people were going to try and climb up there, if the weather had not been so wild at the top, I would’ve joined them but after my experience on the ridge I thought it best to carry on.

Rocky terrain

The decent from the ridge is quite tricky too but then you see an old lava flow spreading out across the floor of Central Crater and then finally you come to Emerald Lakes and there is a distinct smell of sulphur. The track follows the edge of Central Crater and eventually comes to Blue Lake which is acidic and sacred to the Maori. The landscape across this part of the trek was unlike anything I have ever seen before. It truly is a magnificent sight with the dramatic landscape contrasting with the blue of the lake.

Blue Lake

A short climb to the edge of the North Crater comes next and more dramatic views of Mount Pihanga and Lake Rotoaira across to Lake Taupo. Eventually you come to the Ketetehai Shelter. I decided to get some photographs from here and then proceed with the next part of the hike.

Entering the active volcanic hazard zone!

The track crosses the stream that flows down from Ketetahi Springs and I followed the poled route down through the open tussock land. It was so still and quiet on this section of the Tongariro Crossing and I did not see many people. Steam was gently rising from vents and it was this point of the walk where it became hot and sunny. I was down to my shorts and t-shirt after being wrapped up when I was crossing the ridge in the wind and fog! I slowed down on this part too so I could make the most of the beautiful views and chill and relax after the adrenaline rush of crossing the ridge!

Chilled phase of the hike!

The track drops steeply to the Mangatetipua Stream and you walk through what seems like rainforest before eventually reaching the Ketetahi Car Park. My adventure along the Tongariro Crossing was one of my favourite experiences in New Zealand, the volcanic landscape is something I’ve never seen before and not experienced since and one day I would like to return to hike the Tongariro Crossing again!

The end is nigh!

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