Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
I had never walked on a volcano before, let alone one that has at least 12 cones. After bad weather forced me to abort my attempt in 2010 I was so excited to be going in summer when – barring an eruption – I’d be able to complete the 20km hike from one end to the other. It turned out to be one of the greatest days of my life.
It turned out to be one of the greatest days of my life.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing lies on the North Island of New Zealand. Named after Mount Tongariro, it’s easy to forget it’s all one volcano with multiple vents above ground and is currently active. At the time of writing the last eruption was in 2012. Probably the most famous of these cones has it’s own name: Ngauruhoe (pronounced “narraho-ee”. Sorry maori readers.). Covered almost entirely in black soil makes the smattering of red earth near the top look even more vibrant and powerful. There is a side hike you can do up to the top that is about 3km. We decided against it due to time restrictions but as it turned out we could have just made it! In the distance is the North Islands tallest mountain, Mt Ruapehu, which pales in comparison with the South Island but still being snow capped in the summer made it a great backdrop.
Of all the activities that were on the agenda for my latest 2 weeks in New Zealand this was on the top of my list. The landscape is jaw-dropping and I love the feeling of insignificance when walking amongst huge natural structures.
After a tough first couple of hours walking through a valley and up 2 sets of brutal stairs conveniently named the Devils Staircase you reach the base of Ngauruhoe and it’s a good place to snack. It’s quite windy at this height but looking out over the valley below that you’ve just climbed is very satisfying. You might recognise Ngauruhoe and that is likely to be because it was used as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The next section is the south crater and again that feeling of insignificance is present and you feel very exposed walking from one side to other. I made it this far in 2010 and remember a thin layer of ice cracking beneath my feet but this time it was hot and dry with a nice breeze. The perfect conditions! I was nervously excited for the view I’d get once I climbed up the other side of the crater. It would be further than I had reached 5 years before. I was rewarded by one of those views that just seem to go on forever, with the added bonus of spectacular cloud cover that dotted shadow over the land as far as the eye could see. A truly breathtaking spot and one certainly for a photo break.
Next stop is the red crater. Huge mounds of red earth paint this natural milestone. Sadly though what lay beyond it stole my attention: The Emerald Lakes. Two beautiful blue/green pools of water which look so enticing that you believe that it can’t be safe to go near. Like an oasis. As cheesy as it sounds it’s like sirens luring sailors to their death. It was almost that strong a pull! Before you can get there though there is a treacherous descent past tiny vents spewing steam and sulphur. The best way down is to skid :).
It really is worth taking time to absorb what you’re seeing. This is probably my favourite view of the whole hike. Beyond this lies the Blue Lake, a more vast body of water but you approach it at almost the same altitude. It’s a good spot for a break, or not if as in my case the others want to continue and make the most of the good burning sensation they have in their legs. Up and over the next ridge and the hike changes dramatically. The view reminds me of hill walking when I was at school. A lot of green hillsides and tracks. A stark contrast to the other side which was all red/brown and rocky. The one thing that reminds you that you’re in volcano-country is the big vents of steam blowing out of the side and into the sky.
The descent is long and windy and at this point you feel like the hike is over and could do with just getting to the finish line but it’s a long way down. One tip to help it go faster is by talking nonsense with a friend. I for one along with my friend Eva came up with some excellent ideas for a novel. Watch this space.
Have you completed the Tongariro Crossing? What did you think? I’d love to hear from you!