Why visit Hobbiton when you can take a journey to Mount Doom? Before its big break in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom) had already been making a name for itself as the star of one of the best day hikes in New Zealand (and the world), the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing takes in some of New Zealand’s most dramatic volcanic landscapes. With its massive craters, active volcanoes and colourful lakes the scenery is bound to impress. The trail traverses Mount Tongariro with a total of 19.4 kilometers and takes between seven to nine hours to complete. The trail starts from the Mangatepopo Valley and ends at the Ketetahi road to minimise the climbing involved.
We had arranged transport from Taupo and arrived at the national park at around 8:30am, pickup was scheduled at 4pm on the other end. We were still a bit tired from the long travel day before (we flew from Dunedin to Auckland then took a long bus ride from Auckland to Taupo).
Here are the highlights of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing:
Jon and I had to carry enough water and food for the whole hike so I had to carry my own weight (no porter this time around). This was the first time I had to carry a backpack on a long hike. I knew it was going to be challenging. The first part of the trail was mostly flat and lasted for an hour or so. While I had kept up well with Jon, the landscape had started to change as we faced one of the toughest parts of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, the Devil’s Staircase, a steep section from 1400 masl to 1600 masl (not to be confused with the New Zealand State Highway 6 in Otago). Halfway through the track, I was already struggling with the weight of my backpack. Good thing Jon came to my rescue and carried my backpack on most parts of the hike.
We took a wee bit of rest at the top then moved on to our last bit of flat ground, the South Crater, which isn’t actually a crater but a glacial basin.
Mount Ngauruhoe – Mount Doom, Lord of the Rings
At last, we finally saw the mighty volcano, Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom). The volcano was very intimidating – with black earth and fiery red streaks surrounding its peak. It’s truly one of the most captivating volcanoes I have seen up-close.
Hiking shoes would have been really helpful at this point of the trek. The ground was quite loose as we made a short and slow climb along an exposed ridge. I was glad we had good weather during the hike as it would have been more difficult with the strong winds.
The Red Crater is the highest point of the trail at 1886masl. From here, we saw spectacular views Mount Ngauruhoe and the rest of the volcanic terrain.
The Emerald Lakes
While I enjoyed looking at the colourful volcanic rocks (called scoria), it was difficult to keep balance. Our descent from the Red Crater to the Emerald Lakes was along a steep slope with lots of loose scoria. It was quite scary but with caution, it’s not impossible. I mostly just skidded down and tried not to hit any big rocks. Again, another reason to wear proper hiking shoes but I think even if you had them, this part would still be quite a feat.
After a stop for lunch, we explored the three emerald lakes. This is my favourite part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The contrast of colours in the terrain here is really astounding!
We pushed on to another crater, the Central Crater, then passed another mineral-laden lake called the Blue Lake. We didn’t hang around here too long as time was of the essence. We needed to be at the exit by 4pm and we still had a long way to go.
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After a side trip to some hot springs in a private land owned by Maori people (Ngahuia, the guide we joined at the start of the hike, had access to this Maori property), we found ourselves running along the zigzag trail back to the Ketatahi hut then eventually into some covered forest trail and finally the Ketatahi carpark. I’m still not sure how we made it considering it was supposedly over 2 hours more to walk. Pure adrenaline rush, I guess (and sugar rush from the Toffee Pops, a delicious local biscuit in NZ).
Details: Tongariro Alpine Crossing Day Hike
Transport at the start and end of the trail should be arranged before hand. We booked our transport with Adventure HQ, since it was the cheapest way (it costs $55 per person) to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing from Taupo. There is no entrance free for the Tongariro National Park.
Bring enough food and water. There are no shops at the entrance or at the end of the trail.
There are only a few toilets along the trail so make sure to take the toilet breaks.
We did the day hike during February, so the weather was quite clear but still a bit windy in some parts. Be prepared for the weather as it always changes here. The place would probably be more dramatic when there is snow but of course, it’s more difficult.
It is possible to hike to the summit Mount Tongariro (1967 masl) and Mount Ngauruhoe (2287 masl) as part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It’s supposed to be difficult so not many people really do this. For more information on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, you can visit: http://www.tongarirocrossing.org.nz/.
Would you like to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing? Have you done any hike in New Zealand? Let us know.