Tongariro National Park is not only the oldest national park in New Zealand, it is also a World Heritage Site and the home to Mordor and to top it all off it is still an active volcanic area.
Due to two eruptions last year, one in August and the last one on 28 November, the path for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing was partially closed, meaning that when we did the hike we had to turn back a little bit more than half way. The area was still too active with a lot of dangerous volcanic gas.
We got picked up from Whakapapa Village at 7 am on 24th March, the sun was still not up, but we could see the pink sky by the horizon and far away in the distance there was a big cloud of smoke coming out of the ground. Although our driver told us it was volcanic gas and not a cloud, he also mentioned that if anyone would be foolish enough to try to do the crossing, they had a 40% chance of dying from the volcanic gas. Yikes!
We set off from the car park at 7.30, fully geared up and ready to take on, what is deemed one of the best day hikes in the world. The Crossing covers 19.4 km of ground, a bit more when you do the turn around walk, 800 metres of elevation, with one particular strenuous climb called ‘the devils staircase’ (and for a good reason too). But trust me, it’s all worth it.
Once we had made it up ‘the devils staircase’ and got to the South Crater, we thought we had landed on Mars. The landscape as you get up there and beyond, really is something out of this world. When you stand in the middle of the South Crater you have the imposing Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom) on your right, ahead to your left is Mount Tongariro and straight ahead will lead you to the Red Crater. The landscape is almost totally baron, from years of layers of lava flow and volcanic rocks. If you type in Mount Ngauruhoe on google maps and have it on the satellite setting, it actually does look like a different planet, quite fascinating.
We headed on towards the Red Crater, which is a treat for the eyes with it’s colouring and so are the Emerald Lakes which gets their colours from mineral deposits, that lie hidden just behind the Red Crater. But the surface as you walk down toward the Emerald Lakes was all but steady, the soft gravel, called scoria, moves and roles constantly under your feet and we had to carefully zig zag down the steep decent. The Emerald Lakes really are incredible, their turquoise blue and green really compliments the grey and brown, somewhat dull, surroundings.
We headed over to the sacred Blue Lake to take a few photo’s and then we decided to turn back, just over half way. As we got back to the Emerald Lakes we had to take on the challenge of walking up the steep and soft surface again, not a task that was too easy. But we made it up and treated ourselves to a spot of lunch. After this it was time to return.
We looked at our watches and realised that we would just about miss the first bus back to Whakapapa Village and then would have to wait until 4pm, so we decided to up the anti and trekked back down to the car park in record speed. We just made it in time for the 3pm bus meaning that we did the Tongariro Alpine ‘return’ in 7,5 hrs and that’s with two sit down food breaks and we walked over 20km! I’d say that’s pretty good going.
When we set up camp that evening we felt exhausted and slightly broken, but in a good way. We had finished one of the best day hikes in the world. I have to say it really was a phenomenal experience, unworldly surroundings, both beautiful, rough and rugged at the same time and a great physical challenge.