Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – Tongariro National Park, North Island, New Zealand

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After a fantastic month spent on New Zealand’s South Island, it was time for us to return to the North Island and start slowly making our way back to Auckland. Most Kiwis advised us to focus on the South Island during our grand tour, but there were still quite a few things to see on the North Island. With just a week and a half left before our flight back to Australia, we would have to move quickly.

Going through the Marlborough Sounds on the Interislander Ferry.Going through the Marlborough Sounds on the Interislander Ferry.
Going through the Marlborough Sounds on the Interislander Ferry.18-Dec-2011 11:01
 

Off the Interislander Ferry in Wellington we set off on a 4-hr drive to the small town of National Park, located in the very center of the North Island. Our goal was to hike the nearby world-famous Tongariro Crossing the next day, so we were praying for good weather and no complications on the ride up. Luckily, we made it up without a hitch and reserved a room at the Adventure Lodge and Motel.

National Park spends the winter months as a busy ski town, accommodating skiers and snowboarders of the nearby Mount Ruapehu. In the quieter summer months, a few restaurants and lodges remain open servicing the steady stream of hikers dropping by for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing brings people to the small town of National Park, New Zealand.The Tongariro Alpine Crossing brings people to the small town of National Park, New Zealand.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing brings people to the small town of National Park, New Zealand.19-Dec-2011 08:30
 

After getting settled into our comfortable room at the ski lodge, we made dinner and prepared ourselves for the hike the next day. We were both a little concerned about this trek – it had been a while since either one of us had undertaken a serious hike and we were definitely out of shape. On top of that, there have been a series of incidents in recent years on the Crossing, due to rapidly changing weather conditions and unprepared hikers. Luckily, Lorraine at Adventure Lodge gave us a full briefing on the trek, offering valuable advice and some much-needed confidence to ensure our Tongariro crossing would go smoothly. So, after cooking a hearty dinner and packing a lunch and our day bags for the following day’s adventures, we tucked in early to get a good night’s sleep.

Warning sign on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.Warning sign on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Warning sign on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.19-Dec-2011 09:49
 

The next morning, we woke to beautiful, clear skies, and hopped on the Adventure Lodge van to the trailhead at Mangatepopo. After taking a few photos for posterity, we set off on the 19km (12 mile) hike.

An easy, gentle start.An easy, gentle start.
An easy, gentle start.19-Dec-2011 08:53
 

The trail started gradually enough, following an old glacial valley, covered in parts by lava flows from the adjacent Mt. Ngauruhoe volcano.

Walking through the Mangatepopo Valley, with the Devil's Staircase and Mt. Ngauruhoe straight ahead.Walking through the Mangatepopo Valley, with the Devil's Staircase and Mt. Ngauruhoe straight ahead.
Walking through the Mangatepopo Valley, with the Devil's Staircase and Mt. Ngauruhoe straight ahead.19-Dec-2011 09:50
 

After an hour, we hit the most difficult section of the hike – the 340m (1100 ft) vertical climb up the “Devil’s Staircase” to the South Crater. We had been warned this would be the most difficult part of the day, and were prepared for the worst. In actuality, it really wasn’t that bad – and a far cry from the 1000m ascent we undertook at the Colca Canyon in Peru!

Ascending the "Devil's Staircase" towards the South Crater.Ascending the "Devil's Staircase" towards the South Crater.
Ascending the "Devil's Staircase" towards the South Crater.19-Dec-2011 10:07
 

At the top of Devil’s Staircase, we stopped for a quick snack, added some additional clothing layers to combat the cold wind at this higher elevation, and soaked in the gorgeous views.

Looking west from the top of the Devil's Staircase.Looking west from the top of the Devil's Staircase.
Looking west from the top of the Devil's Staircase.19-Dec-2011 10:35
 

From here, we were in the perfect position to marvel at imposing Mount Ngauruhoe. If it looks familiar, it’s probably because it played the part of Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.

Heather and a slightly cloud-obscured "Mt. Doom".Heather and a slightly cloud-obscured "Mt. Doom".
Heather and a slightly cloud-obscured "Mt. Doom".19-Dec-2011 10:43
 

We forewent the option to climb Mt. Ngauruhoe (which would have added three hours to our journey) and continued up to the Red Crater, the highest point of the Tongariro Crossing. What better place to stop and enjoy a scenic lunch?

At the rim of Red Crater.At the rim of Red Crater.
At the rim of Red Crater.19-Dec-2011 12:11
 

And here’s a video from the top:

At this point, we were halfway through the hike. The good news – it was all downhill from here! We continued down the steep and loose volcanic terrain towards the glistening Emerald Lakes.

The magnificent Emerald Lakes. Active vents can be seen to the right.The magnificent Emerald Lakes. Active vents can be seen to the right.
The magnificent Emerald Lakes. Active vents can be seen to the right.19-Dec-2011 12:29
 

Minerals from the surrounding soil have lent these small lakes a brilliant green tint.

Minerals in the volcanic soil are responsible for the Emerald Lakes' bright green color.Minerals in the volcanic soil are responsible for the Emerald Lakes' bright green color.
Minerals in the volcanic soil are responsible for the Emerald Lakes' bright green color.19-Dec-2011 12:33
 

We continued passing old craters along the ridge, before descending down the opposite side of the mountain.

The Ketetahi Hot Springs - a sacred place for the local Maori people.The Ketetahi Hot Springs - a sacred place for the local Maori people.
The Ketetahi Hot Springs - a sacred place for the local Maori people.19-Dec-2011 14:31
 

The easy downward slope allowed us to quickly rack up the miles.

Descending to the Ketetahi Hut. Lake Taupo can be seen in the distance.Descending to the Ketetahi Hut. Lake Taupo can be seen in the distance.
Descending to the Ketetahi Hut. Lake Taupo can be seen in the distance.19-Dec-2011 13:34
 

Finally, we arrived at the Ketetahi Car Park and the end of the Tongariro Crossing. We made it! And ahead of schedule.

We did it!We did it!
We did it!19-Dec-2011 15:40
 

Lorraine brought us back to Adventure Lodge, where we enjoyed a complimentary dip in one of the hot tubs.

Next stop – more volcanic adventures at White Island!

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