Tongariro (tonga-reer-oh) National Park is NZ’s oldest national park and home to one of the North Island’s best day hikes! While the Northern Tongariro Circuit covers 43.1 km (26.8 mi) most hikers opt for the 19.4 km (12 mi), 7-hour hike known as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Seeing as the track is “one-way” you either have to arrange for a ride with friends or do what most do and hop on a bus that shuttles you from the endpoint (where you leave your vehicle) to the beginning of the track in the middle of the national park where your only choice is to hike your way back out to civilization – rain or shine!
Fortunately for us, our 7am departure time was characterized by beautifully blue skies and a horizon dotted with early morning volcanic activity. As we drove toward the snow-capped Mt. Ngauruhoe (nah-ooh-roo-hoe-ee) we were welcomed by a steaming fumarole of epic proportions that made us think the whole mountainside was ready to blow; however, when we arrived, the parking lot was overflowing with enthusiastic hikers and buses ready to cart us to our starting point, so we piled in and off we went! [Note: It turns out that that particular fumarole has been steaming with tenacity since the last major eruption at the Te Maari crater on 21 November 2012 – so cool!]
We set off at 7:30am making our way, first, along a mile of low-lying boardwalk before ascending what was seemingly straight up the barren side of Mt. Ngauruhoe (aka Mt. Doom for any of you Lord of the Rings fans out there). Descending into a moon-like valley we trekked through the thawing mud before climbing another steep frost-covered (and very slippery) mountainside that brought us up close and personal with the smoking and eerie Red Crater. From the crater we dropped down to the Emerald Lakes – other-worldly sulfuric acid lakes that glow brilliantly against the monotone landscape – where we enjoyed lunch before continuing on through the Te Maari Volcanic Hazard Zone toward the steaming hot springs of Ketatahi. Around hour six we hit switchback after switchback along the north side of the volcano until, finally, we reached the carpark where the once enthusiastic hikers now sat exhausted and aching. We were in the same boat and it took the last of our energy to pull our boots off, but man was it worth it!
This is a WOLO-hike for sure – if you can find the time and the energy (and the weather cooperates) do not miss it! This may be your one chance to walk amidst a volcanic landscape that leaves you feeling like your on another planet!
Next stop: Rotorua
Song lyrics: Ed Sheeran “I See Fire”
–Go. Change your state of mind.