If anyone lives in New Zealand or has visited on holiday and hasn’t done the Tongariro Crossing then you’re NZ experience is far from complete…
YES it is VERY touristy, and YES it is seen as one of the tamer Great Walks. All that aside, it is simply one of the most stunning vistas I’ve managed to see so far this year. Only the snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps top it, and as a self confessed geography geek, it’s simply too good an opportunity to miss to be able to run up 2 active volcanoes.
Mt Ngauruhoe (2287m) and Mt Tongariro (1967m) are both along New Zealand’s active faultline and have both erupted within the last five years. Mt Tongariro’s last eruption was in fact November 21st 2012 – and it’s still streaming from the Te Mari vent when we (myself and Caralyn – the day after coming 3rd in the Rotorua half-iron man!) ran the crossing.
We left Rotorua at 5.15am to drop our car off at Ketetahi before grabbing the shuttle bus to the Mangatepopo where our 19.6km trek would begin (not including the climbs up to the two peaks. The weather was gorgeous and we were stoked about the trail as we’d previously completed it in May 2012 and it was freezing up Ngauruhoe, having to turn round before suffering fro exposure. This time, we’d “knock the bastard off” in our best Ed Hillary voice.
So off we went, leaving Mangatepopo at around 8am, packs ready and shoelaces tied. The run up to Soda Springs was going to be enjoyable. It totally was and there was a nice breeze to cool us in the early morning sun.
After Soda Springs the trail heads into what is a notorious area for people who love steps, like Caralyn and myself. It’s called the Devil’s Staircase. Not the most enjoyable, but still we trucked on, passing the majority of walkers on the way – by now we must have passed around 100 or so.
Up onto the South Crater and we met the junction with the Nguaruhoe split. Here I coaxed Caralyn into getting to the summit – she agreed and we got to it!
For those who don’t know what Mt Ngauruhoe is famous for, it’s also Mt Doom from the Lord of the Rings films, so yes it’s stupidly steep and yes, it’s pretty hell like to be honest. Loose scree, dust, slippery rocks and a steep gradient to match. It was an uncomfortable climb, passing numerous tourists – probably not well enough equipped to climb above 2000m in short skirts, sandals and limited water… but still, most of them made it – and fair play to them – the weather was perfect, however the mountains probably deserves more respect than this. If the weather closed in, I’m sure there would have been SAR issues.
Nevertheless, we got to the crater at the top without issue and celebrated with high-fives all round at the summit. What a view – Ruapehu covered in snow to the south, Mt Taranaki 180km to the west, the blue crater and Mt Tongariro to the north, with Lake Taupo behind. Stunning – Peak 48.
The descent was about 3x faster than the ascent, picking the scree line and practically falling down the mountain, emptying our shoes of grit and dirt as we reached solid ground at the bottom.
We rested, took on some food and made the journey up towards the Red Crater and Mt Tongariro’s eastern ridge.
The trail split again just before the Emerald Lakes and I ventured towards the 2nd summit of the day, Mt Tongariro.
The summit is a 2km diversion off the main trail and sidles across the top of the South Crater with amazing views of Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. What a day, sky so blue! I managed to summit quickly, got some German tourists to take my photo and carried on my way back to the Emerald Lakes to soak in the stunning views there… they are just endless.
We had a stop for another rest at the Emerald Lakes – got some spare suncream from some Slovenian tourists and ran off towards the Blue Crater before turning the corner to see Te Mari erupting. …Epic volcano action Batman!
Rotopaunga Peak (1856m) was also on my list to complete on the trail, but was alerted to the exclusion zone for the volcano – it took me within 1km of the recent activity, well within the zone – so was quickly scrubbed from the day’s plans.
The descent to Ketetahi was long and I was tired – I had no idea where Caralyn got here energy from, but maybe I was affected by the heat more? Still, we pushed on towards the bushline, past the DOC shelter and back to the car in good time to drive back to Rotorua before our evening meal of numerous calories.
I’ll never forget the views from the peaks on this special crossing, they are totally inspirational and would love to return.
On the way back to Rotorua we dropped in on Kerosene Creek, a naturally heated stream (geothermal) which was probably about 40C and perfect for relaxing aching legs, after another day of battering them on the climb. Yet another reason to love New Zealand.
The following day we had an awesome time at the Rotorua Skyline Luge – if you want something non-cultural to do i Rotorua, this is it! It’s quite pricey, but the track is 4x longer than the luge at Queenstown and it’s way more intense, we even saw people spin out on the steep sections (on the advanced course) – 5km of luge track… you can’t go wrong!