After exploring the geothermal area of Rotorua for a couple days, Gemma and I took a bus to the small village of National Park between Tongariro and Whanganui National Parks. Tongariro National Park is a active volcanic zone with three huge snowcapped mountains and many craters and lakes. It is most famous for being the site used to film Mordor in the Lord of the Rings movies, with Mt. Ruapehu as the site of Sauron’s tower and Mt. Ngauruhoe as Mount Doom. Gemma and I decided to go there to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing between Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Tongariro, which is frequently called the best day hike in New Zealand.
However the weather had other ideas. We were originally going to stay in National Park for two days, but both days it was raining and cloudy with 80kpm winds that made hiking the crossing too dangerous. The first day of rain we did another hike in the park to the crater-formed Tama Lake. The hike was at a lower altitude than the crossing so we were less vulnerable but it was still windy and rainy and cold. For the first half of the hike we walked through thick fog and could barley see our surroundings. When we reached Lower Tama Lake the visibility was so low that we couldn’t even see the lake. But soon after we reached the lake it stopped raining and the skies cleared up enough for us to enjoy the scenery. The hike went through a valley of low brush, with long grasses and various lichens and mosses. The surrounding mountains and the ominous clouds made us feel like we really were in a scene from Lord of the Rings.
After a lot of tinkering with logistics and bus schedules we were able to stay an extra day in National Park in order to do the crossing in good weather. So on Sunday, November 29th aka my 19th birthday, Gemma and I set off to hike the 19.4k Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Because it is a famous hike and there had been bad weather for the past couple days, the hike was packed with people. At first it was tough to find our own space on the trail and walk at our own pace but after walking for a couple kilometres we were able to find space and not worry about the other people. We didn’t want to let the large amount of tourists bother us and ruin our experience. In the end it’s better that a beautiful hiking trail is accessible and that so many people want to get out and enjoy nature.
The crossing began on a well market path that started on a gradual uphill and then through a valley. We walked in the shadow of the huge Mount Ngauruhoe, which has a perfect cone shaped top covered in lava rock and black sand. When we looked closely we could see a little wisp of smoke coming out of the volcanoes top, as if it was trying to remind us that it was still active. To our left was the many smaller brown peaks of Mount Tongariro, some of which had patches of snow around the tops. The sun was very strong and the sky was perfectly clear and blue. After a little while we began the steep uphills to reach the highest point of the crossing, the Red Crater at 6,018ft.. At first the uphills were steep but on well maintained trails with built in stairs that made the climbing easier. The views were constantly stunning. The black jagged lava rocks, the low grassy bush, the red moss, the snow covered mountains and the looming volcano was all incredible to walk among. After a little while the trail got steeper and tougher as we We had to climbed our way through slippery rocks and sand.
At the end of a long and exhausting climb we reached the top of the Red Crater. The crater is a huge chasm that looks like it was chiselled into the mountainside. The colouring varied from bright red, to deep maroon and jet black. From the top of the crater we could see three stunning geothermal pools called The Emerald Lakes which were formed by volcanic activity.We walked down to the pools on slippery black sand and ate our sandwiches sitting on the edge of the Emerald Lakes. It reminded me of the geothermal areas we saw in Rotorua but it felt even more special because we had worked hard to get there. Seeing green lakes in the middle of the wilderness surrounded by mountains and a volcano made them feel more wild and part of nature.
After the lakes the the hike got easier as we left Mt. Ngauruhoe and the Red Crater in the distance. We went uphill a bit more before starting on a long switchback path down the side of the mountain. The mountainside was covered in low-lying grasses, teal lichen, red moss and small yellow and white flowers which all melded together in a cool mixture of texture and color. We walked for another couple hours before the trail became a skinny gravel path through the lush New Zealand forest. We reached the end around 3pm, exhausted and satisfied.
Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing was definitely a perfect way to spend my 19th birthday. It was the most diverse hike I’ve ever been on, taking us through volcanic rock, snowy mountains, geothermal lakes, low-lying bush and lush forest. That evening Gemma took me out to a nice dinner for my birthday because she is awesome. We are currently beginning our travels on the South Island after being joined by Emma and working on an awesome farm which I will write about soon.