Tongariro Alpine Crossing

5 Feb

Driving in New Zealand was anything but boring; every curve of the road brought a stunning new view to admire. I used the word ‘ridiculous’ frequently, because at some point, the landscapes were so gorgeous IMG_3720that it seemed hard to believe they were real. The drive into the Tongariro National Park is a great example – before we even entered the park, we started catching glimpses of a dramatically snowcapped mountain. The weather was pleasant, sunny and in the 70s, but the mountain was thoroughly covered in snow. As we got closer, it looked so amazing that I had to pull over for a photo shoot. I was thrilled when I realized that this mountain, Mt.Ruapehu, was part of the scenery of the hike we had planned for the following morning.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is listed as one of New Zealand’s (and possibly IMG_3753the world’s) best one-day treks. From the moment we started, it was easy to see why. The landscape is immediately impressive. The trail begins at the Mangatepopo Rd. car park (you get to read all of the names because I love typing them), and gently climbs several kilometers, winding along next to a mountain stream. Around the third kilometer, the trail suddenly veers up… and up… and up. Signs at the bottom warned that this was the last chance to turn back if one was not fit or properly attired. Up we went, puffing and muttering. Orestes and I had some quiet time while we focused on not injuring ourselves or each other. And then suddenly we popped over a rise and found the South Crater stretching out before us.

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The crater is immense, almost a kilometer across. To the left rises Mt.Tongariro and to the right looms the volcanic cone of Mt.Nguaruhoe. Mt.Ngauruhoe has the distinction of serving as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. It is still active, although it was delightfully quiet on the day of our hike. IMG_3759Pictures and words completely fail to capture how vast the crater appeared and how tiny I felt walking across it. The sense of solitude was intense, despite the many other hikers on the trail. The wind was whipping across the crater, drowning out noises. It had been in the 80s when we started, but in the crater we layered on fleece and windbreakers. We completely lucked out with the weather; there was not a cloud in the sky, an occurrence that happens maybe sixty days a year according to locals. The sky was a gorgeous blue against the black, grey, and tan stone, and as usual, I went crazy with the photography.

On the far side of the crater, another steep climb tortured us until we reached the ridge line of the Red Crater. At this point, we were around 1,900 km in elevation, with a 360 degree view. Red Crater is so IMG_5705named for the color cast by the iron, and the contrast with the black volcanic rock is stunning. The trail leads down to the Emerald Lakes, and Blue Lake, and the dramatic colors of the lakes combined with the sulphuric steam rising off of them was ridiculously gorgeous. Orestes’ statement on reaching the top was, “Okay, this may have been worth it.”

We ate lunch by Blue Lake, then headed for the loooooong descent toward the Ketetahi Rd. car park. It was fascinating to watch the landscape change from volcanic rock, to alpine with lichen and tiny flowers, and finally to standard deciduous forest. It was almost shocking when the trees suddenly began, and the last two kilometers looked like any New England forest. In total, the crossing is 19.4 km. I’m one hundred percent certain that this is the longest hike I’ve ever talked Orestes into, and he was compensated with copious amounts of meat and beer in the aftermath. The hike was deemed “challenging but not ridiculous”, plus we got free t-shirts for completing the crossing!

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