April 25, 2004

In the Land of Mordor ...

The rigorous and scenic one-day Tongariro Crossing was the first tramp that Miriam and I did together. We met up in Wellington on April 3 and drove the next day in the direction of Auckland, hoping for good weather en route in order to tackle this 17km volcanic tramp in Tongariro National Park.

We got the good weather and, as a result, an unbelievable tramp. The Tongariro Crossing is out of this world. That is, it looks as though it's out of this world. We walked through landscapes that look more like the moon than anything on this planet. And if these photos of volcanic Tongariro National Park look familiar, it's because the area played the role of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings, especially in Return of the King. Mt. Ngauruhoe, the peak visible in the photo above, starred as the basis for Mt. Doom.

The tramp was very challenging, especially the rocky climb up to a saddle (mountain pass) between Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Tongariro and then up past the rim of Red Crater to the track's peak at 1886m. But the scenery made it more than worthwhile. We walked through steaming South Crater, under the shadow of towering Mt. Ngauruhoe, and enjoyed views of the mineral-coloured Emerald Lakes as well as Blue Lake.

If you're already salivating for photos, click here. If you want to read about the crossing in some more detail first (with photos, too), keep reading.

New Zealand North Islanders will argue that the Tongariro Crossing is the best one-day tramp in New Zealand. It's hard to argue with them, although we haven't done the South Island favourite (Avalanche Peak in Arthur's Pass National Park).

Our day spent on the Tongariro Crossing was probably our most striking day in New Zealand. Neither Miriam nor I could remember being right in the middle of such a volcanic setting before. The scenery was pretty spectacular.

The early fog of the day lifted, luckily, allowing us to decide to undertake the trip. They say that in bad weather you can barely see the next pole marking the trail ahead on the steep climbing section of the track. We saw quite a lot, however, including the bright yellow uniforms of a guided tramping group up ahead (they looked like some sort of HazMat Response Team). Anyway, the tramp climbs quite steeply in the beginning toward the saddle to the left of Mt. Ngauruhoe, and the clouds were still lifting away from the peak.

Before you actually get to the saddle, however, you have to walk across the wide, steaming expanse of South Crater (actually a drainage basin, not a crater, apparently). Here, there could be no confusion as to our whereabouts. We were definitely near a volcano. There was, after all, steam coming out of the ground.


The steep climb continued after the crater, climbing to the saddle where we stopped for a rest and ... a carrot. Mmmm, carrots! Then we continued climbing up to the rim of Red Crater, the high point of the track at 1886m (note Red Crater and Miriam celebrating).


After Red Crater, the track begins to descend towards the brightly mineral-coloured Emerald Lakes. We got our first glimpse of the lakes a little ways along the descent as we came over a small crest. They looked quite spectacular, and we were excited to see that the track passed right by them, providing us with a picturesque spot for lunch. Our picnic location was indeed photo-worthy, but it wasn't quite perfect. The steaming in this area carried with it a strong smell of sulphur. Still, the winds provided some relief and the views were worth it.


After lunch we walked across Central Crater toward Blue Lake before leaving the bleak, lunar lansdcapes of the craters for the tussocked hillsides of the Ketetahi Hot Springs. Here we encountered -- you guessed it -- more steaming!

We stopped for a snack and photo opportunity at Ketetahi Hut (which the multi-day Tongariro Northern Circuit trampers use) before descending through a seemingly interminable forest to the carpark*.

All in all, we hiked from about 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. The Department of Conservation puts the hike at 7-8 hours, so with lunch thrown in there it was pretty much bang on. A tiring but exceptionally rewarding day's tramp.

[*] Note: For those of you who know Miriam and I well, you will no doubt be entertained to hear that we received a rousing round of applause from our fellow trampers when we arrived at our bus in the carpark at 5:05 p.m., five minutes after the bus was due to leave. Some things never change, even on the other side of the world.

Posted by anatole at April 25, 2004 07:52 PM