Fire and Ice on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Posted on Apr 17, 2015

Fire and Ice on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is rated as the world’s finest day hike and is described by the Lonely Planet as “Reputedly the best one day walk in New Zealand, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing  spectacular volcanic geography, from an active crater to the steaming vents and beautiful coloured lakes. The crossing is one of New Zealand’s life-changing experiences”

The Tongariro National Park featured as Mordor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Mordor is the great volcanic plateau filled with geological  wonders known as Gorgoroth.  Much of Frodo and Sam’s journey into the land of Sauron was filmed on and around the Tongariro National Park. The area has jagged volcanic rock formations and eerie barren landscapes, ideally suited to Mordor’s hissing P1060922wasteland. To experience Mordor and feel the eerie barren landscape, it is recommended to traverse the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

As I could not convince Petra and the kids that it is great fun to walk 19.4 km through the mountains in icy winter conditions, I decided to tackle the crossing by myself. Although you are never alone on this popular hike, as some 60 to 70 thousand people tramp the crossing every year. And indeed there were several hundred people on the track today. The track had been closed the whole week due to the cold weather and hard winds and today was the first reasonable fine day, so many people decided to give it a go.

The track is 19.4 km and it ascends 765m and descends 1126m. The track is close to Turangi and there are a couple of shuttle companies that can take you to either the start or take you back from the end (or both), so I could park my car at the end, catch a shuttle to the start and walk the crossing back to my car. The route is clearly marked and signposted and it would be difficult to get lost. But it is not an easy track and there is IMG_20150417_095522999_HDRsome serious climbing to be done (most of it on the aptly called ‘Devil’s Staircase’). And then, after succeeding the steep climb you are at the rim of the Red Crater where the wind is blowing in full force and the temperature feels like miles below zero. On top of it the visibility during  the first half of the track was very poor, so the promised great views of the crater were very grey and dull. Needless to say that I wondered half-way why on earth was I doing this.

But then the sky cleared-up and I had a great view of the Emerald lakes and Blue lakes. The view point was sheltered from the cold wind, so I enjoyed a perfect lunch spot admiring the views. From there it was onlyIMG_20150417_110152726 flat or downhill through an active volcanic area, where indeed you could see steam vents coming out of the mountain. About six hours after I started I arrived back at the car park.

Now I am back home relaxing in a comfy chair in front of the fireplace. I feel okay, but my legs are a bit sore and especially my left knee. So I hope a good night sleep will help me to recover.