The Tongariro National Park is the oldest in New Zealand, handed from the Maori to the government for safekeeping in 1887. One of its single-day hikes, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, is world famous, supposedly the best in NZ. The track crosses the fields of Mordor, the area that was used for the filming various parts of The Lord of the Rings that required dramatic or desolate landscapes. The length is 19.7 km with 750 m hight difference, and a hiking time between 6 and 8 hours. Nevertheless, Anja was quickly convinced that this was worth the effort, as the descriptions all sounded great and it would be cool to see some LOTR scenery of course.
Even though our campsite is not far from the track (and the only one actually within the park), a shuttle bus was required to get to the track head. Pickup was at 7 in the morning! The issue here is that the track is so popular that an average summer’s day will see several hundred people hiking up the mountain. So a one-way systems was established and shuttle buses get you to and from the ends. I think today was a better-than-average summer’s day, there where A LOT of people. Of course, some didn’t get the memo and walked the wrong way, getting to know everyone while squeezing past.
Nevertheless this is serious hiking and strict instructions were given, e.g. sign in and out, bring 2 L of water, sun protection, rain protection, etc. And indeed the day did start with some serious hiking, the tracks are great, but the incline as well. 10 minutes in and everyone was huffing and puffing. While the mountain tops were hidden in the clouds at first, the sun came out to help us get started, and before long we were actually above the layer of clouds and could admire the crater mountains. The path goes between the slopes of Mt Ngauruhoe, the one used as “Mt Doom” in the film, and Mt Tongariro. After spectacular lava desert landscapes on the way up, it continues to a number of crater lakes that try to outcompete each other with intense color schemes. They’re called Emerald Lakes and they are amazing!
We had lunch next to the lakes, enjoying the intense sulfur smell for free. The hardest part for me in these situations is always to try and ignore the many other people around me and relax a bit. I still can’t believe how many people were doing this track! (My favorite walks will definitely always be the ones where just the two of us walk through dense forest with nothing but bird sounds around us.)
The second half of the way continues through lava desert, but then descents into an alpine flora setting with the odd vent puffing up white smoke and further down into lush green forests. All in all a very nice walk, and luckily not as hard as we first thought it would be.
Photos from the trip are uploaded in this gallery.