January 2011


Tongariro Crossing

Part Four



January 28, 2011


Rated as the best one-day tramp in New Zealand, the Tongariro Crossing is a magnificent 19 km hike up through the saddle of two active andesite volcanoes, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe, along old lava flows to barren craters of red and black ash. Sulfurous scents from the many fumeroles linger on the wind.  Alpine foliage cloaked in thick mist cover the backside traverse before the track drops into dense forest. 



With pockets of snow still folded in its flanks, Ruapehu, the most active of the three volcanoes in Tongariro National Park looms nearby.



Discovery Lodge runs the earliest shuttle to the start of the Tongariro Crossing with a drop-off at 6:00 am which is reason enough to stay there.  The tranquil camping area is surrounded by tall grasses swaying in the breeze above the colorful backdrop of farmland and rolling hills of the vast Central Plateau with the volcanoes rising in the east.  The light and colors of the ever-changing sky are amazingly vivid.



After an early dinner we crawled into our comfy bed in the back of Gerty before complete darkness enveloped us.  Raring to go Wednesday morning at 5:30 we hopped on the shuttle excited by what the day would bring.



The impeccably maintained track begins easily enough along a boardwalk surrounded by grasses, heather and shrubs.  Less than an hour later it rises more steeply, climbing through old lava flows before flattening out across the South Crater, a huge walled amphitheater eerily brushed with misty clouds at sunrise. 



The steep slopes of Ngauruhoe, a young 2000 year old cone, rises smoothly on the right while the summit of Tongariro, with its multiple cones and active craters, juts up to the left.



It is an amazing walk along the ridge of the crater and it is here that we took a side track up to the summit of Tongariro, a 3km, 2 hour diversion.  We stopped way too many times for photos and to enjoy the spectacular views.



Blue Lake is a remarkable sight from the summit of Tongariro.  So is Ruapehu peeking out from behind Ngauruhoe.  We were fortunate to be there on a warm, clear day with very light wind.



The scenery is breathtaking in a stark, primordial way. 







The track begins its descent at Red Crater and passes Emerald Lakes which are three brilliantly colored old explosion pits.  Minerals washing down from Red Crater make the water a vibrant green.



Loose scree and then hardpack with loose stones which roll downhill like marbles make the descent off the cinder cone  an exciting ride.



The track crosses North Crater and the view from the rim looking back towards Red Crater, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu in the background is spectacular.  A lava flow colors part of the crater black.



The track rounds one last bend before the scene opens up to a vast valley below with views of Lake Taupo and Lake Rotoaira.



Descending steeply, the track traverses golden tussock slopes and passes fumeroles belching sulfur smelling steam.



As the elevation lowers the foliage changes to alpine shrubs and flowers, then heather, flax and lower grasses until finally forest trees shade the last couple of kilometers as the path follows a gurgling stream to the parking lot.  The end of a fabulous hike.



Mt. Ruapehu is the tallest mountain on the North Island.  An active volcano, it last erupted in 2006.  That doesn't stop the New Zealanders from having a ski area right there!



Go to February 2011, Part One - Crossing Cook Strait and Farewell Spit


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