The Tongaririo Crossing was a total of 19 kilometers, we only did 8 km in and then back out. We wanted to see Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom), the South Crater, the Red Crater and the Emerald Lakes.
The hike was very difficult, but well worth it! The first 3km of the track was through scrubby and rocky plains. The track ran next to a stream that tinkled merrily over rock and root. The sun was shining and the track slopped gently towards the snow capped peaks. At the base of the mountains, the track inclined drastically for the next 3 km and the landscape changed dramatically. It had gone from scrubby brush and babbling brook to grey pumice speckled with red and with frozen lava formations jutting into the air. We were walking across old lava flows. Some where the molten rock had oozed its way down the slope in rivers of fire. Others were created in an explosion of pent up gases and rock rushing down with unstoppable force.
Mt. Ngauruhoe loomed over us the whole climb. Its sheer, barren sides gave the already ominous landscape an added feeling of impressive power hidden just under the surface. We came to the base of the Ngauruhoe peak and decided not to summit it, we didn’t have the proper gear, footwear or the inclination to crawl up the sheer scree covered sides. Instead we continued into the South Crater.
The South Crater was a wide open flat space covered in a light brown mud. There was a bit of steam coming off the mud flats. After the intense climb, the even ground was a relief. We crossed the South Crater to come to another steep climb. Here we had a brief rest. As we sat, a lot of tourists passed us going up and coming back down. One particular group was loud and as they headed up the ridge we heard the crashing of boulders. I thought that group was being stupid and was causing little land slides down the slop. Once we started the climb to the top of the ridge, we heard more of these deep rumblings…I then realized it was the Mountain! It was mildly disquieting, but distant enough and infrequent.
At the top of a ridge we could choose between heading to the Tongaririo peak itself or turns towards the Red Crater. I had read in a book that the Red Crater was supposed to be spectacular for its color and again good and proper gear was needed for the Tongaririo peak itself. To the Red Crater we went. Wow. The rich deep red of the massive crater was enriched by layers of chocolate brown. It felt like someone had painted the crater. From the crater itself came the lovely smell of sulfur, further reminding me that this was an active volcano. At one point Eamonn told me to feel the ground. I could feel the warmth emanating from the earth before my palm touched. Fantastic.
On the other side of the Red Crater were the Emerald Lakes, so called for their brilliant shades of blue and green. I could see them gleaming from the Red Crater. The trail down to the lakes went through a particularly active part of the track and it was a steep descent. We were tired, at least I was, so we decided a view of the Emerald Lakes was enough for us and we turned to head back to the beginning.
Despite the difficulty of the climb, the Tongaririo Alpine Crossing was amazing and I would highly recommend it to anyone going to New Zealand. The pictures don’t do it justice.