After a fantastic month spent on New Zealand’s South Island, it was time for us to return to the North Island and start slowly making our way back to Auckland. Most Kiwis advised us to focus on the South Island during our grand tour, but there were still quite a few things to see on the North Island. With just a week and a half left before our flight back to Australia, we would have to move quickly.
Off the Interislander Ferry in Wellington we set off on a 4-hr drive to the small town of National Park, located in the very center of the North Island. Our goal was to hike the nearby world-famous Tongariro Crossing the next day, so we were praying for good weather and no complications on the ride up. Luckily, we made it up without a hitch and reserved a room at the Adventure Lodge and Motel.
National Park spends the winter months as a busy ski town, accommodating skiers and snowboarders of the nearby Mount Ruapehu. In the quieter summer months, a few restaurants and lodges remain open servicing the steady stream of hikers dropping by for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
After getting settled into our comfortable room at the ski lodge, we made dinner and prepared ourselves for the hike the next day. We were both a little concerned about this trek – it had been a while since either one of us had undertaken a serious hike and we were definitely out of shape. On top of that, there have been a series of incidents in recent years on the Crossing, due to rapidly changing weather conditions and unprepared hikers. Luckily, Lorraine at Adventure Lodge gave us a full briefing on the trek, offering valuable advice and some much-needed confidence to ensure our Tongariro crossing would go smoothly. So, after cooking a hearty dinner and packing a lunch and our day bags for the following day’s adventures, we tucked in early to get a good night’s sleep.
The next morning, we woke to beautiful, clear skies, and hopped on the Adventure Lodge van to the trailhead at Mangatepopo. After taking a few photos for posterity, we set off on the 19km (12 mile) hike.
The trail started gradually enough, following an old glacial valley, covered in parts by lava flows from the adjacent Mt. Ngauruhoe volcano.
After an hour, we hit the most difficult section of the hike – the 340m (1100 ft) vertical climb up the “Devil’s Staircase” to the South Crater. We had been warned this would be the most difficult part of the day, and were prepared for the worst. In actuality, it really wasn’t that bad – and a far cry from the 1000m ascent we undertook at the Colca Canyon in Peru!
At the top of Devil’s Staircase, we stopped for a quick snack, added some additional clothing layers to combat the cold wind at this higher elevation, and soaked in the gorgeous views.
From here, we were in the perfect position to marvel at imposing Mount Ngauruhoe. If it looks familiar, it’s probably because it played the part of Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.
We forewent the option to climb Mt. Ngauruhoe (which would have added three hours to our journey) and continued up to the Red Crater, the highest point of the Tongariro Crossing. What better place to stop and enjoy a scenic lunch?
And here’s a video from the top:
At this point, we were halfway through the hike. The good news – it was all downhill from here! We continued down the steep and loose volcanic terrain towards the glistening Emerald Lakes.
Minerals from the surrounding soil have lent these small lakes a brilliant green tint.
We continued passing old craters along the ridge, before descending down the opposite side of the mountain.
The easy downward slope allowed us to quickly rack up the miles.
Finally, we arrived at the Ketetahi Car Park and the end of the Tongariro Crossing. We made it! And ahead of schedule.
Lorraine brought us back to Adventure Lodge, where we enjoyed a complimentary dip in one of the hot tubs.
Next stop – more volcanic adventures at White Island!