A few weeks ago, there was an article written in the Star Tribune about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I was lucky enough to be able to hike the crossing this past weekend, and this is how it went.
On Friday, a group of us rented a car and drove up from school in Palmy to Tongariro National Park. The park is the oldest national park in New Zealand, and the fifth oldest national park in the world. Within the park are three active(barely) volcanoes: Mt. Ruapehu, a large snow covered mountain with a ski field for snow sports. Mt. Ngauruhoe, a smaller stratovolcano (and the mountain that was set as Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings triology), and finally Mt. Tongariro, a longer volcanoe with multiple craters.
We drove up and got supplies in the nearby town of Turangi, a tourist town geared towards fishing on nearby Lake Taupo (a great place for anyone who likes the north woods and all they have to offer). A friend of mine has a Holiday Home (cabin) in a township called Omori on the southern banks of Lake Taupo, and conveniently 30 minutes from the mountains. We settled in, and set our alarms for bright and early.
We got up the next morning and headed for the park. After struggling for about an hour to find the correct car park, we were finally on our way up the crossing. The crossing itself is a 19.4 km (about 12 mile) hike and is estimated to take between 6 and 7 hours.
As we ascended, the terrain quickly changed from flat plains to a slow ascension until we reached the base of the junction between Ngaurahoe and Tongariro. From there it became a twisted steep ascension around hardened lava flows and volcanic rocks. After 2 hours we reached the south crater, which gave us some level ground to walk on, as one of my friends pointed out, if you didn't know better it would've looked like we were on Mars.
From the south crater the path becomes rather intense. As an aside, we were originally told that this hike was of relatively low difficulty and other than bringing something to eat and a rain coat you really had nothing to worry about. Once we past the south crater, we began to seriously question the credability of these sources. The ascent quickly becomes verticle and loose. Gravel, ash and loose rocks make climbing less of a leisurely experience. However, the view can't be beat. We were lucky enough to reach Red Crater, the highest point on the crossing itself before clouds rolled in. We were able to see Mt. Taranaki (another volcano on the western side of the North Island) and most of the North Islands landscape as well. Past Red Crater, the next scenic stop is the Emerald Lakes, craters formed from quick rapid explosions and filled with water that has since leached it's color from the unique minerals found here.
Once we passed the lakes, we crossed the central crater to Blue Lake, again another crater (Tongariro has erupted a lot in its lifetime) filled with water. Once the crater was past there was a quick descent to the final car park. When I say quick descent, I mean we dropped altitude, fast. The actual majority of our hike didn't even begin until this point, and while it was incredibly beautiful and scenic, we had started to feel a little winded. Once we reached the bottom, we celebrated with what little energy we had left and headed back to Omori. Needless to say, we all slept like rocks that night.