Tramping through Mordor
You may have noticed that this blog went very quiet for a couple of weeks. This was because Marc and I visited New Zealand for my lovely friend Kendra (and her awesome fiancée Mitch)’s wedding. The thing is, once you’ve flown that far, you might as well go on some hikes and see the Kiwi scenery! One of the tramps (the Kiwi word for hikes) that I was most keen to try, is the super famous Tongariro Crossing. The Tongariro National Park is a national heritage site, and it is where Mordor was filmed for the Lord of the Rings. So as you can imagine, the scenery is volcanic and truly epic! Get ready for a long post full of piccies!
Tongariro Crossing Map
Tongariro Crossing – the basics
Distance: The Tongariro Crosing is 19.4km (one way)
Timing: We went pretty slowly and had some looong breaks. It took 8 hours. You could do it in 6-7 hours if you don’t have long breaks and don’t have to line up for the loo!
Elevation gain: At least 760m (or over 1100m if you go in the opposite direction)
Highest point: The red crater is 1886m
How to get there: There are parking restrictions at either end of the Tongariro Crossing, so the best way to get there is via a shuttle bus. We took a shuttle from Whakapapa Village. It cost $35 per person.
Weather: You should expect rain, or at least very changable alpine weather! We were incredibly lucky to be rewarded with amazing views. I was not expecting that!
If a day-hike isn’t enough for you, the Tongariro Crossing is actually part of a longer 3-4 day walk. It is one of New Zealand’s famous Great Walks.
What to bring:
- There are no shops or places to get water, so bring plenty of food and drink.
- Bring loo-roll! There are toilets at various points along the way, but most of them are toilet-paper-less.
- I did see some people in trainers, but the ground is rough and volcanic with sharp rocks, so it’s best to come with walking boots.
- As the weather is really changeable, make sure you have plenty of layers as well as sunscreen for when the sun comes out!
- There is quite a lot more downhill than uphill. This can be really hard on your knees, so bring walking poles if you have them. They made our afternoon sooo much better!
I’d read some blogs that mentioned you can do side trips to climb Mount Tongariro or Mount Ngauruhoe. However, our bus drivers told us that these mountains are sacred to the local people and asked us not to climb them. The sign posts have been removed to the trails, and if you go, you should respect the sanctity of the sacred mountains. The main walk is stunning, so you don’t need to bag the peaks to enjoy the area!
This is easily the busiest walk we did in New Zealand. There were soooo many shuttles bringing a huge number of tourists and local Kiwis to the trail. If you are hoping to experience the silence of New Zealand’s Wilderness, this is not the walk for you! We started on the earliest possible shuttle, and it seemed like the path only got busier as the day went on. So go early if you can!
The Tongariro Crossing:
We stayed in the Skotel Alpine Resort on Mount Ruapehu in Whakapapa village. This village has fantastic views of Tongariro National Park if the mist lifts!
The earliest shuttle bus from Whakapapa village left at 7am, but it is pretty close, so we could get started by 7:30am. All our friends were staying on the other side of the Mountain, so they left at 6am, and started just over an half an hour before us. We figured that if we had a good pace, maybe we could catch up with them along the way. At first I was really jealous of my friends! We had seen stunning views from our hotel at 7am, when I knew they were already walking. By the time we had arrived, the clouds had come down so we couldn’t see the surrounding peaks! It was still pretty, but the weather forecast had predicted more clouds and a little rain, so I wasn’t expecting to see much.
The start of the Tongariro Crossing looks a little like Ireland. The surrounding hills are covered in flowers and heather, and there are no trees, so if you don’t look closely at the plants, it felt like home.
The clouds soon started to clear, and we even had a brilliant view of Mount Ruapehu where we’d stayed the night before. We’d driven up through an impressive rainstorm, so this was our first view of the mountain where we had stayed!
The path for the Tongariro Crossing is really well paved to start with. Then, after a while goes through a delicate natural habitat covered in mosses. The New Zealand Government have built a board-walk so you can continue without ruining the natural habitat. It is probably best that they did, because so many people walk through the area each day!
The clouds had now almost completely disappeared, to show the volcanic landscape. Isn’t this gorgeous!? My photos are all a little over-exposed as it was still early in the morning and the sun was bright and low in the sky. Ah well.
We found our friends!! Ed, Fiona, Jen and Nina had stopped for a breakfast break so we managed to catch up with them. Yay! Now we were a giant group of six people. We didn’t all stay together completely, but it was really nice to keep meeting up with them during the walk.
There was a 5 minute detour to see a waterfall. I have seen some impressive photos of the waterfall at Soda Springs. The waterfall was pretty small this summer, but still pretty, and nice and noisy.
The next part of the walk was a steep climb up to the saddle between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe. The two mountains are actually one massive volcano. The cone shape of Mount Ngauruhoe is a vent for the main Tongariro volcano! There is plenty of evidence of previous lava flows, and we saw a sign telling tourists about pyroclastic flows. The sign said to run as fast as you can (but I am not convinced that would help much if a volcano of this size erupted!) Eep.
Anyway, as the volcanoes didn’t explode during our walk, we were treated to these gorgeous views back down the valley we had just tramped through. Tongariro National Park is beautiful in all directions.
Once we’d made it up high, we had a pleasant (very flat) hike through the MASSIVE south crater. There were volcanic walls of rock in all directions. This section is 1650m high, and there is very little vegetation, so you can imagine that you are hiking through a lunar landscape!
You can probably tell, I love the shape and colours of Mount Ngauruhoe. I took so, so many photos in this direction, including the jump shot near the top of this post.
After the flat walking-break we had another steep climb up to the red crater at 1886m. The views changed constantly as the clouds flowed in, and then kept marching on. This part of the walk looks the most Mordor-y. There are beautiful mountainous, if vegetation-less views in all directions. This is also the part when you realise you should bring walking boots! The path is bumpy and rocky and so it would be easy to end up with feet full of rocks if you don’t bring the right shoes!
My favourite part of the red crater was looking down onto this giant fissure on the side of the crater. Imagine how hot the rock must have been for such a huge chunk to pop like a bubble!? I could totally imagine a horde of orcs hiding further down the tunnel ready to attack walkers/hobbits.
Once we’d made it over the highest point of the red crater, we were treated to views of the beautiful Emerald lakes. They look quite nice normally, but as soon as the sun comes out, the colour brightens up to really display those gorgeous emerald colours! You can just about see the next part of the path, to the right of the lakes, in the photo below.
This is the toughest path on the whole hike. There are loads of tiny, spiky rocks, so most people were slipping and falling down the crater. We were really, really glad to have our walking poles!
I LOVED the look of these volcanic lakes. The Emerald lakes were created after volcanic eruptions. The holes were left by eruptions, and then filled up with rainwater. The colours are due to all the minerals that have dissolved into the water and run into the lakes from the red crater. However inviting they look, you wouldn’t want to swim in them! If you look carefully in my photos you’ll see all the steam rising from the lakes and the rocks around them. It is far to hot for a refreshing dip!
The other thing about the area around these lakes is that it stinks of sulfur! I was very glad that none of us had brought egg-related food for lunch as the rotten-egg-like smell would have been hard to bear while eating eggy foods! We decided to stop here for lunch despite the smell because it was just so pretty!
Fi, Nina, Marc and I all spent a while relaxing by the lakes and watching out for Ed and Jen, who had not yet appeared coming down from the red crater. We had a perfect view of the hundreds of people falling down the mountain, so we did spot them eventually! How is this for a lunch-time view!?
This is the view down to the Mordor valley (away from the path of the walk.) My panorama failed slightly in the center, but I am posting it anyway because it gives you an idea of the epic view.
Most people turn left and keep walking as soon as they reach the lakes, but we took an extra detour around the furthest emerald lake. It was warm, crazy coloured, and beautiful! There was also quite a lot of algae around this lake, so at least algae likes hot, mineral-filled waters!
Next, we tramped through the central crater and then hiked up another ridge. This is the view looking backwards. You can see the dark lava field that fills up the central crater. The red crater is the peak in the background (with Mount Ngauruhoe hiding behind that!)
The final section of the walk is the knee-killer section! The path is really good and windy, rather than steep. However there is a long way to cover, and it is constantly downhill.
I gave one of my poles to my friend Fi, to try to prevent jelly-legs. We continued to be lucky with the weather so we saw gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside down to Lake Rotoaira and Lake Taupo.
One thing that I didn’t understand about the local plants was why there were so many dead trees. It is the middle of summer, so I am not sure why so many of these trees were leaf-less. Maybe they were poisoned by the volcanic activity? Do any of you know?
The last few kilometers down to the Ketetahi car park was like a different world! The flora suddenly became quite tropical with gorgeously lush green plants surrounding the path. We saw so many ferns that I can finally see why it is the national plant of New Zealand!
Right near the car park there is a fast-rushing river. You can take one final detour down to a beautiful waterfall. It is a really pleasant view to finish such a fantastic walk!
My original plan for our holiday was to take a ferry South from Wellington, and head straight to the South island. I am sooo glad we decided to drive North to tramp along the Tongariro Crossing instead. It was a perfect day, with perfect weather and the company of good friends.
If you are planning to trip to Kiwiland, and you like to stretch your legs, I cannot recommend this Great Walk enough. Or, if you’d like other ideas for fantastic Kiwi walks, I have more Kiwi Posts here.