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Walking on the Moon

Tongariro National Park, New Zealand


On November 21st, 2012 the Te Maori crater that sits on top of Mount Tongariro erupted with a 10 minute explosion of smoke and ash. This was the second of two eruptions in the past few months, a sign that this volcano may be becoming more active. Mount Tongariro is situated in Tongariro National Park, smack in the middle of New Zealand's North Island and volcanic plateau. This plateau is part of the Pacific's "ring of fire," a highly geothermally active zone that straddles tectonic plates. It is also the site of what many say is one of the greatest single-day treks in the world: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (TAC). The venting Te Maori crater sits alongside this crossing, and thus the New Zealand DOC shut down the track following the eruption. This almost made us cancel, but we discovered a few days before leaving that much of the track had been reopened and so we decide to keep our plans. The TAC is a 19.4km (12 mile) one-day hike across some of New Zealand's most incredible scenery. It passes along/through three volcanoes - Tongariro, Ngaurohoe (Mt. Doom from LOTR), and Ruapehu.

We stayed in small town called National Park, woke up early and reached the turn-off to the crossing a little before 7am. The morning was filled with dense fog as we slowly crept towards the start of the trail. I certain points it was difficult to see past a few yards in front of the car. It added to the air of mystery and excitement to the adventure - though also a little scary. A few minutes into the drive the fog burned off and we were greeted with incredible views of the three peaks and the volcanic landscape around them. We park and started in the trek.

Words and even photos cannot do justice to the views and natural beauty experienced on the TAC, so I'll (try to) keep it brief - it starts through a mountain valley with streams, waterfalls, and volcanic rocks and tracks uphill to a massive crater with a lake. From there, you can choose to continue or add on a 3hr side trip up to the summit of Mt. Ngaurohoe. We elected for the side trip and started the straight vertical climb up the mountain face to the top. This was the hardest hike I've ever attempted - up a lava flow - think of hiking up a steep mountain of sand and loose rock - and about 2/3 of the way up, with our legs burning and the winds blasting, we decided to return to the crossing so we wouldn't be too tired/miserable to finish. We walked through the crater up to another ridge where we were greeted by a red volcanic cliff.





We kept on and finally reached the end of what was open on the crossing: the emerald lakes. They are bright turquoise lakes that dot the inside of the crater. There is also a massive blue lake in the distance, Mt. Doom behind, and mysterious, primordial-looking volcanic mud fields below. To add to all of this, behind the lakes on the horizon you could see the steam bellowing up from the still-venting Te Maori crater - little bonus for the travelers who did not cancel their trip. It really felt other-worldly, like a distant planet, or the moon, and I've never seen any scenery on earth quite like it.


We completed the round trip exhausted, sore, and hungry after about 7hrs and 30min and returned back to town. I imagine we will be very sore in all types of place tomorrow. Fortunately, tomorrow is a "chill" day. We leave the North Island for good, and fly to the South Island where we will spend the bulk of our trip. We'll start in wine country .

permalink written by  bhkann on December 4, 2012 from Tongariro National Park, New Zealand
from the travel blog: New Zealand, 2012
tagged TongariroAlpineCrossing

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