Established in 1887, Tangariro National Park was New Zealand’s first national park. It is also one of the most active volcanic areas in the world, the last eruption dating back no later than 1996! Mount Ruapehu, the highest of the three volcanoes of the area with 2.797 meters, is the most active one. But Mount Tongariro, 1.967 meters and Mount Ngauruhoe, the youngest one, 2.287 meters, are also still active.
The Tongariro Northern Circuit, a three days walk, is classified as one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Many ambitious hikers choose this option. Nevertheless, we opted for the 6 to 8 hour Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a hike passing between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe.
If you may wonder what is so great about tramping through an area full of volcanic stones, come and see! The display of colours at Red Crater is mind-boggling, very much like the bizarre rock formations. Add swift moving waves of steam coming from vents in the ground and the strong odour of sulphur and you have the cocktail that makes that area so popular with visitors… On top of that, there are the lakes, their bright blue or emerald colours providing a sharp contrast to the immediate environment.
Equally fascinating is that you pass through various vegetation zones, from none at higher altitudes to Alpine scrubs and finally, after leaving Ketetahi Hut, through dense Podopcarp forest, some kind of temperate rain forest.
As always, New Zealand’ Department Of Conservation makes sure that the trail is superbly maintained and well-marked. It was also the most crowded hike we have ever done, since it was on a weekend and a gorgeous autumn day with nothing but blue skies. Sometimes, if the climb was bit tricky, you would need to wait for the “traffic jam” to dissolve in order to move further on.
Nevertheless, this hike was also one of the most extraordinary we have ever done. Lord of the Rings addicts may find it interesting to learn that this was there that all the scenes in the Land of Mordor were filmed, with Mount Ngauruhoe being Mount Doom.