Trekking the Wild side of Tongariro Crossing

One of UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, located in New Zealand’s North Island, Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest National Park, gifted by the Maoris in 1887. In 1993, Tongariro was also recognized as one of the Cultural World Heritage site for its richness in cultural significance and history.

These great piece of wildness boast the grandeur views of 3 mountains or rather 3 active volcanoes: Mt Ruapehu, Mt Tongariro & Mt Ngauruhoe  … over an large area made magnificent and unique by volcanic activities! These 3 young active volcanoes, less than 500,000 years old, form the southern limits of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, part of the renown Pacific Ring of Fire.

[Mt Ngauruhoe, Photo taken by Rodney Thomson]

[Mt Ngauruhoe, Photo taken by Rodney Thomson]

[Mt Ruapehu Dawn, Photo taken by Amella]

[Mt Ruapehu at Dawn, Photo taken by Amella]

[Mt Tongariro, Photo taken by Morgan Rix]

[Mt Tongariro, Photo taken by Morgan Rix]

Of these 3 mountains of Tongariro National Park, the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing takes one in between Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe. Mt Ruapehu is further south from the Crossing (about 9 to 10km) and can be reached more directly via Whakapapa Village instead.


Map_3 Mountains_TongariroPark

[Location of the 3 mountains : Mt Ruapehu, Mt Tongariro & Mt Ngauruhoe, within Tongariro National Park, Courtesy of Google Map]

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, rated as one of the Top 10 Treks in the World, or The Best 1 Day Trek in New Zealand, packs a trekking distance of 19.4km that is likely to take about 6 to 8 hours to complete but with incredible rewarding scenery! Of course, the timing taken excludes side trips that could take an additional 1 – 3 hours depending on how challenging the side trips are, and the trekkers’ fitness.


[Tongariro Alpine Crossing Trekking Route]

There are many key highlights along this trek. However I will let the photos speak for themselves about just how incredible this trek is, and the scenery it presents … that just trying to write how good it is feels kind of limiting 🙂


[The elevation profile for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing Route]

From Mangatepopo Valley to Soda Springs, close to the beginning of the trek from Mangatepopo Carpark on an upward inclination, one can witness the glacial carving that occurred during the last ice age, that is now partially filled by prior lava flows from Mt Ngauruhoe.

Mangatepopo Valley in Spring, taken by Z

[Mangatepopo Valley taken in Spring by Z]

Soda Springs1 taken by Alan Cressler

[Soda Springs taken by Alan Cressler]

A side trip from Mangatepopo Valley will bring one to Soda Springs, with rocks colored golden by iron oxide content from prior volcanic ashes. Together with dissolved gas within the water creating some sort of effervescence, hence it’s first name “Soda”.

Moving on from Soda Springs along the trail, one would arrive after trekking steadily inclining attitude to the South Crater. This crater is actually a basin that may have been glacially carved, and has since been filled with sediment from the surrounding ridges.

South Crater_taken by Al Pewsey

[South Crater View, taken by Al Pewsy]

A side trip could be made from here to the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe for the fit. Though bearing in mind that there is no marked trek here upwards, only loose stones and screes. And for fans of Lord of the Ring (LOTR), you might want to know that Mt Ngauruhoe is actually the stand-in for Mount Doom, the one volcano in Mordor of the fictional movie of LOTR. There were also various scenes taken from the slopes of Mt Ruapehu since the filming on the mountain itself is considered disrespectful to this sacred land of the Maori and therefore not allowed.

Looking into Ngauruhoe's Crater from the Summit_Aymeric Colon

[A crater view of Mt Ngauruhoe from the summit, taken by Aymeric Colon]

Crossing the South Crater, one could reach the Red Crater via a ridge linkage. Smell of Sulphur presence is strong here, indicating the presence of active volcanic activity. And the reddish color of these area is due to high temperature oxidation of iron. Looking at the photo below, one would observe a weird looking fissure, known as a ‘dike’. This feature was formed as molten magma moved to the surface through a vertical channel in the crater wall. Having solidified at its outer surface, the dike was later left partially hollow when the magma drained from below. Being more resistant than the surrounding scoria, erosion by wind and rain has now left this structure exposed.

Red Crater_taken by Julien Vidal

[Red Crater, photo taken by Julien Vidal]

A side trip could be made from here to climb Mt Tongariro. Interesting volcanic rock formations, and fantastic views of the neighbouring mountains (Mt Ruapehu) and landscape can be seen at the summit.

Mt Tongariro_Michael JD

[The ridge connecting to Mount Tongariro, photo taken by Michael JD]

The summit of Red Crater is the highest point in the entire Crossing (excluding the side trips up the mountains). From here to the Emerald Lakes, the trek descends steeply, giving ample bird’s-eye-view of the Emerald Lakes .

Emerald Lakes_Declan Kielty

[Emerald Lakes, Photo taken by Declan Kielty]

Another Perspective of the Emerald Lakes, taken by Kenneth Muir

[Another Perspective of the Emerald Lakes, taken by Kenneth Muir]

From the Emerald Lakes, 2 routes can be taken. North following the Alpine Crossing route towards the Blue Lake, or South-East via the Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk around the back of Mount Ngauruhoe towards the Oturere Hut. The Northern Circuit Great Walk is a rather long walk even from Emerald Lakes. It could take ~10hrs from Emerald Lakes to Wakapapa Village, and another 3hrs from Wakapapa Village back to the starting point of Mangatepopo Carpark.

Let me cover the picturesque scenery from Emerald Lakes along the Alpine Crossing first  😉 This route will take one via the Centre Crater to the cooled lava lake called the Blue Lake that is sacred to the Maori (no eating of food or swimming in the lake).

Blue Lake_Sven vB

[Blue Lake, photo taken by Sven vB]

However, do bear in mind that this section of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is considered an active volcanic zone, and trekkers here will do well to observe for volcanic warning signs and keep their stops in this segment to the minimal. This area is also near the Te Maari craters that were formed during the 2012 eruption. One is not likely to see the photo taken below by foot due to a very real active volcanic danger. The only way to see these craters is from the air.

Te Maari Craters_Aerial View taken by Rodney Allen

[Te Maari Craters, Aerial View taken by Rodney Allen]

The active volcanic hazard zone ends once one has reached somewhere close to the Ketetahi Springs. But one is not likely to be able to access this spring as it is on private land, except to see it from afar. This more or less marks the end of this trek with the trail following along Mangatetipua Stream before reaching Ketetahi Car Park.

Ketetahi Hot Springs_Z

[Photo taken by Z of the Ketetahi Spring from afar]

Alternatively, if one had taken the Northern Circuit Route from Emerald Lakes via the Oturere Valley, one will observe the track weaving through an endless variety of unusual jagged lava forms from early eruptions from the Red Crater.

Oturere Valley_Janette Asche

[Oturere Valley, photo taken by Janette Asche]

Passing the Oturere Hut, the track will eventually descend into a valley, crossing Waihohonu Stream before reaching Waihohonu Hut in the next valley. From Wahihohonu Hut, a side trip to the Upper Tama Lake could be taken after reaching the Lower Tama Lake.

Waihohonu Steam_Z

[Waihohonu Steam, photo by Z]

Upper Tama Lake_Sefton Powrie

[Panaromic View of the Upper Tama Lake, by Sefton Powrie]

The Northern Circuit ends at Whakapapa Village where one is likely to be able to see the Taranaki Falls by taking the turn at the Tarankai Junction.

Hope these wonderful photos taken by many others that had taken these treks before us, inspires more to explore the natural beauties that one could find at Tongariro National Park. Till the next time I write again ….  😀

Taranaki Falls_Oliver Wehrli

[Taranaki Falls, taken by Oliver Wehrli]


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  • Thanks for posting those beautiful pictures. The blue lake is almost too stunning to be real; it looks like a CGI lake in a science fiction movie or something. I can’t wait to see it with my own eyes.

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