The Tongariro Crossing – Trekking on Volcanoes in New Zealand

View across the central crater on Tongariro crossing, New Zealand

New Zealand is a trekker’s paradise. In the three weeks beforehand, I had already trekked the Milford Track, helihiked on Fox Glacier and trekked part of the Queen Charlotte track in the beautiful Marlborough Sounds – not to mention the many smaller day treks I had done in other parts of the country. My adventurous urges had been fully satisfied – almost. There was one more trekking experience that New Zealand is famous for, trekking on the volcanoes of the North Island.

The Tongariro Crossing is one of the greatest hikes in the world. Although it only takes one day, the scenery is spectacular and the fact that you are walking on a volcano makes it even better. The crossing is 19km over mostly rocky and often steep terrain, and although it’s not the hardest trek to do, you still need to be fairly fit to complete it.

The trek starts off fairly flat, making it an easy start as I walked over the barren landscape. Straight away I had amazing views of the two volcanoes of Mount Tongariro and the classic cone shaped volcano, Mount Ngauruhoe. It was summertime so there was no snow on the alpine peaks, and the temperatures were very pleasant. I soon built up a sweat though as the track began it’s first climb up the mountain, known as the Devil’s Staircase. I was super fit from all of my previous trekking adventures so the climb didn’t really bother me, but I still stopped to rest often just to take in the amazing views.

view on the Tongariro Crossing, New zealand

Looking back to where the track begins


As I climbed I got closer and closer to Mount Ngauruhoe, it’s cone towering over me. I could start to see why they chose this place to film parts of the “Lord of the Rings” here, I felt like I was in Mordor heading towards Mount Doom.

Mount Ngauruhoe on the Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

Mount Ngauruhoe


At the top of the climb the track enters the south Crater of Mount Tongariro, providing a large section of flat track to rest your calf muscles. It felt strange to be walking across a large crater of a volcano, the rocky sides rising up above me and the ever present Mount Ngauruhoe on my right.

the south crater on the Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

Inside the South Crater


At the end of the crater the track begins another climb up an exposed ridge. If the weather is good, you’re feeling fit enough and you have plenty of time, you can take a side trip from here to climb Mount Ngauruhoe. I was happy to look at it from below. I stopped along the ridge for a rest and a snack, where I had more amazing views of the alien landscape.

view on the tongariro crossing, new zealand

View of the volcanic landscape. It seems like another planet (or the land of Mordor)

Mount Ngauruhoe on the Tongariro Crossing, new Zealand

View across the South Crater to Mount Ngauruhoe


Continuing to climb up the rocky ridge, I began to smell the familiar foul odour of sulphur and when I got to the top, I could see the origin of the smell – the Red Crater. Steam was coming out from the red soil and rock in and around the crater, and I now really felt like I was on a volcano. I had to be careful on the edge as the rocky soil was very unstable and it wouldn’t be hard to fall in.

the Red Crater on the Tongariro crossing in New Zealand

Looking into the Red Crater


The Red Crater is the highest point of the Tongariro Crossing and from here the track starts to head down hill, starting with a scree slope. This is where you need to keep your balance and take it very easy. The lose rocks continuously slid from under me and I saw several other people end up on their backsides. From this slope there are amazing views of the Central Crater and the Emerald Lakes below, and as I half walked and half slid my way down the slope I could see the amazing colours of the water.

Emerald lakes on the tongariro crossing, new zealand

Looking down the scree slope to the Emerald Lakes, the Central Crater on the left.


At the bottom I took some time exploring the small heated lakes. The beautiful colours are caused by the minerals that are in the volcanic rocks. Lots of people had stopped here for lunch, but the sulphuric smell from the vents put me off eating.

Emerald lake on Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

One of the Emerald Lakes


From here the track follows along the edge of the Central Crater before climbing up the crater side to the lake above. Blue Lake is much larger than the Emerald Lakes and apparently isn’t heated, but the water is acidic. The lake is sacred to the Maori people, so to avoid being disrespectful I ate my lunch at a distance, looking out over the blue water.

Blue Lake on the Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

Blue Lake


The track then steadily heads down the mountain, mostly going through rocky terrain with alpine tussock grasses growing on it. Every now and then I would pass a volcanic vent or thermal spring that was pouring out steam.

Thermal spring on the Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

Steam from a thermal spring


The final part of the 19km journey goes through beautiful cool rain forest, a dramatic change from the desert type terrain on the mountain above. Walking through the forest I crossed tiny streams while birds chirped in the trees above me, the perfect finish to an amazing trek.

Forest on the Tongrariro Crossing, New Zealand

Trekking through the forest


After arriving back in the town of Turangi, where I was staying during my time in the area, I finished off my day with a relaxing bath in one of the natural thermal springs, a great way to soothe your aching muscles after the day’s trek. I sat and reflected on how amazing the Tongariro Crossing was, it truly is one of the greatest treks in the world.



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