The Tongariro Crossing: Hiking to Mount Doom
I set off for Mount Doom at 8.30 am from Clyde, a small town in Central Otago, New Zealand. My companions were Steve, son of Lloyd, and Princess Gia of Manila. Our quest was to get to the Tongariro Crossing and find Mount Doom (and capture it in a great photo) – the fate of the travel writing world depended on it.
We bid farewell to Steve (AKA my father) in Dunedin and after travelling in two cars, a plane and two buses, we finally arrived in Taupo for a quick night’s sleep before the final push to Mount Doom.
Hiking the Tongariro Crossing
After a short van ride we arrived at the entrance to the Tongariro Crossing (officially known as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing), considered one of the best day walks in the world. A white peak loomed in the distance, but this walk would be more about fire than ice. The ground was lifeless; this area has seen plenty of hard times over the years and eruptions continue to violently shape the landscape (the last major eruption was only a couple of years ago). It’s no wonder Peter Jackson chose one of the towering peaks, Mount Ngauruhoe, to represent Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies (after some digital enhancement of course).
Princess Gia of Manila was growing tired from carrying her heavy bag. Princesses don’t usually carry their own bags so after a while I took it and pushed on up Devil’s Staircase, determined not to let the lovely princess slow me down. This journey, which started in Clyde, had already taken twice as long as it took little Frodo – he did it in around 10 hours and that was with a lot of time wasting at the start of the first movie and the end of the last. After a couple of hours we finally caught a glimpse of the mighty Mount Doom. It’s a hulking, angry looking mountain – its red face a reminder of its fiery temper. It was surrounded by post apocalyptic fields of black, brown and grey – the only sign of life being the small green bushes that surprisingly thrive in these conditions. Our mission was complete. We had reached Mount Doom and managed to get some pretty good photos. Princess Gia was relieved (and happier after ditching the bag) and balance had again been restored to the world.
The Emerald Lakes
Just like the last Lord of the Rings movie, my story doesn’t end at Mt Doom. That movie took an age to end, due to the fact that everyone had to say goodbye to each other, but my version is much more exciting. As if seeing one of the world’s coolest volcanoes isn’t enough, the Tongariro Crossing track continues past a red crater (which apparently isn’t even a crater, but I can confirm it is red) and then on to some more amazing natural wonders – the Emerald Lakes. I’ve seen colourful volcanic lakes in Indonesia and these ones are definitely as mind blowing. Not only are the lakes filled with crazy colours but the scenery that surrounds them makes for some of the more spectacular views I’ve ever seen. We sat on some rocks above the first Lake and ate our packed lunch, which consisted of squashed sandwiches and Toffee Pops (a kind of chocolate biscuit in NZ – try one if you ever get the chance). The weather was starting to close in but perhaps sensing how far we’d come on this journey, the weather gods halted the rain.
We passed Blue lake and started heading down the other side of the crossing, but due to our slow pace we were in serious danger of missing our 4 pm van ride back to Taupo. We had joined up with a tour guide earlier in the day (more about that later) so we could have hitched a ride back with her, but we wanted to get back to Taupo as early as possible as we were almost starting to fall asleep. What’s the best cure for tiredness? Run the last 4 or 5 km of a 19 km trek – it worked for us. We made it back to the van with about 10 minutes to spare – our long journey was finally complete.
Organising a Tongariro Crossing Shuttle
You’ll need to organise transport to and from the Tongariro Crossing unless you want to drive and backtrack to your car. We got in touch with Paul from Adventure HQ, after research revealed this is the cheapest and easiest way to do the Tongariro Crossing from Taupo. We got picked up from our hotel at around 6 am and dropped off at around 5 pm, the service costs $55 per person and is great value considering there are no park fees for the walk itself. We were invited to join a guide who was walking with an American couple but it’s not really necessary, as the walk is easy to do on your own. I wouldn’t normally have hired a guide but I was half asleep and kind of went along with it. We walked at our own pace for most of the day and caught up with the group for breaks where the guide, Ngahuia, told us of local Maori legends as well as the more contemporary history of the area; she also took us to some spots that are off limits to the average tourist. If you’re looking for a more in-depth insight into the area (and Maori culture in general) I’d definitely recommend her (well, I would if her website still worked) but the cost puts it well out of range for the average backpacker.
I received complimentary round trip transport from Adventure HQ. Paul is a really friendly guy and if you’re looking to do the walk from Taupo definitely get in touch with him. As usual, I wouldn’t recommend something that didn’t deserve it.
Have you done the Tongariro Alpine Crossing day walk? What gets your vote as the best day walk in the world? Let me know!