Colors and Craters in Tongariro National Park

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mount Ngauruhoe, aka Mount Doom.

Kate and I continued our travels further south on the North Island and stopped in Tongariro National Park for two days. Tongariro, established in 1887, is New Zealand’s oldest national park and was the world’s fourth national park. The park encompasses the high volcanic plateau of the North Island and contains 3 out of 4 of the North Island’s tallest peaks: Mount Ruapehu (2,797 meters), Mount Ngauruhoe (2,287 meters), and Mount Tongariro (1,978 meters) – all active volcanoes. Due to the sacred status of these peaks for the Maori combined with the parks incredible natural assets, Tongariro has been designated both a cultural and natural World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The road to Ruapehu.

Kate and I took a drive up Mount Ruapehu in the evening to one of it’s alpine villages to get views of the park. Ruapehu is the North Island’s tallest peak and has several ski areas around the mountain. It is also one of the most active volcanoes in the world with major eruptions happening about every 50 years – the last major episode in the mid-1990’s. Ruapehu was also the cause of one of New Zealand’s worst disasters in 1953 when a lahar flowed down the mountain and wiped out a train bridge seconds before an express train arrived, sending 151 people to their deaths.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mount Ngauruhoe from Mount Ruapehu

The next day, Kate and I woke before dawn to hike the famed Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 20 kilometer trek through the volcanic heart of the park.  We had perfect weather for the crossing with crystal clear skies and warm temperatures.  As the sky became light, we were lucky enough to be able to see Mount Taranaki in the far west of the North Island. The first part of the track brought us up the lower slopes of Mount Ngauruhoe, which, for you Lord of the Rings’ dorks, was used as Mount Doom (with a whole lot of CGI, of course) in Peter Jackson’s films.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Dawn view towards Mount Taranaki in the west from the Tongariro Crossing Track.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Crossing the South Crater.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mount Ngauruhoe from South Crater.

Since this is a very active volcanic zone (the last eruption was in 2012), there is a warning system along the trail to notify people of imminent volcanic activity (see photo below).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Volcano traffic light…luckily it was not flashing.

After passing Ngauruhoe, we climbed the Red Crater and began to understand why over 60,000 people a year come here to hike this track. The views and colors were truly surreal – you get a bit of an idea from the photos, but to see it (and smell it) in person is a whole different experience. Seeing the colors of the Emerald Lakes alone is worth the climb.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The view towards the east from the rim of the Red Crater.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Double selfie with pasty white sunblock.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Heading towards the Central Crater with Blue Lake in the distance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The surreal colors of the Emerald Lakes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Kate checking out the clearest of the three Emerald Lakes.

There were steaming vents along the track from the Red Crater onward and when we dropped into the Central Crater we entered the Volcanic Hazard Zone.  Climbing out of the Central Crater, we passed Blue Lake, a massive lake occupying a crater on the flanks of Mount Tongariro. After dropping elevation towards the north we passed huge steaming fumaroles of the Te Maari Crater, the site of the most recent eruptions in 2012.  The area around the vents are part a large exclusion zone on the volcano – areas where public access is forbidden. The 2012 eruption sent debris through the roof of the nearby Ketatahi Hut (no one was injured) and temporarily closed the Tongariro Crossing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Entering the Volcanic Hazard Zone. The last eruption was in 2012….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking back towards Red Crater, Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Blue Lake occupying one of the many craters in Tongariro National Park.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yes, these are active volcanoes…we saw quite a few impact craters from boulders thrown out by recent eruptions of the Te Maari Crater pictured here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The long and winding track down the mountain – Ketatahi hut in the upper left.

This was the major highlight of the trip for Kate and I so far and we would both do it again in a heartbeat. This area is definitely a must visit for anyone traveling in New Zealand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Caution: Skiwi crossing!!!

6 thoughts on “Colors and Craters in Tongariro National Park

    • I think you would be fine Joe. Atop the Red Crater is a bit nerve wrecking since the view plunges down into the active volcanic crater but otherwise the hike would be ok for people who are afraid of heights.

      Like

  1. Thanks for pointing out Mt. Doom to us LOTR dorks Dan! Stunning country. Keep the posts coming… We’re are living vicariously through your adventures. Fondly,
    Karin

    Like

  2. Best photos yet; just amazing. An extra bonus to see your two smiling faces together. You really lucked out with perfect weather, too. This is so much fun “traveling” along with you. Continued safe travels. Love, Janet

    Like

  3. Glad to hear you made it out alive, no virgin sacrifices or fights over rings or other debauchery. Enjoying your photographs immensely. Keep them coming. Enjoy, Enjoy, Enjoy

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s