Mount Tongariro is one of three volcanoes at National Park, North Island, New Zealand. National Park is situated just south of Taupo and opposite the small city of Waiouru, which is known for its barren, often chilly terrain, used by the New Zealand Army as an exercise area for its trainees. The mountains are a beautiful backdrop to an otherwise unpopulated area.
The Tongariro alpine crossing is 18.5 kilometers long and takes approximately 7-8 hours to complete, depending on fitness levels. The walk is not for the faint-hearted or ill equipped: due to the nature of the area, weather changes happen rapidly and unexpectedly. The best time to do the trek is during summer, (December to May) otherwise snow and/or dangerous conditions are more likely.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a Climbing Sensation
Tongariro alpine crossing is alpine in the sense that it traverses the mountain, crater, and lakes with spectacular geological scenery on the way.
The walk to the mountain along Mangatepopo valley from the road is relatively flat along the boardwalk to the foot of the mountain. Old well weathered lava flows and vegetation are the only scenery on the way with the odd glimpse of the mountain in the background till the beginning of the climb up.
Scaling the side of the mountain from the valley is difficult and challenging but the view at the top makes all effort worth it. On a good clear day a view all the way across the valley, Lake Taupo and to the west, Mount Egmont/Taranaki can be seen.
At the top of the valley is the very flat area of south crater bringing some respite to the earlier climb. However, once past the crater another climb takes you to the top of the mountain and then the route plunges straight down the other side, almost sliding down into crater lake. The lake appears out of nowhere, its stunning sulphurous emerald water gleaming in the sun.
From the lake, another traverse goes across the crater then down through the tussock slopes crossing the Ketetahi stream. Steps lead through the bush and finally down to Mangatepopo hut where refreshments can be purchased for the next downward trek, via steps.
The Ideal New Zealand Field Trip
Tongariro national park is an ideal place for a geological mapping field trip. The trek is not so difficult that students would have trouble completing it and as there are three volcanoes in the area, there are many different lava or plume flows to be mapped and calculated.
Although the weather can be unpredictable, the Tongariro alpine crossing is definitely worth doing. The track does get busy during the summer holidays (December to January) with tourist groups and travellers eager to walk over a volcano.
If the alpine crossing doesn’t appeal, there is always the opportunity during New Zealand’s winter to ski on Mount Ruapehu at the Whakapapa or Turoa ski fields, staying at the Chateau for a luxurious night’s sleep.
Information about the Tongariro alpine crossing can be found on various websites and those wishing to do the trek should consult them first.