Want to take a hike that takes you through the heart of “Mordor”, passing by “Mount Doom”? To really immerse yourself in Mordor and feel the eerie barren landscape, hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand is best way to do so.
The landscapes of Mordor and Mount Doom was filmed right in the World Heritage Tongariro National Park and it’s known as World’s Best One-Day Hike. Not only that, as a big fan of Lord of the Rings Trilogy films, I made it a dedicated trip to ensure I checked this off my bucket list!
And no, it’s not called ‘Mount Doom’ in real life. It’s actually called Mount Ngauruhoe. It was digitally digitally altered to appear as Mount Doom in the movies.
My travel buddy, Ryan, and I went with Tongariro Expeditions, and we couldn’t express how much we’re thankful for Destination Great Lake Taupo for arranging and hosting us in this expedition on a complimentary basis.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
In this hike, it’s important that you wear a gear suited for hiking, especially, a decent pair of hiking shoes because it won’t be an easy hike. Not only that, it’ll be like experiencing all four seasons in one day in this hike, so be sure to wear warm too. However, you’re lucky that there is a list of Tongariro Alpine Crossing Must Haves created by the official organization. Refer yourself to the page if you want to make sure you wear properly for the entire hike.
Anyways, Ryan and I were instructed to meet Tongariro Expeditions at Ketetahi Car Park where they would transport us in a van to the Mangatepopo Car Park where we get to begin our 19.4km track that climbs up to the peak of Mount Tongariro.
Oh, did I mention that it’d take you at least 6-7 hours to complete this track? Yeah, you’ll need to have an early start to your day when you go on this hike. We got up 5am to meet them at 6am for them to take us to the car park for us to begin our trek at 7am.
Mangatepopo Car Park to Soda Springs
After being dropped off with about a crowd of hundreds other hikers, Ryan and I began the trek. Initially it felt less like the vast expanses of Mordor and more like a donkey trail given the stream of hikers in front of and behind us. People, at some times, would stepped aside to get the perfect shot of the beautiful landscape over the mountains. I surely did plenty of times.
As I go through the first hour of walking on a fairly flat, well-formed and board walked in damp areas, I started to notice that Ryan was already falling behind me. That was when I figured that I was a lot more in fit as Ryan hadn’t worked out. Not only that, it’s his first time backpacking, so it was like a huge shock for him to have this kind of work out.
Soda Springs to South Crater
It wasn’t long before I tackled the Devil’s Staircase. This part was when I realized how tough it was, but I managed to climb up the never-ending switchbacks and rocky stairs with several breaks along the way. It’s always important to take as many breaks as you need because you will need it. I promise you.
At this point, Ryan was officially out of my sight. He was so far behind me and I hadn’t seen him in over two hours. I just kept going as I trusted that he would make it through and meet me at the final destination in one piece. I knew he could do it, but he just needed time. He wasn’t fit as well.
South Crater to Red Crater
At the South Crater is where there was a sign pointing to the summit of Mount Ngauruhoe, but the weather wasn’t exactly in my favor, so I didn’t side-track to that point. It was foggy and I was already above the clouds, I didn’t think it would be worth my time checking out the summit. Thus, I continued down the course towards the Red Crater.
This is when the surface will level for a short while, so enjoy the flat while you can because it wouldn’t last forever. This will become quite difficult as you go through another short climb on a steep ridge. It’s really steep, I’m telling you. Not to mention that it will become freezing and there’ll be snow.
I was actually climbing for my life as I held on on the ropes, but I was a bit daredevil because I held on my GoPro on another hand while grabbing the rope as I ascend to Red Crater. I began to cover myself up more and more when I go up. It was very windy also, so that didn’t make things any more convenient on the warmth. You’ll be forced to keep moving to keep yourself warm.
It had been an hour since I left South Crater and I became starving as the snack bar I ate on the way wasn’t too appetizing because it was frozen solid, but I managed to eat it up. That’s when I decided to take my lunch break here.
Red Crater to Blue Lake
When at the top, everything was so foggy for a while. I was kind of disappointed, but that disappointment shortly went away when the fog cleared out. You had no idea how thrilled I was when it cleared out. I was like a kid in a candy store!
I grabbed this photography op before going down as this was the peak. Nothing could beat the beautiful view of enjoy spectacular views out over the Oturere Valley, Rangipo Desert, Kaimanawa Ranges and down towards the Emerald Lakes.
Hey! Not that they were that easily visible due to the fog, but there were times when the fog and clouds cleared out for me to contemplate over the beautiful view out there throughout the entire trek.
The descent from Red Crater demands extra care as loose scoria underfoot can move quickly and easily. Not kidding, you must be extra cautious with every move you make when you go down the alps. It’ll take you about 30 minutes to finish this part.
As I went down, I could smell the sulphur in the steam vents. I looked to my left where there was old lava flow from Red Crater spreading out across the floor of Central Crater, and to my right where there was the Emerald Lakes. — Oh! How can I describe how beautiful the scenery was? It was beyond words.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing track follows around the edge of Central Crater then climbs up to Blue Lake. This acidic lake is sacred, or in their word, “Tapu” and it is disrespectful to eat or drink around its shores, so make sure you avoid taking a snack break around this point at all costs.
Blue Lake to Ketetahi Hut
This part will zigzag you to the Ketetahi Hut for another hour. The hike would be moderately easy. Lucky for you because that’s when you’ll get to drop your jaws at the dramatic and inspiring outlook out over Mount Pihanga and Lake Rotoaira across to Lake Taupo.
Keep in mind that the ground can be boggy and the pumice base is easily eroded, so stay on the track for your own safety.
Ketetahi Hut to Ketetahi Car Park
After taking a short water break at the hut, I continued down the course and watched as the landscape gradually became greener and lusher, until I finally descended into the humid forest where you will pass the Ketetahi Springs and Mangatetipua Stream. There’ll be a sight of a waterfall few minutes before arriving the finish line, Ketetahi Car Park.
It was exhilarating and mind blowing walking through alpine environments that looked like they belonged on another planet. When you start the descent down the mountain you’re greeted with the otherworldly view of the three crater lakes with four seasons in a whole day!
I didn’t forget Ryan… The first thing that Ryan signed to me when he finally arrived at the car park about 30 minutes after I arrived was, “This is the friggin’ hardest hike I’ve ever done in my life, but the best!”
I nodded in agreement and immediately went into his care as he walked in sore to the passenger seat of our rental car. I couldn’t agree more because there wouldn’t be anywhere else we could get the same experience as this. This is truly one of things you must do when you’re in New Zealand!
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Destination Great Lake Taupo
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