The Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand is famous for very various reasons. It is considered to be one of the finest one day walks in the world with its really spectacular volcanic scenery, and for many people walking there is equal to wandering in the mystical land of Mordor from the Lord of the Rings. We were there in late July 2012, and we were close to experience the fires of Mordor, I will get back to what I mean.
In our round the world trip, we got to New Zealand in the middle of winter, so we expected to face extra challenges in this trekking. We could not afford hiring a guide or renting the expensive equipment, so after asking some information from locals (the owner of the campsite in Turangi was extremely helpful), we decided to start the track from the end where people normally finish it. Although it is somewhat steeper from there, we were told that it would be easier to turn around if bad weather came or if we had just seen it too risky to follow without special equipment. We knew that it had not been snowing for a couple of weeks, so there was not too much snow in most of track and the weather forecast promised a sunny day, but in the mountains you never know. At the same time we heard many times on the radio that they were talking about a possible eruption soon. We were assured that in that case, they would not let us even close to the track, but we were still a little bit worried about that.
We woke up really early in the morning feeling really nervous and excited about this day that we had been looking forward to so much. There were some white clouds over the mountain, but it was a sunny day just as we hoped. We followed the trail in the forest for a while and then we crossed a colorful bushy area, were yellow, brown and red colors dominated the landscape.
Soon we arrived at an altitude from where we had an amazing look at the majestic Lake Taupo. In the first stop we made in the Ketetahi Hut, we met an English hiker who confirmed that probably we were not going to need crampons and any other special equipment to do the crossing, as there was not much snow on the track.
After this point the vegetation started to disappear, and we found ourselves in an arid desert with a dark brownish color, just as one imagines Mordor. The only difference was that in some parts it was covered with snow, strange scenery for our eyes.
We passed along the Blue Lake and then we arrived in the Central Crater, where beautiful snowy alpine landscape waited for us. By then all the clouds had disappeared and the view of the enormous crater and the surrounding snowy peaks as a background was simply astonishing. Only the zone of the Red Crater was not covered with snow, and behind that, a part of the summit of Mount Ngauruhoe (for Lord of the Rings fans simply Mount Doom) was already visible.
The most difficult part was still waiting for us, as first we crossed the crater covered with thick hard snow to arrive in the zone of the Emerald Likes, which were mostly frozen, and then we started the ascent to the Red Crater.
It took one hour to get up to the Red Crater, and only in some shorter stretches we had to leave the trail to walk around the snow.
When we arrived at the top, the view gave compensation for all the effort made: we had the snowy Central Crater at our back, the Red Crater from which smoke was coming out on our left and Mount Doom was standing in front of us.
Although it was really cold and windy up there, we were really thrilled by the scenery. We walked down on the other side for a while to get closer to Mount Doom, and then we started to walk back.
We met a group of hikers and the guide told us that for years it had been the first time that they could do the crossing without crampons and equipment, we could consider ourselves really lucky. On our way back, our pace was much slower and we stopped so many times taking pictures of this beautiful landscape in a wonderful day.
Well, in the end Mordor was really friendly with us for some reason. The fires what I was talking about at the beginning of the post fortunately came only a few days later. We did the Tongariro Crossing on July 28, and only a week later the Te Māri Craters erupted on August 6 and they closed the trail several days before. We seemingly arrived just in time.