a semester abroad in New Zealand

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

A lot of people asked me questions like “What was the best thing you did so far in New Zealand?” or “Which place did you like the most on the North/South Island?”. I never had an answer, everything was cool. I could just name one or two places that were a little disappointing, but everything else was really nice. Now I got an answer: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing :)

That’s why I’m going to write about it now, although it doesn’t fit in the chronological order of this blog (the last post was about events in August).

So a few days ago I did the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is a 20 km alpine track and is supposed to be one of the best one-day-hikes in New Zealand. Luckily there are bus services to drop you off at the beginning and pick you up at the end of the trail, so you don’t have to walk the whole way back :P

Technically I did the walk alone, since there was nobody coming with me… but so many other people were doing the walk that I was never alone and it was almost impossible to lose the track because of all the people :P

I was picked up in Taupo at 5:40am and slept most of the 1,5h bus-ride, since I got no more than 5h of sleep that night. Due to some delays we arrived at the beginning of the track around 7:45… the drop-off was at around 1000m height and it was pretty foggy… and freezing cold. I don’t know if it really was cold or if I just felt cold because of the lack of sleep. Anyway… I started of with long pants and all the layers of clothing (up to my rain jacket) I brought.

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Not long after the track started ascending I removed layer after layer and decided that it was time to put on sunscreen (which was one of the essential things to bring on the trip). There wasn’t much sun on the first part though, which ended at the Soda Springs (last picture) at 1200m.

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Inspired by the photos of my former roommate in Germany I tried to shoot some panoramas as well:

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After the Soda Springs the trail got a lot steeper and a sign indicated that the alpine part begins, also giving a lot of warnings when not to continue the hike and what essential things to bring (basically sunscreen, water, all-weather clothing and no heart conditions). To make the fast ascent even more fun it was bright sunshine now. After five minutes walking/climbing I had to stop to put on my short pants (and apply more sunscreen). The track stopped ascending for a while when I reached the South Crater at around 1550m. The following pictures give impressions of the track between Soda Springs and South Crater and if you imagine it would be darker and there were no track markers (yeah, it is time for the first LotR reference) you can easily see Frodo and Sam walking/crawling up this way to Mount Doom.

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A short flat part followed ending at the South Crater… also giving a nice view of Mt Ngauruhoe, which was used as *drum roll* Mount Doom in the LotR movies.

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It is also possible to climb Mount Doom, but I didn’t attempt to. It would have been really cool to climb Mount Doom (and that is why people do it), but I have been told it is just a pain in the ass because you have to climb on mostly loose scree and gravel. The sign said 2,5h return, but a guy I met in the bus later told me it took him 4h Oo. Since I though I was short in time anyway (I stopped a lot for photos, food and sunscreen ^^) I decided to climb Mount Tongariro later instead (you can only do one of the two, otherwise you miss your return bus), which takes less time but provides a similar spectacular view.

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These pictures show the South Crater and an overview of the flat part, looking back at where I came from (partial view of Mount Doom in the left part).

The side-track to Mount Tongariro was about 1,5h return and offered a spectacular view at almost 2000m.

The track along the mountain ridge leading to Mount Tongariro summit and Mount Doom (viewed from the summit).

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Other views from Mount Tongariro summit:

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And another panorama:

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This is roughly the track I came (about 500m difference in altitude between the flat part and the summit). The green part marks the continuation of the main track after the Mount Tongariro side-track.

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Here is another panorama from the way back to the main track:

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And again with a line indicating my walkway. The summit (now covered in clouds) in the right part. The red line shows the last part of the way back from Mount Tongariro and the continuing main track. The X marks the highest point of the main track (giving a view to the red crater).

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Red crater and highest point of the main track (a good 1800m I guess):

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The way down from the highest point goes along the Emerald Lakes. The track mainly consists of gravel and is kind of steep, but is a lot of fun to get down, at least if you know how. Luckily my father showed me many years ago in the European alps how to do this. By half running half walking downhill while pushing your heels in the gravel you get down pretty fast. I did get a lot of gravel and dirt in my shoes though :P

Here are impressions from the way down:

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And here is a view from the bottom:

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A few impressions from the following flat part, including views back on the red crater:

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The blue lake and an old lava flow from the red crater:

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And one last panorama showing the red crater and the lava flow:

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Although the hardest part was done at this point, 10km (mostly downhill) were in front of me. There is not much do tell about that… it was mostly easy walking and I had enough energy left to get down in about 2h, including stops for food and photos. I even caught myself quickly running and jumping down the track like a kid with to much energy… it was good fun :D

It was also cool to see how the vegetation changed during the descent from 1600m to 600m. Starting off with some brown grass, green grass, bushes getting bigger and bigger and finally native New Zealand forest (at least I think it was) after passing the tree line. The last 30 min before reaching the pick-up point the track went along a nice stream. Sadly I stopped taking pictures about an hour before the end, because I was tired of getting the camera out of the backpack every time… so no pictures of the bigger bushes and the forest.

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I reached the car park at 4pm and had to wait half an hour for the pick-up bus :P

The overall result of the trip: 8 hours, about 24km walking distance (my mobile phone tracked almost 30, but that can’t be right), 1000m of elevation gain, 2,25 litres of water, 5 sandwiches and some muesli bars (I thought I got way to much water and food, but I used all I brought) and almost 400 pictures. Also a lot of sunscreen, since I was exposed to the bright sun above the clouds half of the time… didn’t get a sunburn though :)

This was definitely the best thing I have done so far in New Zealand and I strongly recommend the Tongariro Alpine Crossing to everyone who gets the chance :) Good weather required to enjoy the views though ^^

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