Last month (in October), several friends and I took on one of New Zealand’s Great Walks; the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and had an epic journey worth bragging about. 😉 We left Tauranga and went to Tongariro National Park in two separate cars. At Ketetahi car park (end point), we left a car there, bundled up in the other car and drove to Mangatepopo car park (preferred start point) to start our Tongariro Alpine Crossing journey. 😉
For your info, there are shuttle services to Mangatepopo in the morning and back from Ketetahi in the afternoon at NZD30-45 per person, single journey. Detailed information on the shuttle timetables can be viewed here.
From Mangatepopo Car Park to Soda Springs (Mangatepopo Valley)
From the Mangatepopo car park (1120 m above sea level), we began our expedition and made our way on the well-marked gravel footpath towards Mangatepopo Valley. There are several signs and notice boards informing visitors about the trek and potential hazards that lie ahead.
The land is fairly flat with little vegetation due to the harsh environment. It was a pretty straightforward and easy trek. The iconic Mount Ngauruhoe, or popularly known as Mount Doom (LOTR) could be seen in the distance. After quite some time, we arrived at the beginning of the famous picturesque wooden boardwalk. From here, the trek climbs up a steady slope through lava fields with different colours of lava flows and several small streams. 😀
Kindly note that all visitors are advised to stay on the footpath/boardwalk at all times to minimise damage on the fragile landscape and vegetation. Also, it is not safe to drink the water from the streams or springs in the area due to high volcanic material content, acidity and/or the risk of giardia (a type of harmful parasite).
Soda Springs – Hiking Up the Steep Devil’s Staircase (Mangatepopo Saddle)
Near the head of the Mangatepopo Valley, there is a short sidetrack that leads to Soda Springs where the water seeps to the surface in a boggy area at the head of the Mangatepopo Stream. Due to the presence of iron oxide, the rocks surrounding the area are golden in colour and yellow buttercups grow abundantly in the area.
At Soda Springs, we took a break and answered nature’s call (visited the toilet) before we carried on with our journey. For your info, the last toilet facilities are located at Soda Springs and there are no further toilet facilities until you reach the Ketetahi Hut. So, please empty your bladder before you progress further or you have to hold it in until you reach the end of the trek. 😛
The next part of the journey took us to the steepest climb of the hike known as the ‘Devil’s Staircase’ (from 1400 m to 1600 m above sea level). And OMG, it was a really difficult and steep climb up the staircase! Some of us including myself had to take several short breaks to catch our breaths and regain our strength from the backbreaking climb as we slowly and steadily made our way up the Mangatepopo Saddle. The spectacular views we enjoyed once we got to the top are well worth the effort.
Soda Springs to the South Crater – Of Snow-Capped Ridges & Steam
Next, we carried on with our journey and made our way through a scenic rugged landscape formed by two previous lava flows from the 1870 volcanic eruptions and two pyroclastic flows in 1975. Mount Ngauruhoe stood majestically several metres away from us and the view was simply amazing!
Fit and experienced hikers may choose to scale the summit of Mount Ngauruhoe (2287 m), but only when there are no strong winds and the visibility is good. Caution is needed when hiking up to Mount Ngauruhoe’s summit because the volcano is steep and the surface is mainly loose rock and stones (scree). In addition, the summit climb is not marked or formed.
After that, we followed the marked poles and easily made our way across the captivating South Crater which is basically a flat basin that may have been glacially carved and filled with sediment from the surrounding snow-capped ridges. To our amazement, the ground was steaming. It was such a surreal experience! 😀
South Crater to the Red Crater
Once we came to the end of the basin/South Crater, we had to hike up the exposed ridge and follow the marked track leading towards the Red Crater. We could smell the pungent stench of sulphur as we excitedly made our way closer to the active volcanic crater.
Loose rocks and soft sand made the trek slightly challenging, but we managed to overcome it and reach the site of the Red Crater (1886 m). For your info, the Red Crater is the highest point on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with impressive views overlooking the Oturere Valley, South crater, Central crater, Emerald Lakes, Blue Lake and beyond. 😀
The Red Crater itself is an impressive sight with a striking colour combination of red, black, brown and yellow due to the oxidation of iron and other minerals found in the rocks. Active fumeroles (steam vents) in and around the Red Crater produce eye-catching bright yellow sulphur deposits and thanks to the thermal warmth of the ground, the top section of the crater rim is often free of snow throughout the seasons.
Up next: Tongariro Alpine Crossing – the Red Crater to Emerald Lakes, the Blue Lake, Ketetahi Hut & Ketetahi car park