At the Red Crater, we took a break, had our lunch and enjoyed the extraordinary view before us. After all, where else on earth can we see an active volcano, steaming fumaroles, emerald-blue lakes and snow-capped craters all in one place, but at the Tongariro Alpine Crossing? 😉
By now, we were halfway through the Tongariro Alpine Crossing trek. The next leg of the crossing, we will be trekking through the precarious Volcanic Hazard Zone before we end our journey at Ketetahi car park.
The Red Crater to Emerald Lakes
Once we had nourished our body, mind and soul, we began a slow but steady, steep descent on the loose rock (scree) crater slope towards the Emerald Lakes and Central Crater. It was the part I dread the most because I am slightly terrified of heights and I was concerned that I might slip and fall into the acidic lake below. 😛
Jenny, Eri and YJ effortlessly slithered down the slope, making it look easy, but trust me, it was anything but easy! Angel and Stefanie held my hands and patiently accompanied me down the slope – taking one step at a time until we finally reach flat ground. I could not thank them enough for helping me overcome the obstacle.
Next, the track passes by the scenic acidic (pH 3-5) Emerald Lakes where we took some photos for memories. The lakes got its emerald-green colour from the minerals that seeped from the surrounding rocks. For your info, the water from the Emerald Lakes is undrinkable. Despite being surrounded by fumaroles, the lakes are cold and freeze over in winter.
Emerald Lakes to the ‘Tapu’ Blue Lake
Once we passed the Emerald Lakes, we found ourselves crossing a stunning snow and ice-covered terrain known as the Central Crater. It was a surreal sight indeed! I did not expect to see snow or ice on my Tongariro Alpine Crossing, but I did! To be honest, it was both a pleasant and unpleasant surprise.
It was pleasant because it was my first time seeing so much snow and I had a fun time playing in the snow; building a tiny snow man while at it. 😀 On the other hand, it was an unpleasant because I was not well dressed for snowy/icy conditions. The first 15-minute of snow time was enjoyable and the rest was pretty much a torture.
It was not easy to walk on wet snow and slippery ice without crampons, an ice axe and snow gaiters. I slipped and fell numerous times. It was tiring to constantly watch my steps and keep my balance on the hazardous and slippery track. Also, wet clothing and cold conditions is an awful combination – do take note of that. 🙁
The moral of the story is you should pack proper snow gear for your Tongariro Alpine Crossing especially if you are going in winter or when snow/ice is expected. For our safety, we followed the marked poles on the track and made our way out of the Central Crater towards the Blue Lake.
‘Tapu’ Blue Lake to Ketetahi Hut/Shelter
Our short climb out of the Central Crater was anything, but easy. The snow and layer of ice actually made the track slippery and dangerous in certain areas. Thankfully, we made it safely to the ‘tapu’ or sacred Blue Lake. The Blue Lake looks stunning! This freshwater, acidic lake (pH 5) is up to 16 metres deep.
For your info, the Blue Lake is ‘tapu’ or sacred. Therefore, visitors are not allowed to swim or eat around the Blue Lake. After that, we made our way into the Volcanic Hazard Zone area. There is a signboard notifying visitors that if they are uncomfortable with the risk, they should turn back before they journey into the Active Volcanic Hazard Zone.
All of us took the risk and entered the Volcanic Hazard Zone at our own risk knowing that should an eruption happens, we may be in danger from eruption hazards such as flying rocks, fast moving burning clouds (pyroclastic flow), lahars (flash floods), falling ash and poisonous volcanic gases, and we know just what to do in case an eruption happens.
Ketetahi Hut to Ketetahi Car Park
On this section of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, we saw the steaming vents of the Te Maari Craters, several impact craters near the track and the slightly damaged Ketetahi Hut from the recent 2012 eruptions. Also, certain areas of the track were covered in snow and we had to carefully make our way across without slipping and falling off the slope.
At Ketetahi Hut or Ketetahi Shelter, we took another short break before continuing our journey down to Ketetahi car park. The views at Ketetahi Hut were breathtaking! We were treated to spectacular views overlooking Mount Pihanga and Lake Rotoaira across to Lake Taupo. For your info, toilet facilities are available at Ketetahi Hut.
The final part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing took us through golden tussock-covered slopes and surprisingly, through a lush native forest too. Wooden steps made the trek easy and the tree line marks the end of the Volcanic Hazard Zone. We felt relieved to have made it in and out of the Volcanic Hazard Zone and onto Ketetahi car park safely. 😀
In a Nutshell
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the most challenging, but worthwhile Great Walks I have ever experienced in New Zealand. In just a day, I trekked through various breathtakingly beautiful volcanic terrains and landscapes uniquely New Zealand and I would not hesitate to do it all over again. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is definitely a ‘must-do’ activity when in New Zealand. 😉