Friday, November 14, 2014

Climbing a volcano : the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

On November the 8th I did the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with my partner and two friends, it was a beautiful day and the mountains looked amazing with a fresh topping of snow!

Tongariro is actually a complex of multiple volcanic cones that was constructed over a period of 275,000 years, the active vents include Te Māri, Emerald Lakes, North Crater and Red Crater. Erosion during the last Ice Age has worn away what was once a large mountain into the amazing hiking destination that it is today. The crossing is 19.4km long and is often called one of the worlds best day walks, the down side of this 'best' status is that the walk is very popular and hundreds of people complete it daily.

The beginning!
We started out at 8:30am with the shuttle dropping us off at Mangatepopo car park, the first hour or so is a nice, mostly flat walk where you can enjoy the scenery.

South Crater
After lulling us into a false sense of security the trail took us to the second stage, the aptly named 'Devils Staircase'.  This is where you climb over 300m up across old lava flows, from eruptions in 1870, and other volcanic deposits (pyroclastic flows in 1975).

This was my least favorite part of the walk, and why there are no photos, however the view from this was impressive and we could even see Mt Taranaki in the distance.  The snow started to come into play on this section, with lots of portions of the track very slippery and covered in snow, I was very grateful for my hiking pole!

We then had a nice flat stroll in the snow across South Crater (which is actually a basin not an actual crater) toward our next climb up to Red Crater, this section had lots of snow and even a chain to clamber up!

On the edge of Red Crater looking towards Ngauruhoe 
The view from Red Crater rim is amazing, although there was lots of snow you could still see where it gets its name from. The red colour is caused by the oxidation of iron in the rock. 

It was then onto (my second least favorite part) the steep scree path down to the Emerald Lakes.

The Emerald Lakes

The Emerald Lakes are actually explosion craters filled with water, they get their neat colouring from minerals that have leached from the thermal area around them.

Beautiful Blue Lake

After walking across central crater (another faker, it's not a true volcanic crater) the next stop was Blue lake, it is an old lava vent and also gets its colour from the minerals that have dissolved into it.

Central Crater

In 2012 we had 2 eruptions in Tongariro, the first activity there since 1897. The volcano is still in a state of unrest and you can see steam and gas plumes from the Te Maari craters most days. 

Looking down to Lake Rotoaira and Lake Taupo in the distance

Te Maari steaming away

The track runs parallel to the craters so you get a great view of the activity on your way down, as well as amazing views across to Lake Taupo.

An impact crater from the Te Maari eruption in 2012

Flying rocks from the 2012 eruption damaged tracks and the Ketetahi hut. You can also see a few impact craters caused by these flying rocks on the way down, they show just how destructive these rocks can be.

The end of the crossing was a long gradual descent, with lots of steps, to the Ketetahi carpark and our awaiting shuttle!

It was an amazing 7.5 hours and I definitely recommend adding it to your 'cool things to do in NZ' list.

My Crossing Recommendations:
*Proper hiking boots. The trail can be rough and in our case, snowy!
*Layer your clothing, merino is good for warm and cool temperatures
*Hiking pole(s) are good, especially if you are as uncoordinated as myself.
*Sunscreen (don't forget your hands, i did learn that the hard way!)
*Pack for the changeable weather, don't get caught out!
*Take plenty of food and water.
*Knees - the 1200m decent is mostly steps, if you have knee issues think twice or take strapping/braces etc! The long hike out is very painful with a sore knee.
*And remember you are walking on an active volcano, pay close attention to the information warning signs

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