I awoke from my slumber in Taupo to a chilly, cloudy, rainy morning. As I peered out the hostel window, I could barely see across the lake to the volcanoes I was hoping to climb.
The Tongariro National Park is a World Heritage site, and home to New Zealand's #1 day hike (tramp) – The Tongariro Crossing. It's an 11-mile (18km) hike between two active volcanoes, one of them being the infamous Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings fame (actual name = Mt Ngauruhoe).
I knew I could do the hike, however the numbers were a bit imposing. 11 miles up the side of a volcano, topping out at 5,700 vertical feet, which was far higher than I'd been before. The average time for the hike was 6-7 hours. I packed 2 liters of water, nuts, plenty of chocolate (for fast energy), granola bars, jerky, and a fresh chicken satay sandwich.
I rented a fleece, wool mittens, and a hat for $5 NZD. I also wore my windbreaker (for rain), pants, Smart Wool socks, and hiking boots (though others were just fine in sneakers and shorts).
The weather remained overcast most of the hike, and only started to clear once we had reached the back side of the crossing. My favorite part was walking along a ridge line between two craters, watching the clouds whip up one side and flow over to the other.
While we missed out on what are some fantastic views of the countryside, it was hard to deny the ambiance created by the mist and clouds as we crossed volcanic terrain and craters. I completed the crossing in 5.5 hours, mostly while getting to know Karen from England. Afterward, I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment, and while my legs were sore for a few days, it was worth it.
For those who were ambitious, an 8am start would allow time for the 3-hour return trip to the summit of Mt. Doom, though we ran into two guys who had done it and said they couldn't see a thing, and it was quite hard to scramble up the volcanic scree to the crater. I have a good feeling about bagging a summit or two at some point further along in my trip!
Bonus Video: Atop Tongariro Crossing