Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Story and Photos by TIM ROCK
The sun was setting as I drove along State Highway 47 with the mighty volcanoes of the Tongariro National Park silhouetted against the ever reddening evening sky. As I pulled over to the side of the road for a quick photo opportunity I could just make out the Mangatepopo Saddle and the destination of my next hiking adventure. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is New Zealand’s premier one-day hike and is even recognised as one of the best one day hikes in the world. It has been on my list of things to do for quite some time now and is only one sleep away from being crossed off the list.
On my approach to National Park Village I start to get goosebumps as my excitement builds with tomorrow’s hike drawing ever so closer. As I pull in to Plateau Lodge where I will be basing myself for the next couple of days I can feel a buzz of anticipation with the thought of other likeminded people congregating and discussing their own personal triumphs and adventures.
The lodge is very nice and while I am checking in I also book a seat on their shuttle for the crossing the next morning. Cy, the owner of Plateau Lodge, takes me through the weather forecast for the next day and we check off the gear list to make sure that I have everything that I need. Cy shows me to my room and around the lodge and I settle in for the evening.
I’m out of bed at 6:00am after a fantastic sleep. I take a peek outside to see a beautiful blue sky morning and it’s straight in for a hot shower. After a good solid breakfast I prepare my lunch and snacks, finish packing my day pack and sit down for a chat with a few of the other early bird hikers.
My plan is to hike to the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe as well, so the early start will allow me a bit more time. Others are starting earlier just to beat the crowds and to give themselves plenty of time to take it slowly. Just before 7am I head outside bursting with excitement and see the shuttle waiting there, quickly filling up with happy hikers. The driver ticks me off the list and I climb in finding a seat at the back. The doors close and we’re off; twenty five mins away from the start of my next adventure.
Within seconds of pulling out of Plateau Lodge the two mighty volcanoes, Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe, appear in the distant morning sky. Spectacular! Even the drive to the start of the Crossing track is beautiful as we pass by the dominating Mt Ruapehu, and the flat sparse lowlands of the Tongariro National Park. In no time we are making our way up the dusty gravel Mangatepopo Rd taking in everything that we need for the day as safety and information messages play through the shuttle’s sound system. Just before 7:30am we reach the point where driving ends and hiking begins.
I feel a smile beginning to engulf my face as the driver gives us all a few final messages and sends us on our way. As I jump out of the shuttle the cool mountain air hits me and I suck a deep breath full into my lungs. I take a look up high to today’s destination and I’m off. I start out pretty quickly to ensure that I have time to make the Mt Ngauruhoe summit and before long find that I am away from the rest of the group who left with me. The first hour of the track through the Mangatepopo Valley and up to the Soda Springs is fairly easy going and is a nice warm-up for the climb ahead. The landscape so far has been quite diverse with rugged volcanic debris left behind from ancient lava flows dominating the higher areas of the Mangatepopo Valley. As I step over a crystal clear mountain stream I realize how quickly the surroundings have changed from vegetated grassy and low shrub areas to sparse nothingness.
I reach the Soda Springs in good time and take a moment to catch my breath and have a quick snack. As I’m sucking back some much needed fluids I scan my harsh surroundings and peer up at the formidable climb ahead. The Mangatepopo Saddle, AKA The Devil’s Staircase! A quick stretch and I’m off again. There seems to be nobody in front of me as I begin my climb and I’m glad that I decided to take the early shuttle. The rocks under foot are loose and rugged and there is an obvious trail formed by the many equally excited hikers who have passed here before me. As the climb becomes a little steeper I take an opportunity to have a quick sip on my water and look back over the beautiful vista of the Mangatepopo Valley.
The views are incredible and I can see a steady stream of hikers working their way along the lower track. Glancing to my right I notice that there seems to be a new trail under construction, zig-zagging its way up the mountain side. I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to hike the old trail, soon to become a part of Tongariro Alpine Crossing history. As I approach the top of the Devil’s Staircase, my heart pumping and sweat dripping, I sight my next daunting challenge: Mt Ngauruhoe stands proud and strong at 2287m above sea level. I quickly move off the main track and over to the base of this perfect cone-shaped volcano where I stand in awe of its magnificence.
The shuttle driver had warmed me of the difficulties of scaling this scree volcano and
suggested the easiest route which I eyed in