A trip around Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom) and Mt Tongariro
08.03.2008 - 10.03.2008 62 °F
As expected Tongariro National Park was breathtaking; being in the presence of three active volcanoes was quite humbling. As we drove into the park we were able to see the glaciated top of Mt. Ruapehu, which had a minor eruption just last September. With the dangers of our intended trek in mind we booked two nights in the Tongariro Northern Circuit huts. Most backpacking tracks in New Zealand are regulated by night and have huts of varying luxury. So for slightly more money we decided to leave our tent in the car and enjoy the world of hut camping. We also decided to catch a shuttle (for the modest price of a dollar per minute per person!) to the base of Mt. Tongariro in hopes that we would have time to climb Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom).
We started the hike surrounded by people attempting the Tongariro Crossing (a way to see the scenery without camping). In a line, that amounted to follow the leader through the national park, we walked through lava fields and to the base of the Devil’s Staircase (we later learned that 1,200 people completed the crossing the day we started out). Though the staircase didn’t seem to get the best of Pat it left me huffing and puffing, humbled once more as people more than twice my age zoomed on up the jagged boulders.
At the top of the staircase (cliff); we reached the base of Mt. Doom. After a few minutes discussion we decided we’d better climb it lest we regret not trying later. An hour and a half later we rewarded by looking into the caldera of a live volcano (no there was no lava) and enjoying the panoramic view. After a few quick pictures it was back down the mountain to finish the three hour hike to our hut.
The hike to the hut took us through a large crater created by eruptions a millennia before and the Emerald lakes. The lakes are colored by sulfur and are the most vivid turquoise, a stark contrast to the craggy volcanic rock that surrounds them.
We reached our hut as sunset was beginning to color the sky, there we found almost all 26 beds were filled. We were lucky enough (though I wasn’t feeling too lucky at the time) to find two beds next to each other on a top bunk with a German couple for bunk mates. The huts are quite interesting because while camping in the United States has a strong focus on solitude and reflection camping in New Zealand is slightly more like moving from one dinner party to the next.
After falling asleep to the voices of fellow campers we awoke early and hit the road. The track to our next hut took us through some exposed ground with strong wind and clouds. Then we were back in a sheltered crater and enjoying the alpine vegetation.
After covering 12 km or so we entered a beech forest (beech trees are one of New Zealand’s dominate plants species). After spending the day exposed to wind and sun the forest was amazing, we found ourselves unexpectedly cut off from all the harshness of the volcanoes. After the forest we reached our hut and spent another similar night nestled next to strangers (friendly strangers though).
The next morning we hiked out, and headed south towards Wellington.
Wellington proved to be a beautiful city. We stayed in a hostel near downtown and enjoyed the sites. We visited the Wellington Zoo (where we saw our first live Kiwi) and the Te Papa museum. Te Papa is New Zealand’s national museum and it was gorgeous –great design and waterfront location, with over 6 levels of exhibits. Other than that we relaxed and explored the nation’s capital.