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Tongariro National Park, New Zealand: Walks and Wonders

submitted on 21 September 2023 by

The Three Volcanoes and a National Park

As I stood in the midst of the majestic Tongariro National Park, I pondered the cosmic significance of a land so geologically volatile, yet so astonishingly beautiful. The juxtaposition, if you will, of fire and ice, of jagged volcanic peaks and sweeping alpine meadows, does indeed make one's heart sing a melodious tune.

I found myself in the company of the three fabled volcanoes that make up the backbone of this otherworldly landscape: Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Ruapehu. They stand stoically, the very essence of nature's grandeur and a testament to the power of the earth's molten core. Perhaps they are the embodiments of ancient gods, still smoldering with rage, or perhaps simply the result of millennia of geological processes. I digress.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing: A Journey Through Middle-earth

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is what folks tend to rave about when they rave about Tongariro. And rave they should, for this 19.4-kilometer trek is nothing short of an odyssey through Middle-earth itself. In fact, the sulfurous landscape of the park was the backdrop of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so one might say that one does not simply walk into Tongariro... but one does walk through it with great aplomb.

The trail begins in the Mangatepopo Valley, a gentle introduction to the grand spectacle that awaits. One traverses alpine meadows, ancient lava flows, and the vibrant hues of the Emerald Lakes, before ascending to the magnificent Red Crater. The climb is steep, treacherous, and exhilarating; the summit, a panorama of breathtaking majesty.

The descent leads you through the Central Crater and past the Blue Lake, before zigzagging down the slopes of Mount Tongariro, leaving behind the otherworldly realm of geothermal wonders and stepping back into the realm of mere mortals.

Taranaki Falls: The Reruption of Water

Should one seek a more leisurely stroll through the park, the Taranaki Falls Track offers a pleasant jaunt through native forest and peculiar lava formations. The 6-kilometer loop trail leads you to the pièce de résistance: the Taranaki Falls themselves. Plunging an impressive 20 meters over an ancient lava flow, the falls bring forth a sense of awe and humility in the face of nature's relentless power.

I imagine the moments before the falls' creation, when the mountain erupted and the lava rushed forth, carving its path through the landscape. And now, generations later, the water follows the same path, cascading over the very same ledge, a sort of poetic justice for the land that was once subjected to the fiery wrath of the volcano.

Mount Ruapehu: Conquering the Beast

Mount Ruapehu, the largest of the three volcanoes, looms ominously over the park, its presence at once inspiring and terrifying. For those adventurous souls who seek to conquer the beast, there are myriad trails to choose from, ranging from gentle walks to strenuous ascents.

The Crater Lake Track, a personal favorite, begins at the Whakapapa Village and winds its way up the mountain, through alpine meadows, past ancient lava flows, and over precarious ridges. At the summit, one is rewarded with the sight of the vibrant turquoise Crater Lake, a surreal testament to the power of water and ice amidst the barren volcanic landscape.

For those who prefer a less arduous journey, the chairlifts at the Whakapapa Ski Area provide an alternative route to the upper slopes of the mountain, where one can marvel at the geological wonders without breaking a sweat.

Practical Advice for the Intrepid Explorer

  • Weather in the park is notoriously unpredictable, and it is of utmost importance to be prepared for the full spectrum of possibilities. Rain, snow, sunshine, and gale-force winds can all occur within a single day, so do pack and dress accordingly.
  • There are no shops or facilities along the tracks, so be sure to bring ample food, water, and other essentials for the journey.
  • Respect the park and its fragile ecosystems by adhering to the Leave No Trace principles and staying on the designated tracks.
  • Finally, and most importantly, take a moment to appreciate the grandeur and wonder of this magical place, for it is one of the few remaining bastions of unspoiled beauty in our chaotic world.

So, my fellow wanderers, heed the call of the wild and embark on a journey through the volcanic wonderland of Tongariro National Park. Whether you seek the thrill of scaling a smoldering peak or the serenity of gazing upon a tranquil alpine lake, this primeval land will captivate your heart and spark your imagination.
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