This is the other-worldly landscape of the Tongariro Crossing in the heart of New Zealand’s North Island. Emerald waters, volcanic craters, and land that seems to belch volcanic gases from under every rock. This is the land that inspired the world of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings movies.
The closest crater in the photo is the spectacular Red Crater. The trail literally passes right along the crater’s rim. On the right of the image is Mount Ngauruhoe or, as it is now more popularly known, Mount Doom. The Tongariro trail can be seen on the far left of the image leading towards the Blue Lake and then down to the Ketetahi pickup area for the day hikers. The Northern Circuit trail, which circumnavigates Mount Ngauruhoe, skirts the third Emerald Lake as it descends into the valley in the center of the photograph towards the Oturere Hut. That is the direction from which my wife and I came. This is opposite the normal flow of traffic, but I think it was the better way to traverse the mountain. We hiked with the sun as it moved from east to west on the transit across the Tongariro Pass so that the mountain scene remained well-lit for the majority of the day. Had we gone the opposite way, the mountain would have been in shadow for much of the day. As you can see, we had amazingly clear weather on the day that we went over the pass. From here we went on to summit Tongariro Mountain before descending to the foot of Mount Ngauruhoe and down to the Mangatepopo Hut where we stayed for the night.
While the Tongariro Crossing is a long 12-mile day of hiking with a total elevation gain of about 3,690′, the trail is easily navigated. The trail is complete with boardwalks in the sensitive ecological areas and has orange arrows about every thirty feet pointing you in the right direction, just in case you lose track of the stream of people on the very popular trail. In fact, these orange arrows are also on the 3-4 day Great Walk known as The Northern Circuit. Good maps and path finding skills are not needed for these trails.