Mt Tarawera Volcanic Crater Hike
- Posted by Stoked for Saturday
This winter we have partnered with Kathmandu to adventure test their new Winter 15 gear. We have purchased a lot of Kathmandu gear over the last two years, which has served us well on many adventures in New Zealand, so when deciding where to test our gear we wanted to subject it to the ultimate challenge – the 400m scree run on Mount Tarawera.
Mount Tarawera has quite a tragic history due to the eruption in 1886 that killed ~120 people – most of whom were a part of the Te Wairoa tribe living at the base of the mountain. During the early morning hours, the mountain literally split open, dumping over 2 billion cubic yards of ash, creating a rift 17km across the mountain. Not only was the loss of life devastating but the famous white and pink terraces – considered to be the eighth wonder of the world – were buried under hot ash and mud.
Still active today, the mountain consists of three peaks – Wahanga, Tarawera and the highest, Ruawahia, at 1111m. The area is very sacred to the local Iwi, therefore only Ruawahia dome is accessible to the public and is the site of an epic volcano crater hike and scree run offered by Kaitiaki Adventures in Rotorua.
Our adventure started with a 4-wheel drive through a rugged and steep gravel road. As we climbed through the New Zealand native bush, we got some amazing views all the way to Ruapehu and White Island off the coast of Whakatane. All part of the string of volcanoes that runs diagonally through the North Island.
Once at the top we piled out of the vehicle and began to make our way through the bush towards the Ruawahia dome. The colours inside the crater were absolutely incredible! The red and black basalt deposits contrast the older grey and white rhyolite lavas providing a colourful mix of pumice and scoria. Looking across to the other side, the 400m scree run looked pretty intimidating with its steep angle, but also exciting!
Veering to the left, we walked along the crater edge as we climbed higher, gaining a better view of the summit in the distance. Peering into the centre of the crater, it was hard not to think of what it must have been like when it erupted some 130 years ago.
Continuing on we began to climb along a narrow track before reaching a ridgeline that connected us to the summit. On either side you could see the vast crevasse that makes up part of that 17km rift through the mountain. With steep drops on either side it wasn’t a place you’d want to be with gale force winds!
The next section of track was a steep ascent through loose rock and scree, therefore I was really glad to be wearing Kathmandu’s new XT Verso hiking pants. I’ve worn a number of hiking pants the last few years but have struggled to find a pair that provides the proper stretch to make the big moves required on many climbs while still being lightweight and warm for alpine conditions. And the four zip pockets means I can keep my phone (used for photos) and snacks close at hand while on the move! We also had a number of compliments on our pants and that we had matching ‘his and hers’ set.
Taking a rest at the top, we decided to stop for a bite to eat while we enjoyed the view. From here the volcanic cones of Mount Edgecumbe, Whale Island and even an uncharacteristically quiet looking White Island were clearly visible on the horizon.
A few hundred meters from the summit, we walked along the ridge line before reaching the top and were greeted with 360 degree views of Lake Tarawera, Lake Rotomahana and the colorful rift cut through the mountain. At an elevation of 1111m, the fierce wind meant we didn’t spend much time at the summit as neither one of us was keen to be blown off the mountain! We snapped a few photos at the famous Mt Tarawera sign and continued on down the track towards shelter.
The views continued to change as we approached the entrance to the crater from the other side. It was so nice to be outside on such a beautiful day! With the wild weather going on in Wellington, we were lucky to have escaped the city to experience such a lovely day on the mountain.
Finally, we were at the main event – the 400m scree run! We dropped into the crater and began racing down the loose pebbly rock! We’ve had a few opportunities to tackle some steep scree during our summit of Mount Ngauruhoe along the Tongariro Crossing and Mount Taranaki – and this was definitely just as fun! We learned yet again how important it was to wear gaiters to keep all those loose rocks from filling our boots!
After a couple of runs we managed to exhaust ourselves enough to have to move on to the bottom of the crater. If only there was a lift to keep taking us to the top we could have spent all day there!
Standing inside the center of the crater it was incredible to see the towering colourful cliffs surrounding us. We watched as a few others came down the scree and noticed some embracing the ‘all or nothing attitude’ of racing down the scree while others opted for a cautious and calculated descent through the loose rock. I’m pretty sure being a good snow skier translates to being a good scree skier, it just hurts a lot more if you fall on scree 😉
Walking up through the crater back towards the start of the track, it was interesting to see the patches of bright green vegetation mixed in with the red scoria. Up ahead we could see the Wahanga Dome that had a tempting scree run of its own, but knowing how sacred that area is we kept our distance and admired from afar.
Battling through the loose rock up the path to the top of the crater on the other side, we were greeted with our last epic view of the Ruawahia dome as the sun began to set. What a perfect way to end a great adventure!
Check out Episode 47 – Mount Tarawera