The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a famous 1-day walk across a still active volcano. It also passes by Mount Ngauruhoe, more commonly recognized as Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings. I was keen to complete this walk ever since I saw it in our lonely planet book and even more excited about it when we visited Mount Ruapehu with Antony, Sam & Katie and got our first glimpse of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe in the distance.

Since Jenna was starting work on Monday, she decided to stay in Wellington, but since Ryan was still in town I figured it would be a good time to complete the walk, hopefully with some snow still on the track. With that, Ryan and I took a bus 7 hours to the track entrance, arriving at the department of conservation office in Whakapapa at 4:30pm. Despite the gale force wind warnings for the following day, we set off for the closer hut hoping to make the crossing early the next day before the winds got too crazy.

Mangatepopo Hut during sunset 

Waking up early we were treated to some cloud free views of Ngauruhoe and Tongariro from the hut with relatively little wind. That would soon change. As we got to the base of Mt. Doom clouds rolled in and quickly shielded our view of the mountains and anything further than 15 feet in front of us. Occasional partial clearings would give us the opportunity for pictures but that soon ended when the clouds started condensing on our clothes and camera gear.

A brief break in the clouds for pictures 

We walked right past the turn off to climb Mt. Doom because we couldn’t see anything and figured it would not be worth it for the 3 hour detour. Once we got on the ridge the wind really picked up and Ryan and I both started walking with a lean to avoid being blown off the other side. While the conditions spoiled our view and made taking video a nightmare, Ryan and I were enjoying the extreme conditions on the ridge.

Once we got on the backside of the ridge we were treated to occasional clearings that lasted a few minutes. Long enough to catch a glimpse of the emerald lakes, blue/green lakes on top of the mountain that smell like rotten egg from the volcanic gases (similar to Rotorua)

Close up of one of the Emerald Lakes.
A brief glimpse of blue sky on top of the crossing 

After a quick lunch by the lakes we descended down the back side of the mountain. While the “Tongariro Alpine Crossing” can be completed in 1-day we opted for the Great Walk version – the “Tongariro Northern Circuit” – which circles the mountains for 3 to 4 days. As we descended I couldn’t help be feel like I we were venturing into Mordor as the landscape changed from bouldery volcano to a flat desert wasteland with scattered black jagged rock surrounded by impassable cliff sides.

Ryan geared up to enter Mordor and battle some Orcs! 
Mordor (with a little vegetation) 

The sandstorms here were wicked. The sand wasn’t regular sand ,it was sharp lava shards that would get under your eyelids and polish your eyeballs for you! Despite this, I kept looking back at Mt Doom knowing it would mean a few extra bits of rock in the eyes. We arrived at the next Hut in the middle of Mordor seeking shelter from the wind and napped on the deck in the sun.

View from Oturere Hut. Notice the clouds on only one side of Mt. Doom

With lots of time left in the day Ryan and I then decided to keep going to the next hut and make our walk out the final day even easier.

View of Mt. Ruapehu from the track 

After staying at the most modern hut we’ve seen yet, we set off for the last leg our journey back to Whakapapa.

The newest of the huts we’ve stayed at (Waihohonu Hut) with solar water heating and electricity! 

As if to tease us the clouds that shrouded one side of Mt. Doom the previous day lifted, leaving the mountain exposed and open to climb. Although the walk back was beautiful I felt taunted by the mountain the entire time as if it was saying “Look it’s clear, why don’t you just come climb me you baby”.

Morning view of Mt. Doom with Tama Lakes in the foreground 

Back in Whakapapa in record time (3hours, 45minutes instead of the estimated 5 hours) Ryan and I got a burger and beer at the Tavern while the clear mountain continued to tease us. I’m not sure what Jenna and I will do next but climbing Mt. Doom has vaulted to the top of my list!

Mt. Doom from a distance. A cold reminder of a summit yet to be made

Check out Episode 19 – Tongariro Northern Circuit