Due to the volume of pictures, this is part one of a two-part post.
Reputed as the finest one-day hike in New Zealand, the Tongariro crossing is a winding, nineteen-kilometre trail through a constantly changing landscape. Formed by massive volcanic eruptions, much of the area has such a sinister look that it was used to represent the evil realm of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings movies.
The day I spent doing the crossing was by far the most enriching and memorable experience of my whole trip up to this point. I can’t describe what it felt like to walk through this landscape. It was like another world.
The hike’s most conspicuous peak is Mount Ngauruhoe, which starred as Mount Doom in the movies, though they had to add most of the circling dragons and giant reptile eye in post-production. Still, it is an intimidating sight in person, and its ominous silhouette was the first thing we saw when we got off the bus.
The Sun, you’ll notice, is unusually bright. Everywhere in New Zealand, sunshine is extremely bright and intense, even when it’s cold. They have the highest rate of skin cancer in the world.
Not in particularly good shape, and having been warned about the perilous “Devil’s Staircase” segment of the trail, I set out with some slight uneasiness. I knew I could finish, I just wondered if the experience would become torturous by the end of it.
Still, I marched through the easy first five kilometers as though nothing could stop me. My doubts were outshined by the inescapable beauty of the place. I’d never see anything like it, at least not since Samwise was dragging the hapless Frodo through a similar desolate wasteland.
The Devil’s Staircase was, to my surprise, actually a staircase. Dozens of flights of wooden stairs had been built right into the mountain side, separated by undulating stretches of gravel. From a distance it looked rather easy, but it was indeed diabolical.
The stairs were endless, and the stretches between them were uphill as well. I stopped to rest many times. This was the first point where I began to meet oncoming people who had turned back.
When we reached the top, we were greeted with the option of an even steeper and longer climb up Mount Doom itself:
The next section was wonderfully easy: a mile or so walk across the table-flat floor of the main crater.
As I walked across it I pondered the scale of the eruption it would have taken to blast a mile-wide hole in the earth.
After the main crater was another short climb up to the ridge. Instantly the still, hot air turned into blasting cold, and everyone raced to put their jackets on. I lingered for a bit and took some more pictures of Mordor. By that altitude, the vegetation had disappeared, and were it not for the brilliant Sun it would have looked mightily evil. Poor Mr Frodo.
From there, it was only a 30-minute scramble up to a landing, which I thought for a brief, satisfying moment was the summit, before noticing the real summit:
On my way up, a blood red crater (dubbed imaginatively, “Red Crater”) came into view. Down its centre ran a five-hundred-foot gash that could easily have been the gates to Hell for all I knew. Once again I pondered the earthly forces it would have taken to blast it open. Suddenly afraid of being sucked inside, I backed away from the edge and continued the ridge.
Minutes later I reached the summit, and was stunned by what I saw…
To be continued in part 2. (Coming very soon)