The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is easily one of the best day walks in the world. You’ve probably seen its best known highlight Mount Ngauruhoe starring in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy as Mount Doom. But there’s more to this walk than tracing Frodo’s steps. Starting just above 1000m you’re already in an alpine climate zone devoid of any large plants. As you steadily hike up even higher vegetation all but completely disappears and all you see is a beautiful alpine landscape. Looming in the distance is Mount Doom and Mount Tongariro.
About 1.5 hours into the walk the turnoff for the Mount Doom summit track starts. The hike up to the summit takes about 2 hours and there is no well formed track. You can follow in other’s footsteps or do your own route finding. I found out later that it’s best to stay to your left going up and coming down. At the summit you’re treated to a large volcanic crater and stunning views if the sky is clear. The clouds flew through the valley really quickly so it’s worth spending some time at the summit if have it. It’s also worth it to walk around the summit at least halfway so that you can get a nice view of the Emerald Lakes. The path down requires you to almost slide down a steep side of the volcano. It’s much easier than it looks so long as you let the loose volcanic ash take you down.
The next bit of the track is flat then starts going uphill to the Red Crater. From near here you can either summit Mount Tongariro or carry on to the Emerald Lakes. I didn’t have enough time to do the Mount Tongariro sidetrip so I carried onto the lakes. The view from above the lakes is really stunning and the path down is really steep. It’s another slide down loose volcanic ash which I was used to by now.
After the lakes you come across the Mount Ruapehu Crater Lake. It’s worth it to stop here for a look back at the Red Crater and Mount Doom. If the sky is clear you can get an incredible view of them lined up. It’s truly breathtaking. From here the track climbs a bit up to a rest hut then steadily decends down below the tree line to the end point. This bit accounts for nearly half the track and I didn’t find it nearly as interesting as the first half so I practically ran through it. The buses generally give you 8 hours to do the walk, which, if you walk quickly, is just enough time to summit Mount Doom and finish the track in time for your pickup.