Evidence of volcanic violence – fire fountaining (welded rocks), and ballistic bombs thrown from crater vents. “This could still happen anywhere in the park during an eruption” – NZ Dept. of Conservation.
(Fingers crossed, enjoy your walk)
Summer is the best time to go to Tongariro National Park and 3 days in February were perfect to touch the land and walk the walks.
On A Remote Desert Highway
We drove from Taupō on The Desert Road along the mostly barren and uninhabited Rangipo (rain-i-po) Desert. Periodically, inhospitable weather, winds, snow and ice close the road, but in February, the alpine desert exploded with color due to the Broom Bloom.
History: Christmas Eve 1953, a lava blockage broke from Mt. Ruapehu’s Crater Lake, released a 5-meter flash flood filled with boulders, ice, and logs and destroyed the Tawngiwai Rail Bridge. Minutes later, the Night Express Train approached the bridge, unable to stop, plunged into the river. 151 people died.
Along Desert Road, three volcanoes dominate on a clear day. Flat-top Mt. Tongariro and cone-shaped Ngauruhoe. Photo below, snowy Ruapehu.
Leaving the desert, views soften with paddocks of green and gold on SH 4.
Whakapapa Village (FAH-ka-pa-pa)
Turning onto SH48, Mt. Ruapehu beckoned towards Whakapapa Ski Slopes. In February the jagged-edged lava field was bare; however skiers look for snow from June – October.
Welcome to the Chateau Tongariro
Backed by impressive Mt. Ruapehu, Chateau Tongariro was built in 1929.
Day 1 – Tama Lake-Taranaki Falls Trail
Regrettably on the first day, I talked myself out the “Best One-Day Walk in the World”, the 12.5 mile Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I fretted about the length (6-9 hrs); pick-up shuttles that stop at 4 pm; elevation changes; suitable clothing (4 seasons possible in a single day); crowds.
Tama Lakes-Taranaki Falls Trail is a beautiful alternative!
Unlike the crowded Alpine Crossing, less than a dozen walkers were on the 6 hour lollipop Tama Lake Trail that leaves and returns from the same point (no shuttle). Elevation changes are more gentle than the Alpine Crossing.
One hour on the trail is a turn to the falls. Here you can loop back, or continue two hours to Tama Lakes.
On the Trail to the Lakes you tramp through 15,000-year-old lava fields and cross a few streams with Mt. Doom (Ngauruhoe) and Ruapehu on your left and right.
One Serious Elevation Change: A steep scree scramble to Upper Tama Lake (1440m – 4700 ft).
Lower Tama Lake
Upper Tama Lake
Day 2 – Whakapapanui Trails
I again chickened out of the Alpine Crossing. So off for another 6 hours on the Silica Rapids and Whakapapanui Trails.
The Silica Rapids are terraces coated in creamy colored deposits. The trail snakes alongside the stream, rich in aluminum and silicate minerals. The rocks are bedazzled in iron and minerals.
Day 3 – Miserable Weather
Opportunity Lost. Today, shuttles to the Alpine Crossing were cancelled – zero visibility and dangerous hiking conditions.
Hindsight advice: Make your decision after you watch the video at the Whakapapa Visitor Center. You can do it!
Sunsets – Sweet Surrender
Taken from the deck at the Skotel Alpine Resort -a reasonably priced alternative with a welcoming bar.
Pou Whenua (Maori Carved Posts) and Twisted Tree – Whakapapa
Taupō Volcano Zone Posts
- Read about Magnificent Putarua Blue Springs
- Read about things to do in Taupo – (the lake, scenic flights)
- Read about Hobbiton
- Read about Rotorua Geothermal Wonders
- Read about Hiking the Volcano, Mt Tarawera