Hiking Mount Ngauruhoe in Tongariro National Park, New Zealand

Hiking Mount Ngauruhoe in New Zealand

Many of the spectacular landscapes of New Zealand are featured in Lord of the Rings (LOTR). Mount Ngauruhoe (2287 metres) is one of these movie sites. The volcano is still active and belongs to the Tongariro National Park on the North Island. Peter Jackson transformed Mt Ngauruhoe with a few digital adjustments into fiery Mt Doom and made it famous all over the world. You can spend a fortune by visiting LOTR attractions such as the hobbiton. Climbing the “Mt Doom” on the other hand is a free activity and by far the more adventurous one. The hike is by no means one for the faint-hearted. The ascent is very steep and you walk on gravel stones – fitness and good footing are required. But once you reach the top your efforts will be rewarded with stunning views.

Strolling Through The Mangatepopo Valley To The Soda Spring

The summit tour to Mt Ngauruhoe starts at the Mangatepopo hut. Right from the beginning the scenery is unique. While the majestic crown of the volcano sits on one side you see the peak of Mount Taranaki in the west. After one last toilet stop we take off through the Mangatepopo valley, shaped by the receding glacier. For about 45 minutes we walk on a well maintained, fairly flat track, along little streams and high grass. Board walks make sure that our feet won't get wet in the damper areas. Coming from Switzerland, where most of the hiking trails are natural, we are a bit amused that the paths are so well maintained. On the other hand we have to admit, that it is convenient. Without having to worry about stumbling over rocks we admire the interesting lava formations around us.

Climbing The Devil’s Stairs To The South Crater

Whereas the first part of your journey is more of a stroll and a warm-up workout, the second section puts our strength to the test. It's called the “Devil’s stairs for a good reason. To hike this steep ascent of about 200 meters. You should calculate about 45 minutes to reach the top. The amazing weather makes for a stunning view and gives us a good excuse to do some photo stops and catch our breath. The volcanic debris and the rough, elegant beauty of lava formations around us, are just a little fore-taste of what to expect on the summit. Just as we successfully reach the South Crater (the ridge that leads to the Red Crater if you continue with the Alpine Crossing) the weather changes suddenly and the temperature drops. It's time to suit up with our rain jackets and bring out our beanies.

Crawling up Mt Ngauruhoe

We reach the bottom of Mt Ngauruhoe and stare up to the summit. No signposts indicate where to go and there are no man-made paths – we are facing rugged nature. By watching the other hikers, we try to figure out the best route. In the middle there is a rocky ridge that seems to divide the face of the volcano in two halves. First we stick to the left side and follow the footprints of the other people. That way it is a little bit easier to get footing in the loose gravel. But still, one step up often results in two steps down. Halfway up we change strategy and decide to go over to the ridge and climb up the rocks. We are literally crawling on our fours trying to avoid dislodged rocks that come rolling down from the top. After about two hours we happily reach the top and can relax.

Looking Down Into The Earth – from the Top of the World

It is always fulfilling to reach the top of a mountain, or volcano in our case - a feeling that is not easy to explain. It’s a mix of joy and inner relaxation in a calm environment that seems so far away from everything. The panoramic view from Mt Ngauruhoe is clearly exceptional and breathtaking. You see across Mount Tongariro with the Red Crater summit (1886 meters) and the Blue Lake beyond, which provides with its distinctive color a stark contrast to the rugged landscape. We eat a quick snack to regain strength and make our way up to the rim of the crater. Steam is coming up from the hole and the smell of Sulphur lingering in the air makes sure nobody really wants to stay there for too long. Nevertheless, staring down in that depth of the earth and not knowing when the next eruption will be is a strange experience.

No Decent Descent

The thing about hiking up is that at one point you also have to go down again. Bummer! But the sun indicates that we don't have much time left to hang around. And of course it's not our intention to climb down that volcano in the dark. From far away, the face of the volcano fools you by looking quite smooth. So first we thought we simply slide down on our butt. But by closer inspection we quickly throw that idea over board. The rocks are sharp and would rip our pants in pieces. We end up with partly trying to slither down on our feet and crawling on all our fours. Stones are rolling right and left from us and every now and then someone shouts: Watch out!

What an adventure – but a really fun one! We safely reach the bottom just as the sun is adding a golden shimmer to the landscape that surrounds us. The journey back to our van is an easy walk. We enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and look forward to a shower and a good hearty meal in our campervan!