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Long-Distance Walks with Mark Moxon

Tongariro Northern Circuit: Day 1: Foul Sulphurous Fumes

Mark posing in front of Mt Ngauruhoe
Posing in front of Mt Ngauruhoe

As if to apologise for hiding the mountains from me yet again, the following day awoke to glorious sunshine, a huge bonus seeing as that's when I was planning to set off on the Tongariro Northern Circuit, a three-day tramp through the volcano-ridden northern half of the park. I can safely say that I have never experienced anything like the might of Mts Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu (pronounced 'Tong-a-reer-oh', 'Nara-hoe-wee' and 'Roo-a-pay-hoo') and I doubt I ever will1. Unless you've been to a volcanic area, only the photographs can really show what the place is like, but I'll have a go at describing it. Yet again a place in New Zealand goes beyond mere vocabulary...

The Circuit

The Emerald Lakes
Perched on the ridge leading down from Mts Tongariro and Ngauruhoe are the aptly named Emerald Lakes

The walk took me clockwise round the circuit, staying for two nights in huts. I went round Tongariro and Ngauruhoe – Ngauruhoe being a younger, parasitic cone on the side of Tongariro, but looking more impressive due to its size – and along the flanks of Ruapehu. Throughout the walk the weather was cloudless, which made a massive difference. I started off at Whakapapa, home to the famous Tongariro Chateau, an imposing hotel that was apparently used to house mental patients in the war (which only adds to the slightly eerie air of the The Shining that the hotel has). From there I headed northeast through tussock and occasional clumps of forest; the first two hours of track were eroded, slippery and, to be honest, a bit of a pain, but once I reached the Mangatepopo Hut things started to hot up, quite literally. After a quick side trip to the Soda Springs, one of the few waterfalls in the area, it was time to start climbing.

The Emerald Lakes
The path winds right past the Emerald Lakes
The central crater of Tongariro
The central crater of Tongariro

1 Oh yes I would, at Gunung Rinjani in Indonesia.