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HIGHLIGHTS Tongariro Crossing


March through Mordor and see the real Mount Doom on New Zealand’s premier day hike, says David Whitley


The blackened, rough-sided rocks sprawling across the horizon make it pretty obvious that this is no normal mountain walk. Then come the trickling streams, fighting their way through the lava field. They’re a rusty orange colour, an indication of the oxidisation that’s going on in the tumult below the surface. This, though, is merely a hint of things to come on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. In the centre of North Island, this is New Zealand’s most renowned day walk. And justifiably so, as it provides 12 miles of outrageous spectacle in Tongariro National Park, passing through jaw-dropping, cinematic, volcanic landscapes. South Crater feels like it could be a spaceship landing pad on the moon. The vast, dusty field has a white track created by footsteps and, while a few tufts of hardy grass attempt to break through either side, the landscape is otherwise completely barren. There’s a feeling of a vast amphitheatre – somewhere an evil galactic emperor might host gladiator-style fights between gigantic armoured aliens. To the left, Mount Tongariro rises towards its summit, but the peak to the right is more recognisable. Ngauruhoe is a perfect volcanic cone, so photogenic that it became Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings movies. A few brave climbers try to shimmy up the treacherous scree slopes. The rest of Mordor comes into view while climbing along the ridge that leads out of South Crater. On the other side is the black, lava-lined Oturere Valley, formed by centuries of eruptions and lava spills. The goal, however, is the Red Crater summit, which provides arguably the most incredible views on the whole crossing. The panorama lines up Tongariro and Ngauruhoe, with deep crimson oxide stains spreading out beneath. To the other side is the central crater, where the Emerald Lakes dazzle with alarmingly vivid blue-green colours. This walk is certainly a feast for the eyes. And while the movie cameras may no longer be on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, there’s still an incredible amount of drama.


BOOK IT: G Adventures sells an eight-day North Island Multisport trip, including gorge cycling, jetboating and kayaking as well as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, from £1,087. gadventures.com


March 2020 21


PICTURES: TOURISM NEW ZEALAND/PAUL ABBITT; GRAEME MURRAY; SHUTTERSTOCK


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