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Often described as New Zealand's greatest day walk, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a challenging journey across a remarkable volcanic landscape.
Beginning at Mangatepopo Valley near Wakapapa, the track climbs alongside a stream and around the edges of old lava flows. The age of different lava flows is indicated by the extent to which plants have re-established themselves on the harsh black lava rocks. Near the head of the valley, the Soda Springs are an oasis for the moisture loving yellow buttercups and white foxgloves.
The steep climb from the valley to Mangatepopo Saddle between Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro is rewarded by panoramic views, which on a clear day reach as far as Mount Taranaki.
For the fit and enthusiastic, Mount Ngauruhoe can be climbed as a three-hour return side trip. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing track continues across South Crater to a ridge leading up Red Crater. The smell of sulphur is a reminder that this crater is still active. Red Crater marks the highest point on the Tongariro Crossing. From here a two-hour detour can be made to the summit of Mount Tongariro.
The track then descends to three water-filled explosion craters called the Emerald Lakes. Their brilliant greenish colour is caused by minerals that have leached from the surrounding thermal area. The crossing continues over Central Crater to Blue Lake - an old volcanic vent.
After rounding the flanks of North Crater, the descent continues through tussock slopes to the forest bushline. The cool, green forest is refreshing on the long descent to the end of the journey.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing takes seven to eight hours in the direction described. The opposite direction is more uphill and takes an hour longer. Local transport operators offer connections with the track.
More information at www.tongarirocrossing.org.nz