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Friday, May 24, 2013

     The Routeburn Track is an epic alpine walk taking you through two national parks, Fiordland and Mount Aspiring, within South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. It is a moderate 32 km, 3-4 day track weaving through astounding amount of breathtaking landscapes. Emerging from pristine rain forest, it climbs alongside reflective lakes and alpine gardens above the bush line to the mountain pass and all the way to the Harris Saddle, the highest point on the track. As you traverse The Southern Alps, the track offers stunning views of the valleys, rivers and fjords below opening up to the ocean on the horizon. It then descends back to picturesque valleys and meadows along the turquoise Route Burn River before it comes to Routeburn shelter where it finishes. The first people in the Routeburn area are believed to have been ancient Maori who were travelling between the Dart Valley and the Arahura River on the West Coast on the pursuit of the precious New Zealand Greenstone. Construction of the track, however, wasn't completed until the late 1930s.




Access


     The Routeburn track, 32 km, 3-4 day track between the Routeburn shelter on the east and The Divide on the west can be walked in either direction. The Routeburn Track is located in the southwest of the South Island where it traverses Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks. The trip can be extended by also staying at the other huts and made into a circuit by linking with the Greenstone and Caples Tracks, which starts and finishes near the Routeburn Shelter. Access to the Routeburn Track is by road, however, the road distance between each end of the track is 350 km, so transport will have to be arranged from both ends. Tracknet provides excellent Routeburn track transport options. Between Te Anau and the Divide they travel up to 4 times a day (twice a day from Queenstown), and between Queenstown and Routeburn shelter twice a day. You can even access the Divide from the Milford Sound and Hollyford track, and join all these walks into multi-day adventure. Other private shuttle companies offering transport to and from Routeburn track include Buckley Transport and Kiwi Discovery, or you can use Trackhopper, the original car relocation company. 






Camping


     On the Routeburn Track there are four huts (from west to east: Lake Howden Hut, Lake Mackenzie Hut, Routeburn Falls Hut and Routeburn Flats Hut) and two campsites (Lake Mackenzie and Routeburn Flats). Camping outside the designated campsites is not permitted. The Routeburn Track huts and campsites are very basic and only offer the facilities you really need: campsites include toilets, a water supply, picnic tables and cooking shelters. The huts have bunks, mattresses, heating, toilets, basic cooking facilities, solar powered lighting and cold running water. A DOC ranger is in residence from November to April. Bookings are essential during the Great Walks season. Routeburn track huts and campsites can be booked in advance via DOC website. If you start walking before 12pm, usually booking two nights is sufficient, however if you want to enjoy the scenery and longer stay especially near Lake Mackenzie or Routeburn Falls area, 3 nights are recommended:
  • Lake Howden HutThis is the first hut on the track if you walk west to east. It is located in a beautiful settting near Lake Howden at the junction of Routeburn and Greenstone/Caples Tracks, which is about 15mins walk from the Key Summit turn-off and about 1.5 hours walk from the start of the track at the Divide on Milford Road.
  • Lake Mackenzie Hut and Campsite: The second hut and the first campsite (capacity 9 tents, 20 campers) near spectacular Mackenzie Lake, about 6 hours walk from the Divide.
  • Routeburn Falls HutThis is the third hut on the track, or the second hut (4 hours walk) if you walk from the Routeburn Shelter, offering fabulous views over the Route Burn valley and Humboldt Mountains.
  • Routeburn Flats Hut and CampsiteThis hut is the first hut (2 hours walk) on the Routeburn Track from the Routeburn Shelter, Mt Aspiring National Park. It offers lovely views across the Route Burn valley floor, and makes a great day walk or easy first night stay on the Routeburn Track.

Weather


     The Routeburn track is one of the most popular and the most easily accessible Great Walk, so walking outside of the main season is recommended for experienced walkers, with the best months being April-May and October-November. It does get colder during these months with the average day temperature around 12 degrees and the  night temperatures falling to zero, and you have to be prepared for all types of weather. Always check the latest weather forecast for the Fiorland and Aspiring National Park. The Routeburn track stays open during the winter months and if you have the right gear and winter alpine hiking experience including the experience with understanding avalanche conditions, it would be a trip to remember.


Track Notes


DAY 1: The Divide to Lake Mackenzie (12km, 7 hours)

   
     We arrived at the Divide at about 10am after taking the morning shuttle from Te Anau with Tracknet company. After 3 days of torrential rain on Milford Track, the weather forecast was promising three clear sunny days and we couldn't wait to spend them above the bush line on one of the finest alpine walks in New Zealand. We had a long day in front of us walking up all the way to Lake Mackenzie. From the Divide on the Milford Highway, which is the lowest crossing of the Southern Alps in New Zealand at about 530m, the tracks climbs steadily through very pleasant silver beech forest to the Key Summit Track turn-off. This part of the track really shows the Fiordland rain forest at its very best. 


     From the Key Summit turn-off after about 2 hours we descended to the Lake Howden and the first hut on the track. Lake Howden sits at the junction of the Routeburn and Greenstone/Caples Tracks which offer wonderful side trips or circuit walk after linking with Routeburn track. After enjoying a well deserved lunch we continued up until we arrived to the magnificent Earland Falls (174 m). From the falls we ascended to the ‘Orchard Garden’, an open grassy area dotted with ribbon wood trees. 










     The sun on a clear day and during the summer months can be quite strong even in Fiorland and fairly exhausted after 7 hours of mostly uphill walk we finally arrived to spectacular Lake Mackenzie campsite, our first overnight stop.











DAY 2: Lake Mackenzie to Routeburn Flats (11.3km, 7 hours)


         The next morning we were quite excited to see a clear sky and couldn't wait to ascend above the tree line and start the alpine traverse to the Harris Saddle. From the campsite a zigzag climb led us high above Lake Mackenzie to the top of the ridge from where we started the traverse of the exposed Hollyford Valley face. 

     This section of the Routeburn track taking up to 5 hours to reach the Harris Saddle is very exposed and can become pretty unpleasant during adverse weather conditions since. Since we were blessed with the finest weather you could possibly imagine in Fiordland, the alpine views from this side of the mountain were just breathtaking - we could see the river and the valleys below all the way to the fjords opening up to the ocean on the horizon.


     At about 1pm we reached the Harris Saddle (1255m), the highest point of the track and the boundary between Mt. Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park. We continued to the Lake Harris and started our steep descent via moraine near the outlet of the river down to the Routeburn Valley. The views that were unfolding in front of us were simply stunning. It took us about two hours to descent to the Routeburn Falls Hut, and another hour and a half to Routeburn Flats campsite. The track between Routeburn Falls Hut and Routeburn Flats campsite is mostly downhill through beech forest crossing two Swing bridges and a recent massive land slide.










DAY 3: Routeburn Flats to Routeburn Shelter (6.5km, 2 hours)

   
Descent to the Routeburn Valley
   The next morning we returned from the camping area back to the junction with Routeburn Flats Hut track and continued left across open grassed flats to the first swing bridge across the Route Burn River. Even though during the last two days we've passed through some of the best alpine scenery we've ever seen, this last part of the track stayed most in our memory. There was something very magic about this narrow path meandering through beautiful beech forest along the dramatic turquoise stream and above the Routeburn Gorge. After about 2 hours of quick mostly downhill hike we arrived at the Routeburn shelter just in time to catch the pre-arranged 10am shuttle to Queenstown. Even though it was the busiest track we've done having to pass a few guided tours, the clear weather, incredible alpine scenery and quiet nights at Lake Mackenzie and Routeburn Flats, as well as walking from the west rather than from the Routeburn shelter and not staying in the huts with most of the people, made this our favourite track in Fiordland.




    


Useful Links


Further information and bookings visit the Great Walks website or contact your nearest DOC Visitor Centre for further information and bookings.

P: 0800 NZ GREATWALKS (0800 694 732)

E: greatwalks@doc.govt.nz
W: greatwalks.co.nz




    The Abel Tasman Coast Track is located in Abel Tasman National Park on the South Island’s northern shores with the nearest airport in Nelson and the closest towns Motueka and Takaka. Being a Great Walk, the Abel Tasman Coast Track can get rather busy during summer months, however you can combine hiking with kayaking along the coast and staying at smaller campsites not accessible to the roads, and turn this lovely low altitude coastal walk into an awesome adventure. The walk extends for 54.4 km and takes 3-5 days to complete. It can be walked from either end at any time of the year. The Abel Tasman Coast Track is an easy, well-maintained track which you could fit into your itinerary as a well deserved break between more adventurous and tougher walks.


Access

     The Abel Tasman Coast Track is usually accessed from the southern gateway Marahau, which is 67 km from Nelson, and from where you can start walking or rent kayaks and kayak along the coast for the first few days. Marahau has accommodation, a shop and cafes. The track finishes at Wainui carpark, which is 21 km from Takaka. You can also access the track at two more places from unsealed road ends at Totaranui (32 km from Takaka) and Awaroa (31 km from Takaka). By road it takes 2 hours 30 minutes to drive between Totaranui or Wainui and Marahau; by boat transport it takes about 1 hour 30 minutes. The Abel Tasman Coast Track can be combined with the Abel Tasman Inland Track to form a 5-6 day circuit. If you intend to walk the whole track, the bays and tidal crossings  divide the walking distance into the following sections:
  • Marahau to Anchorage (12.4 km, 4 hr)
  • Anchorage to Torrent Bay Estuary (12.1 km, 4 hr): All-tide track around Torrent Bay Estuary
  • Torrent Bay Estuary to Bark Bay (8.4 km, 3 hr): All-tide crossing at Bark Bay
  • Bark Bay to Awaroa (11.4 km, 4 hr): Low tide crossing at Onetahuti Bay
  • Awaroa to Totaranui (5.5 km, 1.5 hr: Low tide crossing at Awaroa Estuary
  • Totaranui to Whariwharangi (7.5 km, 5 hr)
  • Whariwharangi to Wainui (5.5 km, 1.5 hr)


By Water Taxi

You can also catch a water taxi to beaches along the track. Water taxis operate year round from Marahau and Kaiteriteri. The scheduled water taxi pick up and drop off locations are at AnchorageTorrent Bay (drop off only), MedlandsBark BayOnetahutiAwaroa and Totaranui. The main taxi services that operate year around are:
  • Aqua Taxi: freephone: 0800 278 282 or www.aquataxi.co.nz
  • Wilsons Abel Tasman: freephone: 0800 223 582 or www.AbelTasman.co.nz
  • Marahau Water Taxis: freephone: 0800 80 80 18 or www.abeltasmancentre.co.nz
  • Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle: freephone: 0800 732 748 or www.abeltasmanseashuttles.co.nz

By Public Transport/Private shuttles

The track is also well serviced by public transport. Bus services operate in summer from Nelson and Motueka to major roadends Marahau and Kaiteriteri and connect with Takaka transport to Totaranui and Wainui. Bookings are recommended. In winter, bus services operate daily to Marahau and Kaiteriteri but not so regularly to Wainui and Totaranui.

  • Trek Express Trampers Transport: they offer 4WD track transport to/from any destination for groups or individuals, vehicle and bag storage, and car relocations. Freephone: 0800 128 735 or www.trekexpress.co.nz  
  • Nelson Lakes Shuttles: they offer year round transport to all track ends. Phone: +64 3 521 1900 or www.nelsonlakesshuttles.co.nz 
  • Abel Tasman Coachlines: all transport requirements for the Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National Parks. Phone: +64 3 548 0285 or www.abeltasmantravel.co.nz
  • Golden Bay Coachlines: Daily scheduled or chartered transport service for Abel Tasman & Kahurangi National Parks. Phone: +64 3 525 8352 or http://goldenbaycoachlines.co.nz/ 

By Kayaks

     If you have previous sea-kayaking experience, we recommend swapping walking poles for the paddles and kayak along the coast for the first 1-2 nights. As there will be very likely a few guided tours departing Marahau daily, try to leave just before lunch instead of early in the morning and it is almost guaranteed that you'll have most of the bays and beaches not accessible to the track only for yourself. Kayaking is obviously more weather dependent than walking and during summer you'll probably experience both, easy kayaking in a calm weather as well as rough seas that may prevent you from going further. However it is permissible to camp at a campsite other than the one you have booked for safety reasons. Just be flexible with your itinerary and plan an extra time - you can still make a camp and then go explore the islands around without your overnight gear.



The paddling times in calm sea conditions without stops are:
  • Marahau to Anchorage 3 hr
  • Anchorage to Bark Bay 2 hr 30 min
  • Bark Bay to Onetahuti 1 hr 30 min
For independent kayak rentals you can choose from the following kayak operators:
  • Marahau Sea Kayaks: Ph: +64 3 527 8176, www.msk.co.nz
  • Kaiteriteri Kayaks: Ph: +64 3 527 8383, www.seakayak.co.nz
  • Abel Tasman Freedom Kayaks: Ph: +64 3 527 8022, www.freedomrentals.co.nz
  • Abel Tasman Kayaks: Ph: +64 3 527 8022, www.abeltasmankayaks.co.nz

Camping


     The Abel Tasman Coast Track offers 4 huts and 18 camping sites along the track. You have to book and pay the fees before you start the track. One of the main disadvantages of the Abel Tasman Coast Track being a Great Walk is that it can become rather expensive: After booking your transport to and from the track, accommodation near the start of the track, double kayak for 2 days and 3 nights in huts or campsites for 2 people, the total cost can reach up to $600.



     After you work out which length of the track and in which direction you want to walk, if and how far you want to kayak along the coast, which huts/campsites do you want to stay in and on what days, you can check the availability of huts and campsites and book them online. You can also print the booking form and mail it to Nelson Marlborough Bookings, PO Box 375, Nelson 7010, or email it to nmbookings@doc.govt.nz.

Weather


     The Abel Tasman Coast Track enjoys mild climate throughout a year with daily temperature reaching 20 degrees in a summer and 13 degrees in a winter. In a dramatic comparison to Fiordland, there are only 9 rainy days a month in average. During autumn and winter months you have cooler temperatures and shorter daylight hours, but the weather is usually calmer and the track less busier, while during summer the coast can experience strong westerly winds which makes especially kayaking more dependent on prevailing sea conditions. On the Abel Tasman Coast Track there are 2 estuary crossings that are only passable at low tide:
  • Onetahuti estuary can only be crossed within 3 hours either side of low tide. 
  • Awaroa estuary can only be crossed within 1 hour 30 minutes before and 2 hours after low tide.

     The estuaries at Torrent and Bark Bay have all-tide tracks around them, which will take an extra 1.5 hr (Torrent Bay) or 15 min (Bark Bay). Always check the low tide timetables for the day of your crossing (2013 timetable, 2014 timetable) to see if you would be able to fit both crossings into 1 day (in case low tide occurs around midday and midnight) or you would have to spend the night at Anchorage (in case low tide occurs morning and evening).

Track Notes


DAY 1: Marahau to Mosquito Bay Campsite by kayak (5 hr)


    Kayaking along the coast of the Abel Tasman Track was the main reason why we decided for this rather busy walk during the summer season. It is a sea-kayaking trip at its very best: you can stay at isolated campsite and enjoy empty beaches along the coast with no road or track access, you can kayak within calm lagoons as well as venture further into an open sea where the coastline is more exposed to impacts of high waves and winds, you can explore uninhabited islands within spectacular Marine Reserve and watch seals and incredible bird life in its natural environment.


     After flying to Nelson the previous day and staying at YHA hostel , we booked an early morning shuttle to Marahau where we rented a double kayak from Marahau Sea Kayaks. Since most of the guided trips leave early in the morning, we waited till about 11.30 am, loaded all our gear and headed off on our own.

We chose to stay at Mosquito Bay, an isolated campsite with no land access and which is much further than most people go on their first day, however the weather looked excellent, there were no winds and the sea was incredibly calm. We had about 9 hours of daylight left and decided to explore a few small islands and empty beaches on the way.





     There was high tide when we arrived to Mosquito Bay at about 5 pm which really helped with our landing on the small beach deep within the bay. There were quite a few kayakers camping already, however it was such a lovely campsite hidden from the outside world, that we didn't mind it at all and spent the evening swimming and watching the sunset.








DAY 2: Mosquito Bay Campsite to Onetahuti Bay by kayak (1 hr), Onetahuti to Totaranui by water taxi (30 min), Totaranui to Whariwharangi campsite (7.5 km, 5 hr)


     The next morning we woke up into a completely different weather. The strong winds had already picked up around midnight  and the sea conditions had dramatically changed. There was still about 1 hour of kayaking left to get to Onetahuti Bay, from where we needed to continue by foot to Awaroa Beach. We needed to reach Awaroa Estuary crossing during low tide which was going to start at 10 am and only last for about 2 hours. Because the next day we were supposed to fly to the North Island and couldn't afford to lose one day, we decided to set off to the sea. At about 8 am it was still low tide which meant we had to drag our kayaks across the sand for about 100 m. We were obviously going to be the only ones on the water that morning since the others decided to postpone their departure till the winds calm down. The sea was quite rough even within the bay and definitely well outside of our comfort zone, but there was no turning back now. We were aware that once we reach the most exposed coastline separating us from the Onetahuti Bay and get out in an open sea, the swell may be potentially quite dangerous, however nowhere near life-threatening. After tackling some monstrous-looking side waves and passing the most exposed part of the coastline we finally turned towards the coast at Onetahuti Bay. Since the weather kept deteriorating and this 1 hr morning kayaking trip to the bay just behind the corner turned out to be quite a strenuous exercise, it took us almost twice as long. We finally landed at Onetahuti Bay at about 10am and left the kayaks there for pick up later that day as pre-arranged before. Unfortunately it was too late now to get to Awaroa Estuary in time to cross during low tide. Luckily there was one guy from another kayak company who advised us to catch a water shuttle to Totaranui Beach and thus avoid the Awaroa crossing. Since this would also significantly shorten our day (we were planning to walk all the way to Whariwharangi Beach for our second and last night) we decided to take this short boat ride with Marahau Water Taxi to Totaranui Bay.

     From there we finally started our 8 km Abel Tasman Coastal walk to Whariwharangi campsite. This part of the track is very scenic with the views of the dramatic coastline behind each corner, and it actually didn't feel busy at all. We only met a few day-walkers who were camping at Totaranui caravan park.

















   
     We crossed a low saddle and then descended to the beach at Anapai Bay. The track then enters the forest and leads to another beach at Mutton Cove from where we climbed to a lookout above Separation Point, the northern most point of the Abel Tasman Coast Track with amazing views all the way to the North Island, Golden Bay and Marlborough Sounds.





     From there it was about 2 hr walk mostly downhill to the beach at Whariwharangi Bay with a pleasant campsite in the back of the beach.











DAY 3: Whariwharangi to Wainui (5.5 km, 1.5 hr)


     The next morning we left the campsite and headed inland towards the Wainui Bay carpark about 6 km away to catch the 10:30 am shuttle back to Nelson, from where we had booked the afternoon flight to Taupo on the North Island. We followed a stream and ascended to a saddle above Wainui Inlet. The track then winds down for about an hour to the carpark at the estuary shore.

     



Useful Links


For more information about the Abel Tasman Coast Track:
Nelson Regional Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 3 546 9339
Email:   nelsonvc@doc.govt.nz

For huts and campsites bookings help contact:
Nelson Marlborough Bookings Helpdesk
Phone:   +64 3 546 8210
Email:   nmbookings@doc.govt.nz

     There are not many other mountain regions in the world which had been given that many names as the most famous volcano on the Central Plateau of New Zealand's North Island: Mt. Ngauruhoe lying in Tongariro National Park has been also known as Ngātoro-i-rangi, the sacred Warrior Mountain from the stories of ancient Ngāti Tūwharetoa tribe, ancestors of the local Māori, and lately even as the mythical Mt. Doom from the Middle Earth. Tongariro National Park is New Zealand's oldest national park as well as a World Heritage Area with unique volcanic features, and its mountains have been sacred to Maori people for centuries. 

     The traverse of the spectacular volcanic terrain of Mt Tongariro is one of the most fascinating treks in the country and one of the top walks in the world. The Tongariro Northern Circuit takes you on a moderate and well marked 43.1 km (3 - 4 days) journey winding over Mt Tongariro and around Mt Ngauruhoe. Since number of trips can be arranged in either direction around the Tongariro Northern Circuit, such as day trips including the extremely popular Tongariro Alpine Crossing, overnight trips or a 3–4 day walk around the complete circuit, the whole area tends to be rather busy during summer months. Especially the phenomenon known as Middle Earth tourism has transformed in the last few years this spectacular region of literally untouched moonscape filled with volcanic craters, emerald lakes, hot springs and steaming vents into the most heavily trafficked Great Walk. In fact you have to try really hard to capture the essence of its remaining wilderness nature. We felt it's still worth the effort.



Access


     Tongariro National Park is located in the central North Island of New Zealand with the nearest towns Turangi, Ohakune and Waioura and the closest airport in Taupo. The main entrance point to the park is from a parking area in the Whakapapa Village. It is approximately a 3-5 hour walk to Mangatepopo Hut, or a 5–6 hour walk to Waihohonu Hut. The track can also be accessed from the following 3 locations: 

  • From the parking area at the end of Mangatepopo Road, from where it is a 30 minute walk to Mangatepopo Hut. 
  • From the parking area at the end of Ketetahi Road, it is about a 2–3 hour walk to the Ketetahi shelter, then a further 3 hours to Oturere Hut or 5 hours to Mangatepopo Hut. 
  • From the parking area just off Desert Road, 35 km south of Turangi. It is approximately a 2 hour walk to Waihohonu Hut.


     Mounts Tongariro and Ngauruhoe are active volcanoes which can be climbed as side trips. The last eruptions happened in the Te Maari craters on the northern slopes of Mt Tongariro in August and then again in November 2012. You should always check the current Volcanic Alert Level of these volcanoes and avoid the summit climbs if there are any signs of increased volcanic activity. The summit of Mt Ngauruhoe (2287 m) can be reached by climbing directly up the rocky ridge on the left from the base of Mt Ngauruhoe at Mangatepopo Saddle. Allow 2-3 hours for return trip. Mt Tongariro summit (1967 m) can be reached by following the poled route from Red Crater. Allow 2 hours for return trip.


   


     
     The Tongariro Northern Circuit (43.1 km) starts and finishes at Whakapapa Village, State Highway 48, Mount Ruapehu. You can walk the track in either direction:

  • Whakapapa Village to Mangatepopo Hut (8.5 km, 3 hr)
  • Mangatepopo Hut to Emerald Lakes (8 km, 3 hr 30 min)
  • Emerald Lakes to Oturere Hut (4.8 km, 1 hr 30 min)
  • Oturere Hut to Waihohonu Hut (7.5 km, 3 hr)
  • Waihohonu Hut to Whakapapa Village (14.3 km, 5 hr)


Camping

     
     There are three huts, with campsites close by, available on the Circuit: Mangatepopo, Oturere and Waihohonu. We stayed at Ketetahi campsite for the first night, however the hut and the campsite are no longer available for accommodation due to the damage after volcanic eruption in August 2012. Bookings are required for huts and campsites during peak season (October to April). During off peak season (May to October) huts and campsites are on a first-come basis only and no reservations are necessary.

Weather


     As on the most of the high altitude tracks in New Zealand the weather can change very quickly and you should be prepared for all weather conditions. The strong winds reaching 100 km per hour and poor visibility dropping to zero are no exemptions on the volcano ridges. In fact, similar weather conditions prevented us from continuing further along the Northern Circuit and led to finishing the alpine crossing at Ketetahi parking area.


Track Notes


DAY 1: Mangatepopo Hut to Ketetahi Hut via Emerald Lakes (11 km, 6 hr)



     After a very early start of the day with 5 am morning shuttle from Taupo to Mangatepopo, we left the hut and started following Mangatepopo Stream up the valley. We soon came across the whole field of successions of young and very black lava flows from Ngauruhoe Volcano which erupted in 1949 and 1954. A land younger than that and accessible to the public you can probably only find on the Big Island in Hawaii where the lava is still continuously flowing. Near the head of the valley a short side track led us to Soda Springs that emerge beneath an old lava flow.













     From the Soda Springs one hour steady climb led us to the South Crater with spectacular views of the valley which on a clear day could show you Mt Ngauruhoe, the Kaimanawa Range, Lake Taupo and a landscape all the way to Mt Taranaki in the west. Unfortunately the weather had started to deteriorate and strong winds had picked up bringing thick clouds reducing the visibility. In a good weather it is possible to climb from here to the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe (2287 m, 3 hour side trip). 











     After crossing the South Crater, which is actually glacially carved basin rather than the real crater, we followed a steep track leading up a ridge to the Red Crater. From the top of Red Crater it is possible to climb to the Mt Tongariro summit (1967 m) in a good weather. The crater is still active releasing a strong sulphur smell as we walked up. The iron in the rock oxidized under high temperature and gave the crater its bright red color. The display of the formations of solidified lava within the crater was like nothing we've ever seen so far. As we reached the Red Crater the wind picked up reaching about 70 km per hour which made any progress up a ridge with heavy backpacks very difficult.



     We finally reached the summit of Red Crater (1886 m), the highest point on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, from where we started our steep descent on a loosy scoria-covered terrain to Emerald Lakes, an obvious highlight of the whole track. Their breathtaking color is caused by minerals washed down from the thermal area of Red Crater. Their water is cold, acidic, not suitable for drinking and it freezes in winter. During our descent we could also see across the Central Crater to the Blue Lake, a short 30 minutes side trip. Due to the incredibly strong wind we couldn't stop for a lunch and decided to continue to Ketetahi shelter for the night. We soon arrived at the junction where The Tongariro Northern Circuit walk branches off to Oturere Hut and continued over the Central Crater. We then reached the Blue Lake which is  considered sacred and which in native language translates as Rangihiroa's mirror.




   From the Blue Lake we continued around the North Crater (a cooled lava lake) and started our descent to Ketetahi shelter. For the whole time the majestic Mt Doom or Mt. Ngauruhoe had been shrouded by thick clouds and hadn't revealed itself for even a second. I would say we've got a pretty good reason to come back.





DAY 2: Ketetahi shelter to Ketetahi parking area (2 hr)


     We spent the night at Ketetahi shelter, however we were the only ones who made quite a brave/not so wise decision to camp there. To build a tent in that incredible wind saturated with sulphur on the slopes of Te Maari craters surrounded by its steaming vents was certainly an adventure itself and did test our camping skills to their very limits. The Ketetahi shelter and the campsite do no longer provide accommodation due to the damage after volcanic eruption in August 2012. The next morning we started our 2-hour descent back to the forest bushline providing us a striking contrast to the moonscape of the previous day.





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