Whether or not you are a Lord of the Rings (LOTR) fan– in New Zealand you will sooner or later come across sites which have been part of the movie. One of it is Mount Ngauruhoe (2287 metres), an active volcano and one of the three mighty mountains of the Tongariro National Park on the North Island of New Zealand. With a few digital adjustments Peter Jackson transformed Mt Ngauruhoe into the fiery Mt Doom and made it known world-wide. While some of the LOTR movie sites like the Hobbiton require a fortune for their tours, climbing the “Mt Doom” is a free activity and also by far the more adventurous one. The hike is by no means one for the faint-hearted. The ascent is steep and you walk on gravel – good footing and fitness are required. But once you reach the top your efforts will be rewarded with breathtaking views.
Quick facts about Mount Ngauruhoe
- Mt Ngauruhoe is one of many hikes in the Tonariro National Park.
- Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest national park and has been approved by UNESCO as cultural and natural World Heritage Site. It is located halfway between Auckland and Wellington.
- The hike starts from Magatepopo hut on 1100 metres, it is 19 km long and takes about 6-7 hours to complete,
- Mt Ngauruhoe is an active volcano, its last eruption was in 1977 – before setting out check the weather condition and current volcanic status with the DOC visitor center situated in Whakapapa Village or online.
- You could include the summit trip to Mt Ngauruhoe also as a side loop in the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing – it takes about 3 hours return from the South Crater
- The level for the summit climb is difficult and good shoes and experience are recommended
Strolling through the Mangatepopo Valley to the Soda Spring
The Mangatepopo hut, the starting point for the summit tour to Mt Ngauruhoe, is nestled among a unique scenery. While the majestic cone of the volcano sits on one side you can see the peak of Mt Taranaki in the west. After one last toilet stop we took off through the giant Mangatepopo valley which has been carved out by the glacier. For about 45 minutes we walk on a well maintained, fairly flat track, along high grass and little streams. Board walks even make sure that we won’t get our feet wet in the damper part. Coming from Switzerland, where most of the hiking paths are natural, we were a bit amused that the trails were so well maintained. But it’s convenient and allows you to look around and study the interesting lava formations and boulders without stumbling over rocks.
Climbing the “Devil’s Stairs” to the South crater
While the first part of your journey was more of a stroll and a good warm-up exercise the second section put our fitness level to the test. There is a reason why this part of the track is called the “Devil’s stairs. For the steep ascent of about 200 meters you should count with around 45 minutes. Step after step we made your way up. Thanks to the amazing weather, the view was stunning and gave us a good excuse to do some photo stops. The rough beauty of lava flows and volcanic debris that surrounded us, gave us a taste what to expect on the summit. After we successfully reached the South Crater (the ridge that leads to the Red Crater if you continue with the Alpine Crossing) the weather suddenly changed and the temperature dropped. We could no longer proceed in only a light sweatshirt – it was time to suit up with our rain jackets. I was happy that I also thought about bringing my beanie as the wind turned nasty.
Crawling Mt Ngauruhoe
We reached the bottom of Mt Ngauruhoe and looked up to the summit. No signposts indicated where to go and there were no man-made trails – we were facing bare nature. By watching the other hikers, we were trying to figure out the best route. In the middle there is a rocky ridge that seemed to divide the face of the volcano in two halves. First we stuck to the left side as some people already carved a little trail in the loose gravel. But that didn’t make the ascent easier. Taking one step up often resulted in two steps down. Halfway up we changed strategy and decided to go over to the ridge and climb up the rocks. We were literally crawling on our fours trying to avoid dislodged rocks that came rolling down from the top. After about 2 hours we happily reached the top and could relax.
On top of the world – looking down into the earth
Reaching the summit of a mountain, or volcano in our case, is fulfilling in a way that is hard to explain with words. It’s a mix of excitement and inner relaxation in a peaceful environment that seems so far away from everything. The panoramic view from Mt Ngauruhoe is exceptional. Close by you see across Mount Tongariro with the Red Crater summit (1886 meters) and the Blue Lake beyond. Its distinctive color provides a stark contrast to the rugged landscape. After we regained our strength by eating a sandwich we made our way to the rim of the crater. Steam was coming up from the hole and the smell of Sulphur chased us away quickly. Nevertheless, it was a strange feeling staring down in the depth of the earth not knowing when the next eruption will be.
No decent descent
The thing about climbing up is that on one point you also have to go down again. Bummer! But the sun indicated that we have not much time left to linger around. And clearly we had no intention of going back in the dark. If the scree had been smaller and less sharp on the side of the ridge, I would have considered to simply slide down the steep hill on my butt. I actually tried this option but soon gave up on it – my leggings would have ripped immediately. I know pants with wholes are actually trendy but being fashionable was the least of my worries at that moment. We ended up with partly trying to slither down on our feet and crawling on all fours. Stones were rolling right and left from us and every now and then someone shouted: Watch out!
What an adventure – but a really fun one! We safely reached the bottom just as the low sun was adding a golden shimmer to the landscape that surrounded us. The journey back to our van was an easy walk. We enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere and looked forward to a shower and a good hearty meal in our campervan!