philosophy and ethics

The Tongariro Crossing

The Tongariro Crossing, in North Island New Zealand, is - for me - the most amazing and memorable one-day hike. Towards the right of the above photo, people are reduced to tiny dots in the landscape as they snake their way around the gaping wound of the red crator.

The day starts early, in the relative cool of a February morning in New Zealand, with little knots of people waiting outside the motels and hostels in Taupo, adjusting backpacks, checking water bottles, lacing up sturdy walking boots. They wait for the minibuses that will take them south, down the 47 and the western flank of Tongariro, to deposit them in an area of low scrub at the Mangatepopo car park. The drivers promise to be waiting at the Ketatahi car park, on the far side of the Crossing, in eight hours time. At this point, there is no turning back. Just a last chance to use the loo before making the crossing. To start with, the climb is rather mundane, just a gentle ascent through low scrub, then more steeply zig-zagging up the side of the volcano.


On the first part of the hike, you snake your way the up the side of Tongariro and towards Mount Ngauruhoe, through fields of volcanic rock, before hauling up the final steep slope to emerge onto level ground below the peak. 

Mount Ngauruhoe

Ngauruhoe is everyone’s idea of a what a volcano should look like, but it is in fact a side vent of Tongariro itself.  Some hikers are keen enough to scramble up its side. Most head on, eastwards across the flat lava field towards the ridge ahead, beyond which, at this stage, you see nothing but sky. Then you haul yourself up it and get your first glimpse of what lies ahead.

Red Crater

You have emerged onto the rim of the Red Crater, with your first views over to the far side of the National Park.

Red Crater Tongariro

Just to get this into perspective, a couple of walkers are on the track to the extreme right of this photograph. As you go round the Red Crater and start your descent, you see below you the emerald lakes. 

Emerald Lakes


As you descend towards them (see the image at the top of the right-hand column) your eyes are constantly drawn to the colours of the slopes on your right, looking across to the top of the Red Crater.

Emerald Lake

The water might look inviting, but unless you like taking a dip in acid, you would do well to keep clear!

looking back

If the Earth has a massive, bleached wound, this is it. No photograph can start to do justice to the colours here, but I'm reluctant to ask Photoshop to cheat on my behalf. Was I really down by Lake Taupo only four hours ago? The day started too normally to accommodate this alien landscape. For me, this is one of the most amazing places I have ever visited. I want to stay and gawp, breathe in the sulphur and feel the sun beating down on the hot rocks. It is both wonderful and sinister, utterly inhospitable.


Walkers, like ants, snake their way down the ridge above the Emerald Lakes, and beyond them, the gaping rawness of the Red Crater.

distant view

Only from a distance do you start to appreciate the relative size of Red Crater and Mount Ngauruhoe beyond. What force must it have taken to blow this mountain apart? Heading on over the level ground, I was not the only one to stop frequently to look back.

Lake Taupo

And then on, gradually working our way down the other side of the crossing, with views down over Lake Rotoaira and Lake Taupo in the distance. The Tongariro Crossing is a hike to remember, testimony to the power of volcanic activity and the fragility of human life.

Is this the most dramatic one-day hike in the world?

Slope down to the Emerald Lake

Walkers descending the side of the Red Crater towards the Emerald Lakes.

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The ground underfoot is warm, steaming and smelling strongly of sulphur. You do not need to be told that it would be unwise to stray from the path!

And, yes; this rather sad photograph shows that I go laden with photographic gear! The photo was taken by my wife, Marianne.

colour on slope

Emerald lake