Fog surrounded us like gray cotton candy.
Active volcanoes lurked in the murkiness like hulking giants, but my hiking partner and I couldn’t see them — at least not at first.
At any moment, the ground could shake and fiery lava would paint the sky in orange streaks. The shroud of fog seemed to lessen the risk on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is called New Zealand’s best day hike.
On our first trip to New Zealand, we vowed to spend as little time as possible in cities and focus on what the country is best known for: the great outdoors. Tongariro topped the list.
The crossing has it all: volcanoes, lava fields, alpine lakes, fumaroles, waterfalls and breath-taking views. It’s in Tongariro National Park, New Zealand’s oldest park.
The track traverses the length of Mount Tongariro and skirts the saddle of Mount Ngauruhoe (see photo at top) — two of New Zealand’s three active volcanoes. Ngauruhoe posed as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings film. (You can hike up Ngauruhoe, but now it’s still covered in ice and snow and requires technical skills and crampons.)
The 12 miles takes about six to nine hours, depending on weather conditions, your fitness level and how often you stop. (We finished the trek in seven hours, including a lunch stop, several rest breaks and lots of photographing.)
We arranged a shuttle to take us to the start of the hike and pick us up at the end. Twelve others from the United States, Ireland and the Netherlands joined us.
We were prepared for any kind of weather, since the crossing is known for unpredictable and fast-changing weather — even in the middle of summer.