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Featured Image: Ruapehu over the heathland
Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 4 February 2018
Postcard from Tongariro Alpine Crossing: one of the world’s best one-day walks
The Tongariro National Park
In the centre of the North Island of New Zealand is the magnificent Tongariro National Park, which is New Zealand’s oldest National Park set-up in 1894.
Tongariro National Park the fourth national park in the world is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1886 the local Maori iwi the Ngati Tuwharetoa had the land surveyed and set aside for the government to manage to prevent the selling of the mountains to European settlers.
When the Tongariro National Park Act was passed in October 1894, the park covered an area of about 252.13 sq km, later additions brought this up to a size of 786.23 sq km.
The park’s three volcanoes Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu — all active — are the southern end of a 2500 km long range of volcanoes. The northern end of this volcanically active zone within New Zealand, which passes through Taupo and Rotorua, is White Island in the sea off the Bay of Plenty. All three are magic places to visit and within a few hours drive of Tongariro.
The cause of this volcanic activity in New Zealand is where the Pacific Tectonic Plate is subducted under the Australian Plate.
Ngauruhoe previously erupted every nine years, but the last eruption was in 1975. Mount Tongariro has two active vents the Red Crater, which last emitted ash in 1926 and the Te Maari craters on its northern slopes, which erupted in August and November 2012. One of which put a boulder through the roof of Ketetahi Hut causing its closure as an overnight option. It remains in use on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing only as a day shelter.
Mount Ruapehu has major eruptions about every 50 years 1895, 1945 and 1995-96. Minor eruptions are frequent with at least 60 since 1945.
Lahars are another problem on Mount Ruapehu and also Tongariro. A lahar is a mudflow or debris flow (ash and rock) mixed with water and caused by volcanic activity. Lahars have been recorded on Mount Ruapehu since 1861, important ones were 1953, 1968, 1969, 1975, 1995 and 2007. The 1953 lahar damaged a bridge on the main Auckland to Wellington railway a short time before a train was due. The train derailed and 151 lives were lost.
Mt Ruapehu has two ski areas and is one of the few places in the world where one skis on an active volcano. Lahar danger and the action to take is communicated carefully in these ski areas, but research shows that less than half the skiers know what to do, when the alarm sounds. Although one suspects they may follow, when others run like hell uphill.
The main accommodation areas are Okahune, National Park and Turangi. More upmarket options are the Tongariro Chateau and some apartments at Whakapapa. Pick-ups for the Tongariro crossing are mainly from National Park, Whakapapa and Turangi but also from further afield.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing
There are many good walks in New Zealand in spectacular country. Nevertheless, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing has been labelled one of the best one-day walks in the world. The walk is certainly spectacular through rough volcanic terrain, up and between two active volcanoes Ngauruhoe and Tongariro with snowy Ruapehu in the background.
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