North Crater

Emily and I took an impromptu trip up to Tongariro, excited by the promise of clear sunny skies and Emily a chance to get moving again after a bout of illness. We decided Mangatepopo would be a good Friday destination, followed by a climb over Tongariro via Hardman’s Ridge, a full moon camp in the North Crater overlooking Taupo, then a return trip via the Crossing route back to the Mangatepopo road end. 

The weather delivered as promised – scattered cloud played about Tongariro and in short time turned to clear skies. After crossing the creek from Mangatepopo Hut, a relatively easy to follow foot trail led us up to Hardman’s Ridge with stunning views across to Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu behind.

A few hours and brief lunch later, we donned crampons and quickly reached the summit of Tongariro. From here, we slowly ambled down toward the North Crater, looking for potential camping spots from our high vantage point with a full view of the crater and surrounds plus views to a deep blue Lake Taupo. We settled on a spot nestled at the edge of the plateau, just below a rim of rock separating us from the slope north toward Taupo. 

A crispy cool clear evening called for hot beverages and a twilight walk about the crater. A light frost settled in while pink and purple hues bathed the landscape. Ngauruhoe on the horizon to the south enjoyed the last light of the sun and took on a soft alpenglow. I took the lid off my mug to let the piping tea cool down to a drinking temperature. The condensation on the lid quickly froze. Luckily we were well prepared – Emily had some innumerable number of hoods to don and I was equipped with down booties and a generous heap of fleece and softshell layers. The moonlit walk by headlamp around the otherworldly landscape eased some warmth into my cold toes, which I quickly got into a sleeping bag and liner. 

Sunrise gave a new perspective and golden hues to the panorama plateau and peaks about our campsite. Sunlight danced about the lakes to the north and low clouds of the east as we sipped morning coffee. Packed up and moving along, we plod our way back, gradually tracking back to the Mangatepopo.

We traversed a steep slope and saddle below Tongariro, making our way to the spur connecting down toward the popular Crossing route. Our rather quiet time off-track for the last 24 hours quickly turned rather social as we shared the Crossing route with the modest crowd of walkers heading to the high point near Red Crater. Crampons were not needed from the edge of the South Crater, which had turned to a bog from snowmelt and persistent rain in the weeks prior. It was feeling truly summery by the time we reached Mangatepopo, where we had a late lunch basking in the wintry sun. We reached the carpark in another 20 minutes and made the long drive back to Wellington in the afternoon, delighted to have had such a great impromptu trip to Tongariro complete with interesting alpine travel, snow camping, plentiful views, and stunning conditions.

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