International travel enthusiast and expat from New Zealand, currently living in Germany. https://indie-road.com
Published March 15th 2017
One can simply walk to Mordor
Just to the South of Taupo is the Tongariro National Park, or "National Park" for short. Here there are a plethora of different hiking trails, but none more famous or spectacular than The Tongariro Crossing. It is a 19.4km trek through volcanic terrain between the Mangatepopo carpark and the Ketetahi carpark.
Firstly, for anybody who enjoyed the Lord of the Rings franchise, the first half or so of the hike wanders through what is essentially Mordor in the movies. One of the mountains that you cross between - Mt Ngauruhoe - is actually Mt Doom from the movies. This is a 2-3 hour excursion if you wish to divert from the trail and to climb to the peak.
Aside from all of the Lord of the Rings locations, the nature here is absolutely stunning. The first half of the walk crosses harsh, dramatic, volcanic landscapes with sulphuric lakes of impossible hues, bright red craters, and a harsh, jutting skyline of volcanic ridges. The second half of the walk descends down through thick native forest with fantastic views across the North Island. The variety here is uncanny.
My first piece of advice is to do this walk the most common way around. If you start at Mangatepopo the walk, while encompassing a variety of uphill and downhill sections, is generally downhill. There is a substantial altitude difference between the start and the finish of the hike which your knees will absolutely notice if you accidentally do the walk backwards, as I stupidly did the first time.
Secondly, make sure you have a good pair of hiking boots, especially if you wish to do the hike to either the Ngauruhoe or Tongariro summit. This isn't a pleasant walk in the park, this is a very serious hike, and a lot of people get caught out.
Make sure you have sufficient food and water supplies with you, as well as sunscreen and clothing for all weather. Up in the highlands, the temperature and conditions can change drastically and very quickly, and it pays to be prepared for everything. The hike tends to take about 7 hours (if completed the right way!) but can be done quicker if you're quite fit and healthy, but don't rush as there is so much to immerse yourself in.
Lastly, start as early as possible - you could even take a torch and start before sunrise. This ensures you beat the crowds.
If you want to do this hike in winter, it is worth calling the DOC beforehand to check conditions. It may be advisable to have snow-shoes and ice axes with you. It is much more popular to complete the hike in summer when conditions are more favourable, however, it looks absolutely stunning with a little bit of snow still gracing the peaks if you're willing to brave the colder weather.
This is an absolute must for anybody backpacking in New Zealand or any nature lover or fan of the Lord of the Rings movies. Make sure to include this on your itinerary and you won't be disappointed, as long as the weather permits. There are plenty of tour companies from Taupo who will drop you off at the start and pick you up at the end, or you can arrange your own transport. There are a few DOC campsites in the proximity which should you wish to camp.