The tiny village of National Park in New Zealand would not be of great significance, was it not that close to the Tongariro National Park. That name might only ring a bell to some alert hikers, but if I mention Mount Doom and the Lord of the Rings, many people will realize that the sight of Mount Ngauruhoe is quite familiar. This is where the Hobbit Mr. Frodo had to throw the one and only Ring into the lava and save Middle Earth.
The one-day walk Tongariro Crossing is one of the best walks people will ever experience, and certainly the most popular on New Zealands North Island. The starting point is at the end of a road (Mangatepopo Road) about 10 km out of National Park. You will walk for about 1.5 hours until you reach the foot of Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Tongariro, two of the still active volcanoes in the national park. You will climb up in between them, make your way through a crater and up another ridge and then down towards some fantastic looking Emerald Lakes.
Â You can also walk up to the summit of Mount Doom and spit into the Crater Lakes, that is real physical stuff though. The summit is at 2,291 meters and it is a very steep climb. Make sure to bring proper shoes, the track is well maintained, but at some spots you will walk through loose rocks, and you surely would not want to hobble down the rest of the track.
The views over the area are fantastic. You can see the nearby Mt. Ruapehu, another active volcano and the North Islands biggest ski resort in the wintertime. Far away towards the east, you might spot Mt. Taranaki, 2,518 meters Â high and right next to the west coast.
It is a surreal experience to walk through cold lava, see all the different colors and smell that smell of sulphur. Once you reach Ketetahi Hut, you will leave this inhospitable area and walk back down, through pretty beech forests, until you reach the end of Ketetahi Road.
There is plenty of transport in National Park, pretty much every Hostel in the village arranges to drop you off and pick you up. There is other villages in the area and even the town of Taupo on the northern end of Lake Taupo, the biggest lake of New Zealand, which is about an hours drive away, but National Park is just the most convenient starting point for the walk.
If a one day hike is not enough for you, you can walk the whole 4 day circuit. It starts and finishes at Whakapapa village, near Mt. Ruapehu and you will make your way around the volcanoes and some fantastic landscape!
There is no big supermarket, no ATM and cellular reception may or may not work, so make sure you buy all your chocolate, muesli bars and tin food in Taupo or somewhere else on the way. You can reach National Park via bus, or the Overlander train that connects Auckland and Wellington along a very scenic route.