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June 2015 Issue
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Sunrise on Red Crater, Mt Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu, Tongariro National Park. Photo: Rob Brown
Tongariro National Park
4-5 hr to Emerald Lakes
From Mangatepopo Road end

Tongariro National Park

A wander across the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a one you’re likely to share with many other people. That can be enjoyable, but there is another way of doing it. It’s called the alpine start and for those willing to get up early enough there’s a spectacular wilderness experience to be enjoyed.

On this particular night I got drenched by a thunderstorm in the first hour or so but the cloud evaporated as the night wore on. By the time I got near my intended destination, the volcanic landscape was bathed in moonlight. It took me about four hours to reach the high point of the Crossing near Red Crater and then I hurried down past Emerald Lakes and slogged up to the spot I wanted to be for sunrise.

There was still a gentle breeze blowing from the south-west, so I hunkered down in a scoop near the volcanic ridge and waited for the sun. When it came it was one of those surreal moments that sticks in the mind.

By the time I got back to Red Crater a couple of others were just arriving to enjoy the early morning. I passed a steady trickle of people and by the time I got to where the track drops back into the Mangatepopo Valley the trickle had turned into a long line of happy punters. There must have been 1000 people out there.

I was pleased for each and every one of them. They’d missed that precious couple of hours of early morning but no big deal; at least they were outside and enjoying a walk in our oldest national park.

Rob Brown