Volcanic Plateau 3 Peaks Challenge

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Tongariro three peaks 

The goal of the route is to bag the three volcanic peaks in Tongariro National Park – Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu – all in one go. 

There are a variety of ways you could tackle this, but we opted for a start and finish at the Chateau as we only had one car, plus it seemed fitting to turn it into a complete loop and finish where you started. 

We tackled the big one first. An easy warmup up the road to Whakapapa skifield, then off up underneath the new gondola to the Knoll Ridge café. There’s water here at the café to save you carrying too much up from the bottom. 

From there just climb steadily up and up, staying on the ridge to the east of the whakapapa glacier, until you reach Dome on the summit plateau. But you’re not at the proper top just yet. Skirt the crater lake to the west, and enjoy some scrambling up the ridge and around the back side of spot height 2757. We passed just under Tahurangi and approached the peak from the south. There are some tricky bits here so take care with your approach. 

Having bagged peak number one, retrace your steps back down the ridge to the summit plateau, and head straight over to the ridge leading up to Tukino peak, followed by Te Heuheu. From Te Heuheu you have a massive 1000m plus descent to look forward to. We stuck right on Waihohonu ridge and it was pretty easy going in absolutely clear conditions, but in poor visibility it could be tricky to pick the right line. We dropped down until we hit the 2000m contour, then headed pretty much due north from there. You can pretty much take whatever line you like for the next section, but be aware there are a few bluffs you’ll want to avoid. We went in between the two obvious ones marked on the map. There’s also water here for the first time since the skifield. 

The next section is straightforward, nice easy running gently downhill until you hit the round the mountain track, then head up along the Tama lakes track. After Upper Tama, keep on climbing to spot height 1650, then over the top (losing 100m of hard won climbing, but it can’t be helped). From here, it’s time to just put your head down and grunt straight up the side of Ngauruhoe. Needless to say, this is steep – like 45% grade steep. Fun times. 

At the top of Ngauruhoe you can pat yourself on the back since you’ve done the hard stuff now. Bomb down through the scree off the north side of the mountain into south crater and the Tongariro crossing track. Up another small climb towards Red Crater, but peel off north west before you get right to the top. A little bit of up and down and you get to the rather uninspiring Tongariro summit. 

At this point we were in the dark, so we elected to retrace our steps back to south crater. On a nice clear day though, I would choose to save some distance and head off Tongariro to the west, and follow the ridge down until Mangetepopo hut. Either way, once you’re there it’s just a case of plodding along the final 9km of great walk track back to the chateau to close the loop. 

It’s an amazing route, and the satisfaction of bagging the three big peaks is fantastic. Highly recommended! 

ALT 4k

TIME 16 hours

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