Walking the trail of Taranaki Falls, the best bits of Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Tim Roxborogh along the Taranaki Falls Trail, Tongariro National Park. Photo / Tim Roxborogh
One day, I will do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. And I really mean it: one day it will indeed happen and when it does, I have no doubt that it will blow my mind which procrastinates.
But I suspect that part of my brain thinks that I have already played with the system and found a way to bring down most of the biggest hits of the famous 19.4km, seven hour hike without ever having to. make. .
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the jaw-dropping, bite-sized, T20-type alternative, the 6km Taranaki Falls Trail in Tongariro National Park.
I discovered the Taranaki Falls trail by accident. It was a few years ago and I was on a mission to Tongariro Castle, almost certainly the most recognizable historic hotel in the country. As a hotel enthusiast, I had always wanted to stay at the Chateau, but beyond the walls of this Canadian-inspired Georgian-style property built in 1929, I knew very little about the national park that surrounds it.
The swift backstory of Tongariro National Park is that not only is it New Zealand’s oldest national park, it is the sixth oldest in the world, established in 1887. For generations this land has had a enormous spiritual significance for Maori and there was the very real fear that it would be seized by European settlers. Instead, something quite extraordinary happened: led by Supreme Leader Horonuku Te Heuheu Tūkino, the local iwi – Ngāti Tūwharetoa – donated their sacred land to the Crown on condition that it be permanently protected for all people. The generosity, foresight and magnanimity of this gesture will always win me over.
What started as 26 square kilometers of spectacular alpine terrain has gradually expanded over the years to the 796 square kilometers that make up Tongariro National Park since its last expansion in 1975. And through it all, these three volcanic peaks of the Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngāuruhoe and Mount Tongariro were the very heart of the park.
The castle – located 1,100m above sea level on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu at 2,797m – arrived in the late 1920s to encourage tourism in the park, and there is simply no approach by car of such a magical hotel in New Zealand.
Speaking of which, one of the reasons I keep coming back to this part of the country is that there is something enchanting about so much that you see. A few weeks ago, I was in Taupō on a long-awaited date with a bunch of pals who had rented a house for a weekend of shenanigans, nonsense, and general idiots. A boys’ weekend, if you will. But when the early winter day dawned calm and blue, I insisted that all the shenanigans be delayed and we head south to the national park.
The reasoning was simple. Hiked the Taranaki Falls trail in the darkest weather conditions where fog and sleet hides the mountains and you have to guess where the castle is. And even then, he still casts a spell. But do it in good weather? Saying no was not an option.
The journey from Taupō to Whakapapa village and the castle takes around 80 minutes and if you feel motivated you can do what we did and add the easy 6 km 2 hour Lake Rotopounamu loop to the calorie expenditure of the day because it is directly on the way. Just 10 minutes from Tūrangi, Lake Rotopounamu sits on the edge of Tongariro National Park and is a small, beautiful body of water surrounded by some of the North Island’s most jungle native forests.
It then takes 25 minutes from Lake Rotopounamu to the castle, where we dropped by for lunch as well as the obligatory photos of Mt Ngāuruhoe / Mt Doom, 2291m above sea level, seen from the lobby. A “bluebird” day as the skiers and snowboarders among us say, the mountain hotel framing Peter Jackson made an international celebrity (thanks to Lord of the Rings) never fails to stun.
Indeed, the dramatic cone of Mount Ngāuruhoe is a recurring presence on the Taranaki Falls trail, with both ends of the two-hour loop starting and ending right next to the castle. But as much as these views made us snap photos almost continuously, much of the magic of this walk is that you keep going from the reds and yellows of the clump and tundra to being suddenly swallowed by mosses and greens. dripping from the native beech forest.
As for the falls themselves, they are located in the middle of the track and plunge 20 meters over rocks into a pool below. The trail then descends a series of winding steps until you are next to a river and treeline which visually transports me to places like Oregon or Alaska where you half expect to be. see bears catching salmon. I’m not sure if there is a more varied and always more amazing two-hour walk in the country: snow-capped mountains, craggy volcanoes, lush rainforest, clumps and tundra, waterfalls and an iconic hotel to boot.
As a trial cricket purist, I’m not saying the Taranaki Falls track means you’re off the hook doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, but it’s certainly an unforgettable T20.