Summiting Mt. Doom – New Zealand’s North Island

Guest Blog by Raechel Wong

The Emerald Lakes (Tongariro Alpine Crossing)
The Emerald Lakes (Tongariro Alpine Crossing)

There are certain trips you embark on that leave you dumbfounded. You are never the same again. When you get home you’re not quite sure how to go on with life; how you understand your routine, your friends, your habits, and choices are viewed through the new lens you’ve picked up.

Two of my best friends and I zipped off to New Zealand’s North Island for two weeks (if you’re wondering, we’re saving South Island for the next trip). We didn’t pick New Zealand just because we’d already seen Europe, or Southeast Asia, Africa, the U.S., or South America (between the three of us, we’ve covered much of the world though). Needless to say,  having been around the world a bit, I am really impressed by “Australia’s little brother” (words from a local, not me!). We bought our tickets to kiwi-land because we heard about and saw photos of the land’s unparalleled beauty. We’re also huge Lord of the Rings nerds. Huge. And we were hankering for a trip where we could traverse the outdoors.

Ngauruhoe summit
Ngauruhoe summit with the tip of Ruapehu, in the distance!
At a 30º grade, the slope of Ngauruhoe is covered in loose
volcanic rock, which will scuttle down at a brush from a
gust of wind. The summit sits 2200km above sea level and
one should allow at least 3 hours for this hike.

New Zealand is called home by one of the best hikes in the world: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It’s so jam-packed with wonder that I could devote a handful of blogposts to the Crossing alone. It’s best to be well-equipped with the right gear and under the right conditions. Locals warned us that unprepared people have expired on this hike so we made sure to bring twice as much water as the recommended amount per person. Good thing too! We used it all by spontaneously adding Mt. Ngauruhoe to our hike. Famously, Ngauruhoe, the most active of the many resident volcanos, is known for being Mount Doom in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

A third of my hike up Mt. Ngauruhoe was glamorously done on all fours, just like the plight of Frodo and Sam in Return of the King–unlike them we had plenty of water and snacks on the way up and down and 0 orcs to fight. Needless to say, going “up the hill” was a challenging trek, and for me, one of the most difficult physical feats I may have accomplished in my entire life. (If you’re a mountain climber though, I’m sure this is a walk in the park for you.) “I’m going to go home and eat those hikes in Malibu for breakfast!” I thought after huffing and puffing to the summit. I’m pretty sure someone was playing “Eye of the Tiger” in my last 20 meters up too.

So why do I see my life differently after returning to the States? What has kept me up at night or silent in thought in my reunion with friends? I’m not 100% sure, but I think this volcano may have something to do with it. I didn’t expect myself to be capable of hiking Mt. Ngauruhoe. We all surprise ourselves here and there when our cooking comes out fairly edible or when we get hired for a job we didn’t think we deserved. Grace is sometimes the only explanation you have for these types of situations!

When you outdo yourself in hindsight like I did, your mind keeps wandering back to that sobbing young woman you passed on the ridge, her on her way down, and you less than half way up, not-quite-sobbing but questioning the potentially-bad life choice you may be making with every step up. Maybe you think about the very second you sat down at the crater’s edge, very much alive, dumbstruck & breathless, both from being in awe of the magnificent view and from being pathetically out of shape compared to all the Shawn-T’s chest-bumping all around you. Or the moments you were sliding down the loose scree turning back every minute or so to check for small bumbling boulders aiming to bop you on the melon!

Traveling has the purpose of never leaving you the same, and I think we sometimes forget and get more than we bargained for. Traveling leaves you vulnerable and unsure of how to proceed with your “normal” life, because you can’t! After pushing your limits, you simply can’t go back to the way you were before. The return is emotionally terrifying and exhilarating, which is why many of us sink back into our routines, forgetting why we came home so shaken up, instead of letting our experiences change us from the inside out. Besides those flashbacks, the things I think to myself now ask me how I can create more stories like this one. What am I actually capable of? How can I challenge myself to push my limits and what could I achieve if I tried passing my comfort zone? A whole new world of possibilities opens up when you’re reminded that you don’t know everything about yourself. The mountains you once thought were insurmountable seem smaller. Certainties don’t seem so certain.

To me, this is about getting closer to learning what sorts of things make me come alive. My challenge to you for your next adventure is to open yourself up to the inner processing that goes on during and after the trip. Take note of the scenery and people around you, but also take note of every emotion you have and every mental box that gets broken along the way and do the daring thing: take what you learned about yourself and the new experiences you’ve gleaned and figure out how to weave it all back into the beautifully messy tapestry that is your life!

Want to hike Ngaurahoe/Tongariro? 

Get yourself on the North Island of New Zealand and you can stay in Turangi (we stayed at Extreme Backpackers–say hello to John for us!), Taupo, or Tongariro to be near the national park for an early start. Check the weather regularly (a week before, a few days in advance, the night before, and the morning of). The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a one-day 19.4km adventure; it’s not a round trip walk, so park your car and hire a shuttle in advance to truck you to the other end of the trail (I recommend starting from the Mangatepopo trail head). Pack food and 2L of water minimum and be prepared to take your trash with you. There are no rubbish bins along the way and only 2 restroom areas. Hiking shoes are recommended, but you can get along with good cross-trainers (you want hiking boots and gloves for Ngauruhoe however). Dress in layers. Visit the government site for more info. Cheers for reading and enjoy!

Raechel Wong, http://raechel2leeds.blogspot.comRaechel Wong is an artist and blogger from Los Angeles, CA, who loves moving in whatever art she can get her hands on, whether it be drawing, writing, dancing, or performing. Read more about her global adventures at