The Tongariro Crossing, a ~17 km trek across Mt Tongariro in the central North Island, is one of New Zealands classic alpine routes. Unlike the famous alpine tracks of the South Island, the Tongariro Crossing takes trampers through an entirely volcanic landscape, ranging from old lava flows in the Mangatepopo Valley to the perfect cone of Mt Ngauruhoe and the multiple craters of Mt Tongariro to the north.
In summer the crossing is snow-free, a starkly barren moonscape of bare lava and scoria in tones of brown, black and red, while in winter much of the area is under snow and ice. While not technically difficult, the crossing can still provide challenges in adverse conditions, particularly in winter, and is not to be taken lightly as weather conditions can deteriorate quickly at any time of year.
In July 2001 I joined a small group of friends on a trip to the northern side of Mt Tongariro to camp beside the circular Blue Lake. It was a cold and stormy weekend for tramping, with bitter gale-force winds coating us with rime ice as we traversed the higher parts of the route towards the lake.
About 30 cm of dry powder snow fell that night, and, with the passage of the front, the next day dawned with clear skies. The wind was still very strong, and the temperature had fallen to a chilly 7ºC by sunrise hardly an incentive for me to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag. Once I realised it had cleared, however, I quickly got up and headed for the exposed ridge above the lake, just in time for this sunrise photograph.