Around the volcanoes of Mordor:
The Mount Doom Double

Volcanic vents, craters into the abyss, fire in the sky at night, impenetrable fog and emerald lakes.

It’s easy to see why this area is steeped in legend – from tales of Mordor and Middle Earth, to Maori legends about fiery mountain warriors battling over beautiful maidens.  

North Island, New Zealand: 15 – 19th February 2017
We put on our hiking packs for a few days and explored Tongariro National Park. We combined the Round the Mountain Track and the Tongariro Northern Circuit/Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We circumnavigated the two volcanoes used to film Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings: Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu. This area is now synonymous with Mordor, but the Maori history is even more spellbinding.

Tongariro National Park Round the Mountain track Tongariro Alpine Crossing Tongariro Northern Circuit Ring of Fire Mount Doom

The silouette of Mt Ngauruhoe against a fiery sky.

This area is sacred to Māori people, so precious that they gifted custodianship to the people of New Zealand, in order to preserve the area rather than see it split up and destroyed. It was the first National Park in the world to be created by gift from an indigenous people.

According to Maori legend, Mount Ruapehu is a beautiful female mountain.

Tongariro National Park Round the Mountain track Tongariro Alpine Crossing Tongariro Northern Circuit Ring of Fire Mount Doom

Heading towards the beautiful Mt Ruapehu

She was married to Mount Taranaki. But one day she was seduced by Mount Ngauruhoe. The two male mountains fought over the beautiful Ruapehu, throwing fire and erupting violently. Taranaki lost. He fled west, gouging a great trail into the earth as he moved. The trail was filled with tears and became the Whanganui River. There are other versions of this lovers quarrel, but they all involve warrior mountains fighting over beautiful maiden mountains.

Tongariro National Park Round the Mountain track Tongariro Alpine Crossing Tongariro Northern Circuit Ring of Fire Mount Doom

We started out on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing/Tongariro Northern Circuit. The walk climbs through volcanic rock to the base of Mt Ngauruhoe. Mt Taranaki – the jilted ex-husband – is rearing his head on the distant horizon.

To explore this stunning landscape, we combined two hikes:

  • the Tongariro Alpine Crossing/Tongariro Northern Circuit, which is widely hailed as one of the best day hikes in the world; and
  • the Round the Mountain Track, a 4 to 6 day remote backcountry circuit which I think has intentionally been kept secret!

The best thing about this hike was the look on the faces of locals when we told them what we’d done. Many of them reaffirmed that this is indeed the best hike on the North Island of NZ. It’s quite unfathomable that hardly anyone does it.

I finished this hike so appreciative of the gift the Maori people had given. 

How to combine the Round the Mountain Track and the Tongariro Northern Circuit / Tongariro Alpine Crossing….

Tongariro National Park Round the Mountain track Tongariro Alpine Crossing Tongariro Northern Circuit Ring of Fire Mount Doom

Source: http://www.doc.govt.nz/roundthemountain
The red line indicates the loop we did and the tracks we combined. More specific information about each of the sections is at the doc website

How to do the “Mount Doom Double”
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The first 10km is part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which starts at Mangatepopo. Mangatepopo is marked by a red star in the image above. We started with this section due to the weather forecast – it’s best to do the Alpine Crossing in good weather because it’s exposed and can be treacherous in bad weather. It was also the only timing that fitted in with campsite availability at Oturere Hut.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is well-marked and is well-trodden in Summer in good weather.

Turn off to Oturere Hut, along the Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk
We turned right at the Emerald Lakes, which are around 10 km into the Alpine Crossing, and spent the first night at Oturere Hut. This is part of the Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk, so must be booked in advance in peak season.

The next day we continued along the Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk to Waihohonu hut. Stop in and have a chat with the ranger at Waihohonu hut to check the latest weather conditions.

At Waihohonu Hut turn onto the Round the Mountain Track, towards Rangipo Hut.
Once on the Round the Mountain Track, the huts can’t be booked in advance, but you do need backcountry tickets which you buy from a DOC visitor centre beforehand.

This track is much more remote. We only saw one or two other people at each of the backcountry huts, and they were all great to talk to! They were all North Island locals, which supports my theory that they’re trying to keep this a local secret!
Our last night of the circuit we stayed in a cabin at Whakapapa Village and had dinner in a proper restaurant. It felt like luxury! We were in our camping dry clothes so we probably looked pretty odd to everyone else!

You can catch a bus from Whakapapa to Mangatepopo if you want to skip this part of the track.

The whole “Mount Doom Double” is 72km, or about 8.5 km less if you skip the part from Whakapapa to Mangatepopo. We did it in five days, but some of these days were long – six days may be a more comfortable pace.

Day trip option: If you don’t have the time or gear for a multi-day trek, the Alpine Crossing is an amazing day trip. There’s plenty of bus companies that drop you off at Mangatepopo and pick you up at Ketetahi. Top tip: start early so you have plenty of time to do the side trip up Mt Ngauruhoe. Also the weather is often better in the mornings. The weather changes quickly so pack warm gear. It’s a 18km-ish walk, and you’ll want plenty of time to take in the mesmerising views!

Links to other adventures: