Ruapehu Crater Walk

This section has a special "before/after" feature. If you see this BeforeAfter icon, click it to toggle between the before (1995) and after (1999) image. In 1995 and 1996 Ruapehu had two major eruptions, and the changes are sometimes spectacular.

Netscape users: Since Navigator does not completely understand CSS2 please click on 1995/1999 to see the "Before/After" images. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Chair Lift Ride

Ruapehu Crater Lake 1995 Ruapehu Crater Lake 1995 BeforeRuapehu Crater Lake 1999 Ruapehu Crater Lake 1999 After

The first step on a journey is the most difficult one, they say - not in this case.

Your first steps will take you to the chairlift which takes care of the most gruelsome part of the journey.

You'll have to change seats once, then you arrive at the summit café, which is a great place to relax and talk story after you've been to the top. From here you'll be left to your navigation skills if you didn't come with a guide.

Should you take one? The NZ$50 are not a bad investment if you're unsure whether you have the skills to do it on your own. Apart from advice you'll get tips and information about the history of the area from your guide.

I personally found you won't need a guide if you

If you know your way, you can do it - keep in mind that even with a guide you still have to walk yourself!

On the other hand I found it pretty difficult on one occasion to find my way back down. Fog was limiting visibility to about 200m, and it felt like "you're in a maze with twisty little passages all alike". What I mean is one gully looks like the other, and without a decent map you might get as lost as the woman they were searching for that day for quite some time. We just crossed the slope until the next lift and followed that down.

Through The Notch

The entrance to the summit plateau is via The Notch which is just that in a chain of higher rocks. This is a good place for a drink & food stop since it's a bit protected here, and the wind can really whip across the summit plateau. When I was up Ruapehu the first time, the wind was blowing ice cold, and I was very glad to have my long underpants and waterproof overtrousers with me.

Up The Dome

The Dome 1995 The Dome 1995 BeforeThe Dome 1999 The Dome 1999 After

Depending on the amount of ice and snow you encounter you might continue along the ridge (no/ little snow) or walk on the right border of the central glacier.

Your next destination is the Dome which is directly in front of you, no matter what path you follow. It's a steady climb uphill, but not as steep as the part before you reached the plateau.

Central Glacier 1995 Central Glacier 1995 BeforeCentral Glacier 1999 Central Glacier 1999 After

I hope you're trying out the before/ after feature? The changes caused by the 1995/99 eruptions are quite dramatic.

It's hard to see anything on the "before" picture of the central glacier because everything is white in white.

[Click the icon!] The eruptions deposited substantial amounts of ash on the mountain and its surroundings. While the spectacle was interesting not everyone was happy with that. The ski season was shortened in both years, and the Tongariro water collection scheme for hydroelectric power generation was severely affected.

At the visitor center at Tokaanu (which is closed now, which is a pity) a valve was on display which looked like it had been worked with a plasma torch. But the damage was done by water and the coarse ash particles carried by it. Impressive!

Dome Shelter 1995 Dome Shelter 1995 BeforeDome Shelter 1999 Dome Shelter 1999 After

Finally you'll reach the Dome with Dome Shelter on it. From here you'll have a great view of the crater lake and the whole summit plateau.

But before we come to that let's take a look at the shelter. It was right in the middle of the action, and bares the scars to proove it. In example the roof has been nicely dented on the right side.

Crater Lake

Ruapehu Crater Lake 1995 Ruapehu Crater Lake 1995 BeforeRuapehu Crater Lake 1999 Ruapehu Crater Lake 1999 After

Finally you made it to the top! Provided the clouds behave the view from here is pretty incredible.

Depending on the year selected, a vast crater lake or a gaping hole stretches out right in front of you. I find both views impressive, and both are witness to the power of this volcano.

In some years the crater lake reached temperatures of over 70°C, on other (few) occasions it cooled down so much it froze over. At the moment a visit to the lake can't be recommended since the slopes are extremely unstable and the potential for minor eruptions is still quite high. But even at other times there is always the chance for a phreatic (steam) eruption when magma and water come into contact.

You might feel a bit chilly up here and think about a bath in the lake. Hm, apart from being a wee bit too hot to be comfortable the pH value of about 1 might irritate your skin - this is pure acid. Two skiers actually tried it out when a snow avalanche swept them into the lake while doing a photo shooting. Both survived with minor injuries, but reported "the water stung each of their orifices".

Not recommended; but on the other hand, what a great party story to tell! :-)

Ruapehu Crater Composite 1995/1999 Ruapehu Crater Composite 1995/1999

This picture shows the Crater Lake in 1995 and 1999 in one picture (I overlaid the 1999 image with the half transparent image from 1995). The former lake shore has been marked with a red line.

The changes are quite impressive, aren't they! 50m of lake level is gone, the landscape has changed and is covered with ash. The central glacier has been partly melted and helps to refill the steaming lake.

There are fears the crater lake wall has been weakened by the eruption and might collapse if the lake refills to its old level. In this case something like the Tangiwai desaster could repeat.


Slopes 1995 Slopes 1995 BeforeSlopes 1999 Slopes 1999 After

Depending on the time of the year it's a long walk or a short slide back to the top of the chair lift.

Be carefull when using the snow express: you might hit rock bottom when your bottom hits rock.

Other people fell in deep crevasses; so this might be another occasion when the knowledge of a guide comes in handy.

Volcanoes of New Zealand Back to Introduction

© 1999 Anita Ford & Christian Treber