Turangi, New Zealand: Tales of the Tongariro Crossing and Tongariro River Trout

Published on: October 19, 2017

Filled Under: Asia-Pacific, New Zealand, Turangi

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This Tongariro Crossing is no walk in the park
Photograph by: Michael Henry
The imposing profile of 'Mount Doom'
Photo Courtesy of Tongariro Guided Walks
The vision: a study in blue on the Tongariro Crossing
Photo courtesy of Tongariro Guided Walks
The reality: a sea of white on the Tongariro Crossing
Photograph by: Michael Henry
In touch with nature: the River Birches Lodge
Photograph by: Michael Henry
River Birches Lodge: a sportsman's delight
Photograph by: Michael Henry
Rest for the weary at River Birches Lodge
Photograph by: Michael Henry
Impatience pays off in the Tongariro River
Photograph by: Michael Henry
Taking the bait in the Tongariro River
Photograph by: Michael Henry
A generational shift at the Tongariro National Trout Centre
Photograph by: Michael Henry

Located halfway between Auckland and Wellington on New Zealand’s North Island, Turangi is a mecca for outdoor adventurers.  Turangi makes a perfect base for tackling two of the country’s most famous recreational endeavors:  hiking the Tongariro Crossing and fishing in the Tongariro River.


A Tale of the Tongariro Crossing with No Visual Evidence

The Tongariro Crossing, near Turangi, is widely considered New Zealand’s greatest day hike.  Tramping the 19.4 kilometer alpine trail was the primary reason my husband, Michael, wanted to visit New Zealand.  Being vertically challenged, I declined the trek, and simply requested that Michael ‘take lots of pictures’.

The scenery along the Tongariro Crossing is legendary: emerald lakes, crimson rocks, active steam vents.  As recently as 2012, one of the craters along the Tongariro Crossing erupted, tossing three-ton boulders about like pebbles.  The Department of Conservation wryly advises hikers to move quickly through this section of the hike.

On the eve of Michael’s scheduled crossing, the weather turned wicked.  Temperatures along the passage dipped below freezing, with precipitation and strong wind gusts.  At dawn, Michael awoke to news that the conditions were marginal but ‘a go’, hikers willing.  I cooked Michael a power breakfast and hastily returned to bed, with a parting reminder, ‘Take lots of pictures.’

Propelled by adrenaline and anticipation, Michael’s spirits soared.  He was only slightly concerned when the shuttle driver began to chant a Maori prayer for his safety as they arrived at the Tongariro Crossing trailhead.

Being part mountain goat, Michael soon left his two fellow trampers behind on the trail.  Alone, and about 5 kilometers into the journey, the footing became icy and the sleet blew sideways.  Michael slipped, dropping his camera in the frigid slop.

Michael had nothing dry enough to clean the muddy camera lens.  It didn’t matter.  The visibility was now non-existent, and pictures were no longer the priority.  The trail had narrowed and the wind was gusting such that Michael was alternately either thrust against the sheer mountain face or thrown off-balance toward the chasm below.

Nothing if not determined, Michael persevered, completing the trail in just less than 4 hours.  The waiting shuttle driver was incredulous.  Only Michael’s abominable appearance persuaded the driver that the trek had not been forfeited in favor a mug of hot chocolate in a warming hut.

Puffed up with chest-beating machismo, Michael returned to our lodge in Turangi.  His bubble of bravado was fully intact until I asked my first question: ‘Did you get some good pictures?’


A Tongariro River Fish Story With the Ultimate Visual Evidence

First a disclaimer:   we have no ‘wrestling the scaly beast’ tale to tell about fly-fishing in the Tongariro River.  When it comes to fly-fishing, we’ve thrown in the pole, cut bait, so to speak.

All of our past attempts at fly-fishing were dismal failures. We always walked away wet and empty-handed.  In Ireland, the chap who rented us fishing equipment felt so sorry for us, he wouldn’t accept payment for the gear rental.  It was that bad.

In Turangi, our goal was not to catch a trout, but to catch a picture of a fisherman catching a trout.  The locals expressed doubt and advised patience.  Fly-fishing, even in one of the world’s best trout fishing rivers, is not an ‘on demand’ sport.

Perhaps it was dumb luck, or maybe the Tongariro River is just that good.  Whatever.  We pointed the camera at the first earnest angler we encountered, and we were immediately rewarded with the money shot.  It was as if the trout was a Kardashian – instinctively drawn by the camera lens.  So in the end, our Tongariro River fish story is that we ‘caught’ a trout without so much as casting a line.


Turangi:  When You Go


The River Birches Lodge, in Turangi, is the nearest luxury accommodation to the Tongariro Crossing.   In addition, the River Birches Lodge is also so close to the Tongariro River that aspiring anglers can walk there in waders.

From the River Birches Lodge, the capable crew at Backyard Tours provides transportation to and from the Tongariro Crossing for independent trampers.  Alternatively, hikers can leverage the expertise of a local with the able assistance of Tongariro Guided Walks.

Whatever the outdoor adventure, the River Birches Lodge is the perfect refuge of comfort after a vigorous day in the fresh air.  With only three expansive suites and a self-catering cottage, the experience at the River Birches Lodge is intimate.   Pre-dinner drinks, served fireside or on the terrace overlooking the brilliantly manicured garden, set the stage for a clubby kinship among the privileged guests of the River Birches Lodge.


Aside from fly fishing in the Tongariro River and hiking the Tongariro Crossing, the Turangi area offers a myriad of active diversions.  For biking or easy ambles, a scenic 15 kilometer path loops along the banks of the Tongariro River.  For those who prefer to paddle, Tongariro River Rafting goes afloat on Grade Three rapids.

Birdwatchers flock to the Tongariro River in hopes of catching a glimpse of the endangered Blue Duck.  The Blue Duck is prolific on New Zealand’s $10 bill, but less so in the wild.  Less than 3000 of the birds remain.

Turangi is downright crazy about trout.   Visit the Tongariro National Trout Centre  to learn about trout history and do face time with the river denizens in their watery element.

If hiking the Tongariro Crossing is too ambitious, Mountain Air offers aerial tours of the otherworldly terrain of the Tongariro National Park, including Mt. Ngauruhoe, Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings film.

In the winter, Turangi makes a great launchpad for New Zealand’s largest ski areas on nearby Mount Ruapehu.

2 Comments on Turangi, New Zealand: Tales of the Tongariro Crossing and Tongariro River Trout

  1. Nancy McLachlan says:

    I am so flattered to be your friend! Every time I read your Global Gallop articles I am amazed at your many talents. Your writing is amazing, your sense of adventure impressive and your choice of destinations mind boggling!
    I’ll never forget our adventures in Reno. Those, I trust, will remain unwritten! Miss you girl.

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