You may have left home, travelled halfway across the globe, navigated labyrinthine airport terminals and the incomprehensible ineptitude of foreign taxi drivers, but when it comes to cultural naivety, we backpackers can still make Kelly Brook look like Stephen Hawking (intelligent, not disabled).

Case in point: the North Island’s Tongariro Crossing. Widely regarded as the most accessible (but demanding) one day hike in New Zealand, and regularly finding a place in world’s top hikes polls (think the FHM 100 for geology geeks), it sees you scaling up and over the very side of The Lord of the Rings’ “Mount Doom” along a track measuring 18.5km.

Weather conditions are violently unpredictable and every year people are found lost or, if you’re completely oblivious, the stiff side of dead. I’d just arrived to the information centre and inquired about the possibility of heading up the mountain.

The chief guide was currently looking at me with a look of resigned sympathy that I’d seen all too many times. Usually when my school teachers were informing me I’d be staying in the special class for another term.

“If you go up that mountain today darling, you’ll be blown straight off.” “Ah. Right then. Well, on a scale from, say, ‘Monica Lewinsky’ to ‘Hurricane Katrina’, just how blowy is it up there right now?”

She politely informed me that (a) there would be winds of up to 70kph and (b) I was an idiot.

It seems that I’d been harbouring the rather foolish, particularly foreign assumption that I could just traipse up the mountain anytime I liked.

So with a day or two to kill I camped down in the nearest hostel, whose living room balcony just happened to have a roaring fireplace and panoramic views of all three snow covered mountains.My legs would thank me for it later.

An hour into the trek and I was already complacent. Stripping off a couple of layers, I dumped them into my bag and forged on over the craggy grey volcanic stone that blanketed the base of the mountain. Bugger volvic, this was volcanicity at its finest.

I’d been told that the ever-changing diversity of the landscape meant the Crossing may start off enjoyably but would soon turn rocky, then icy, before a final stretch that’s downhill all the way. Like most of my relationships then.

Everything was going swimmingly until we came to the Devil’s Staircase. Which, as names go, is a bit lenient. From the foot of the mountain, the ascent didn’t look that difficult, but I should have known by the fact that it wasn’t named The Care Bears Stair-lift that things weren’t going to be a walk in the park.

Traipsing up uneven steps that have been carved out of ancient, dried lava flows is a particularly strenuous activity and mid-way up I began to regret all those times I’d dismissed stair-masters as the refuge of the half-arsed.

While the air had gradually chilled to smuggling peanuts temperature, it was the first sight of snow that made me realise quite how high up we’d climbed. Stopping for a breather, we sat down and surveyed the view from the top of the staircase and realised that all the hassle had been worth it for a panorama that professional photographers would kill for.

Ploughing on, we turned a corner and set eyes on the South Crater. Like the snow covered tundra of Hoth (I can’t be the only Star Wars geek here), the miles wide floor sparkled and shimmered with a carpet of freshly laid ice.

As we crunched across the crater, the wind started to pick up and the temperature plummeted. Now 2000ft up and faced with a near vertical slog up a slippery wall of ice, I regretted the decision not to hire cramp-ons.

Turns out that while I’ve been called a lot of things in my short life, cheap is actually quite spot-on. Struggling and sliding around on an un-grippable hill with very little protection, we weren’t so much playing around with death as seducing it. We eventually hit the summit and it was breathtaking, with a 360 vista.

Snow covered mountains to the left, a vast canyon carved out of pastel red rock on the right, and ahead of us a steep path leading to some mesmerising emerald pools that, from a distance, were entrancingly enticing.

Then we got near them and realised they smelt like somebody had gutted a horse. Hiking across another stark crater we trekked a path carved through the mountain’s centre and emerged to mind bogglingly astounding views of lush greenery and nearby lakes.

The final stretch wound in and out of the mountainside, breaching trickling streams and straggly rural fauna rife with fresh flowers, before dramatically melting into dense rainforest overflowing with birdlife and grand waterfalls.

I suppose the Crossing is a bit like the starter selection you get at your local Indian: distilled examples of the very best New Zealand has to offer. You truly get a taste of everything Kiwi – a Lord of the Rings experience, snow-capped mountains, canyons, lakes, epic forestry and panoramas that’ll have your eyes bulging.