Heralded as the best day trek in New Zealand, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing offers over 20km of unique and breathtaking natural landforms, not to mention a volcano, lava fields, craters and impossibly blue lakes. We spent 4 months in South America breaking in our hiking boots, but were we up to the challenge?
Preparing and Packing
We do like to hike, and in the first four months of our trip we did quite a few day hikes. However, none of them were quite as long or quite as challenging as the Tongariro Crossing. The constant ups and downs makes the 20km pretty tough, so it’s important to prepare properly, particularly if you’re not an experienced hiker. We were enthusiastic amateurs at best, so we thought it best to go prepared!
Here’s a few things to remember when packing your day pack:
- There is nowhere to buy food/water so you’ll need to carry everything you’ll need. We took plenty of energy drinks and snacks, as well as sandwiches for lunch, but as a minimum I would suggest you take 3 litres of water and enough food for a descent lunch. There’s a huge Pak ‘n’ Save in Taupo where you can stock up for cheap.
- The weather changes rapidly. We were lucky on our visit as we had clear blue skies all day but, even so, the temperature can swing wildly at 1000m. Take layers and a good waterproof, as it can rain at any time.
- There are only two toilets on the whole trail. You can’t really prepare for this, except mentally
- There is no where to put your rubbish, so be prepared to take all of it away with you.
- The terrain is rugged, especially on some of the additional treks. Wear good boots, or at very least strong trainers.
- Leave the small human at home. We saw a man carrying a baby down a steep cliff side where people were falling over…we wouldn’t recommend this.
Tackling the Crossing
If you take the earliest bus in the morning (at around 5am) like we did, then you’ll have more time on the crossing and, more importantly, you’ll finish this leg before the clouds move over the mountain, meaning you get views looking down on the cloud filled valley, like this:
First leg of the hike, rising above the cloud line.
If you do decide to take the earlier bus and it stays clear as you approach Red Crater Ridge, then I would highly recommend taking the Tongariro Summit side treck. It will take an additional 2 hours but the views of the snowcapped mountains and the world-famous Mount Doom (Mount Ngauruhoe) make it a small price to pay.
Alternatively you can take on the Mount Ngauruhoe side track, which serpentines up Mount Doom itself! It’s a dangerous track and should not be attempted if; you suffer from vertigo, you are not physically fit, the weather is not totally clear; you arrive after 9.15 am. Falling rocks and poor footing present serious hazards. We know of people who were hit by falling rocks. For these reasons and more, we stuck to the easier Tongariro Summit trek:
The trail to the Tongariro Summit
Mount Doom (Mount Ngauruhoe) from the Tongariro Summit
Enjoying a break on the summit.
Once you return to the main track and start to make the descent, the Emerald lakes will come into view. These are infused with sulphur so the colours are magical in the sunlight. Be warned though, the guidebooks call this descent easy but the gravel is loose underfoot making it a pretty treacherous 40 minutes:
Starting the descent towards the Emerald Lakes.
Looking back on the treacherous descent.
By the time you reach the finish point, you will have walked between 19km and 26km, depending on which routes you took, taking between 6 and 9 hours. We took the Tongariro Summit trek and the total walk was just under 7 hours, with plenty of breaks for snacks and photographs.
Check out the official website for some useful info, but this was genuinely one of our favourite hikes and I couldn’t recommend it more highly… during the Summer!
We booked through Tongariro Expeditions who arrange pick ups and drop offs at a number of different times, to suit all walking speeds.