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Hiking Experience in New Zealand -Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the most spectacular one day hiking trails in New Zealand. It is the place of spiritual and historical significance for the country and also known as the oldest national parks on earth. The magnificent and surreal views of the volcanic valley, crater lakes, old lava flows will leave you speechless and you would want to keep coming back. If you love hiking and planning to visit New Zealand, don’t miss out on this hiking experience of the lifetime.
The name of the crossing is derived from the complex volcano Mount Tongariro, located in New Zealand’s North Island about 20 kilometers southwest if Lake Taupo. Tongariro is one of the three active volcanoes in the area.
It is worth it: view on the Blue Lake
The Track. Mangatepopo Carpark to Soda Springs
The actual track consists of a number of paths that vary by the degrees of difficulty and measured by approximate time to travel from one landmark to another.
The crossing kicks off at Mangatepopo car park (this is the part where the transport drops you off), which is obviously the easiest part of the track. It concludes at Soda Springs after approximately 1.5 hours of steady walking on the well-formed paths and board walks. This is where taking a break is recommended, especially a toilet break because you will not find any toilets for a very long time. This is also the place where you will find a warning sign, asking you if you are prepared to continue your alpine crossing trek and if not consider turning back. Make sure you are fit enough as you will have 13 kilometres ahead of you to trek and weather conditions can change rapidly.
Warning Sign you'll find at Soda Springs
Soda Springs to South Crater
If you decided to continue on, this is where the fun starts. The track from Soda Springs to South Crater will test your fitness level as it is called Devil’s Staircase for a good reason. There is a part where you will be climbing up the stairs from about 1.4 to 1.6 kilometres above sea level but not to worry: if you missed a few gym classes lately, there is no need to rush, you can stop any time you like and rest. Once you get to the top of this part, your effort will pay off as you will now get to enjoy the stunning views down the valley and out to the surrounding country side.
View from Another Planet...
South Crater to Red Crater
The next part of the crossing runs from South Crater to Red Crater. There is another steep climb towards the Red Crater but you will be well rewarded and then some. Spectacular views is an understatement for this section of the crossing. You will question yourself if you are still on planet Earth as the views down volcanic valley and the Emerald lakes will literally take your breath away. By the way, this is the time where you should decide whether or not to climb Mt Tongariro as a side trip. Just ensure that the weather is on your side as it can be dangerous.
Enjoy the views!
After admiring the stunning views, the track descends towards Emerald lakes. A word of advice to take it easy and watch your step as the descent is quite treacherous and most reported injuries from the visitors are attributed to this section of the track. This is thanks to loose scoria underfoot that can be slippery and move under your feet pretty quickly. You are trekking in a volcanic world after all. Be very careful in that section. The track will take you around Central Crater and continue on to climbing (yes, more climbing) up to the Blue Lake.
Towards the Ketatahi Hut
Here things get much easier. The track from the Blue Lake to Ketatahi Hut is pleasant and the amazing views will make you not wanting it to end. Once you zigzag your way to the Ketatahi Hut the smell of the completion of the crossing will be in the air. This is also the part where you will find the first (!) toilets since Soda Springs. From there on you will find more zigzagging ahead of you by continuously moving downhill or going down the stairs. You will find most unused muscles in your feet you never knew existed work at 100% capacity. It is very easy to be fooled by your arrival at Ketatahi Hut but remember this is not the end of the track. You need to allow 2-2.5hours from the Ketatahi Hut to the end of the crossing, Ketatahi Car Park. The last 30 or so minutes of the walk through the open tussock land and the Mangatetipua Stream would seem never ending, until you see the “light at the end of the tunnel” – the Ketetahi Car Park. You made it! What a great story to tell your friends.
P.S. If you want to get more hiking ideas in other countries, check out this page.
Stunning views of the valley below
Planning your hike
- Plan in advance and get familiar with the crossing and think about what you are going to pack
- Arrange transport to drop you off and pick you up
- Check weather conditions on your planned walk. While the trek in good weather is considered relatively easy to moderate to do it can get quite challenging in rough weather
Start as early as possible as due to its tremendous popularity, the track gets pretty crowded, especially on public holidays.
Always stay on the path and forget about the average crossing times people like to quote: it all depends on your fitness level, the weather, the amount of people on the track and the number of photos you will be taking on the day. Just ensure that you know the pick-up times of your transport hosts.
How fit should you be:
the official Tongariro Crossing website states “fit enough” and I couldn’t agree more. In good weather, the trek is pretty straight forward. There are some steep climbs but you can take it easy and have lots of breaks on the way. You will find a lot of people of all ages and fitness levels on the day. Seek local advice if the weather forecast is not very promising as the trek in bad weather can turn into a completely different experience described here.
What to Pack:
- Warm clothing and waterproof jacket.
- Some gloves and hats
- Sunnies and sunscreen
- Food: protein bars, sandwiches, snacks and lots and lots of water (there is no natural water on the track)
- Also don’t forget the map of the trek and your cell phone