The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a great way to spend the day. It is crazy that this hike is just over an hour from where I grew up. I decided to do this crossing on a whim, looking at local things to do on google. The photos caught my eye and the next moment I had organised a group of friends and sussed out gear to go up the following day. It is one of the best hikes in NZ!
It is an easy drive from Taupo with a scenic view of the lake and surrounding forest. Using the company Mountain Shuttle we parked up our car and they transported us to the beginning. The cost is approximately $30 per person which may seem a bit expensive. Though, as the crossing itself is free this cost was minimal and well appreciated. The alternative option is to have a car at each carpark as there are completely different start and finish points. Regardless of the logistics this is one of the best things to do in the North Island of New Zealand and is a must if you are visiting the area.
Arriving in the carpark for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing the group and I set off along the flat paths and wooden walkways. These make up the first hour or so of the hike. This part is likely the easiest, up past Mangatepopo and Soda Springs with a steady incline, nothing too drastic. With dry landscapes of sun singed hills, small rainbow rivers and a well-maintained path I had my camera out the entire way.
Devils Staircase follows soon after. As the name implies, it is not a fun time. Commonly said to be the hardest part of the hike, this incline brings you up over 1600m above sea level, compared to 1100m at the beginning of the trail. At the top makes a good stop for the first break, just make sure you bring plenty of water!
A beautiful barren landscape follows after scouring Devil’s Staircase as we make our way towards and past the south crater. Now, I have never seen Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit or any of those films which makes NZ landscapes famous. Though, I could imagine this is exactly what it looks like. Snow-capped mountainous cradling the flat track on either side. To the side Mt Ngarahoe is scaled by those brave enough. Mt Taranaki is behind in the distance, clearly visible on this cloud free day.
Making my way further along the trail is another tough spot. Climbing up to the red crater which is the highest point along the track, 1900m above sea level. Also, when I say climbing I mean climbing. A single line is formed and we pull ourselves along the edge of a rock using a chain bolted into the side. Maybe I am being overly dramatic, maybe I’m not. But, that was not something I was really expecting in this hike, so be aware. It is a steep incline so a few breather stops are necessary.
Though, emerging at the Red Crater the view is unlike anything I have ever seen before. Looking over the Tongariro National Park and landscape completely dull compared to the bright orange/red rock I stand upon. The perfect photo opportunity.
Over course after a dramatic incline comes a dramatic decline. Anybody that knows me will agree that I am not the most graceful or well-balanced human. This definitely became evident as I was tripping, falling and sliding down the scoria path, much to everyone else’s amusement.
After this not so elegant moment the sights that follow make it so very worth it. The Emerald Lakes, Central Crater and Blue Lake all follow each other closely on the trail. Making it the perfect spot to take in sights, capture that Instagram that will get at least 20 likes and enjoy the sandwiches that were made at a ridiculous hour this morning.
I am not going to lie, after that moment of such euphoria brought on by multiple beautiful sights, my energy levels quickly dwindled. The decline should be a good change from all this uphill hassles. Though, the view of wild grasses, dirt paths and winding back and forth unsurprisingly alter my enthusiasm. There are a couple nice views looking over the lakes towards Lake Taupo, with the blue sky and blue waters seemingly merging together.
With blisters forming, the sun beating down on my unsunblocked face and hiking boots rubbing me the wrong way I was determined to finish. And to finish this as quickly as possible. This newly found spring in my step brought me down to the Ketetahi Hut where people were taking a break and hiding in the small amount of shade it provided.
Thank goodness, soon enough the forest shades the path and the downhill trek continues. My knees weaken from the pressure. I wish I could tell you that I was awesome. Completed the hike strongly with a skip in my step and smile on my face. Though, the complete opposite was the occured. Hobbling slowly, like super slowly towards the seemingly never ending track. The trees may provide shade but they all look the same preventing me from knowing how long is left. People are overtaking me, so many people. I pretend I am okay, but truly I am dying inside.
This is when I hit a low moment in life. ‘Do not drink water’ signs litter the path. The river is obviously not safe for consumption probably with extreme chemical balances thanks to the volcanic environment. But, I am desperate and haven’t had any water in a couple hours. My group severely underestimated our water intake bringing only 5 drink bottles for 4 people. So, I wait until no one is around, and I just do it. Oh and for those wondering I surprisingly did not get sick. This little bit of water hydrated me enough to finish, slowly hobbling to the carpark. Exhausted and excited to be able to sit down for the hour ride home.
The aftermath of hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing:
– Two toenails lost.
– Some of the biggest blisters I have ever seen.
– Likely a couple summer flings lost thanks to the third-degree burns covering my blistering, swollen, peeling face. Please wear sunblock.
– One of the most amazing experiences I have ever done and I highly recommend this to anyone visiting New Zealand!
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