Often called one of the world’s most beautiful one-day hikes, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing on New Zealand’s North Island is fully living up to its reputation and nothing short of spectacular. Starting from Mangatepopo car park, the route is a bit less than 20k and passes an active volcanic area and stunning alpine lakes. The Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest national park and is World Heritage listed. The country’s indigenous people gifted it to the New Zealand government in 1887.
When heading up Mt Ngauruhoe at 2287m, or Mt Doom if you’ve watched Lord of the Rings, it’s best to keep left and walk up the rocky ridge. There is scree and sand all the way on the right of the ridge and it’s so loose that, not only do you slide back 1.5 steps for each 2 steps you take, you also kick loose a lot of rocks and keep having to yell “rock” at those below you. In late 2015, one of those rocks injured someone badly enough to see him into hospital. It’s a tough climb and it’s easy to trip and slide, but the views from above can be spectacular on a clear day and it’s exciting to see the open crater. If you feel like it and have the time, you can even walk around the entire crater.
The other summit you can do on this trek is the Tongariro summit at 1967m, which gives you a great view of the imposing cone of Mr Ngauruhoe from some distance. If you’re fast, you can do both peaks. I did both peaks both times I did this trek and it took around 8 hours all up. However, I was going a lot faster than anyone else around me and run ultramarathons, so only attempt that if you’re sure you’re fit enough or have a late return bus. The usual recommended time is around 7 hours without the peaks.
Not far from the start, after a good climb, there is also the opportunity to fill up on drinking water from a clean spring. Still, make sure to take enough water. Three litres are a good idea, as it can get hot. Sunscreen and lip balm is another thing to be very generous with, as even on a cloudy day, UV rays are fierce in this area and altitude.
After the turnoffs to Mr Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro, you’ll head down toward several intensely coloured turquoise lakes where’re you’ll pick up a whiff of sulphur. It’s nearly all downhill from there and you can make up a lot of time if need be. On your way down toward the Ketetahi car park, you’ll come past the Te Maari craters, which erupted in 2012 for the first time since 1897. There are some regions where you may be asked to move quickly to minimize any danger in case there is sudden volcanic activity. I could see thick smoke billowing out of the crater and there’s something very imposing and special to be so close to a volcano that’s clearly still showing activity.
To do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, you can book a bus from either Turangi, National Park or Lake Taupo to drop you off and pick you up at the end of the hike . Alternatively, you can also leave your car at one car park and book a bus to get you to the other one before or after the hike. From Turingi, drop off and pick up cost about NZD45 total. Doing only part of the way and returning to your parked car is another option. No matter what you choose, make sure to check the weather and potential warnings about volcanic activity. And if all’s clear, enjoy this gorgeous trek – you’ll never forget it.
For frequently asked questions, head to this site.