Described as the best one-day hike in New Zealand and possibly the world, it was always on my bucket list.
Crossing the multi-cratered active volcano Mount Tongariro, the track has unique landmarks and superb views over two other active volcanoes Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu.
The Tongariro National Park boasts dual World Heritage status. The volcanoes are noted for the frequency of eruptions, their highly explosive nature and the high density of volcanic vents, which makes the hike even more enticing for the adventure seekers.
Distance: 19.4 km (12.1 miles)
Highest Point: 1,886m (6,188 ft) – Red Crater
Lowest Point: 760m (2,490 ft) – Ketetahi Carpark
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Length of Time: 6 to 8 hours
Location: Tongariro National Park, North Island of New Zealand
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is most commonly walked from Mangatepopo (1,120 m or 3,670 ft) in the Ruapehu region to Ketetahi Hot Springs (760 m or 2,490 ft). This route requires less climbing.
Being point to point hike, a little effort is needed to arrange transportation to either the start or finish of the hike. Visitors are strongly recommended to not park their vehicles at either end of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing but park and ride with licensed operator from the townships nearby such as National Park Village & Whakapapa Village.
There are toilets at both car parks. There are also toilet facilities an hour into the hike right before the strenuous climb starts, as well as toilet facilities just before the long walk back down to the Ketetahi car park.
The hike is free, you can contribute with donations, which you probably want to after you realise the maintenance and care that goes to look after the track. The only necessary cost will be for the shuttle. There are more operators, with various options, prices being similar. You just need to select the 6 am, 7 am or 8 am drop off, or for the matinal ones, the 4am option to avoid the crowds.
We took the 7am one and indeed, the crowd was impressive. There are several operators who drop approximately 300 people at each drop off time and we spend the first hour slaloming through groups of slow and chatty walkers.
The hike climbs up through volcanic terrain, with old lava fields, walks through giant calderas, and even past a smoking, steaming volcano that erupted just six years ago. The volcanic activity of the park is constantly being monitored, with warning signs at various points along the trail alerting hikers what to do if an eruption should occur.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy lovers are coming to identify Mount Doom, aka Mount Ngauruhoe. The climb becomes strenuous in order to get to Mount Doom to destroy the infamous ring. The whole landscape reveals Mordor in all its splendour.
Another forty minutes of hiking up a steady, gradual incline through alpine plant life, the scenery began to change. The ground became darker, the soil was almost black, and there were volcanic boulders strewn across the landscape.
After a warning sign alerting hikers as to how strenuous the trail was about to become, we began the real climb up the mountain. It was steep and tiring and had us pausing to catch our breath occasionally, but the higher we got the better the views became.
With Mt Doom looming over us we took photos and ate our packed breakfast. Take plenty of water, you will definitely need it. The view from here was awesome and it was about to get even better.
We hiked across a caldera, over flat and squishy volcanic soil and then it was time for one more push to the top. The final climb was steep, strenuous, and almost a little dangerous. The ground was covered with loose gravel.
From the highest point of the hike we had 360° views of Tongariro National Park. We could see Mt Doom, the largest mountain Mt Ruapehu, the Red Crater, small green lakes, and even Lake Taupo off to the north.
The skies were crystal clear and the temperatures were almost on the hot side but not bad for hiking at that altitude. What a perfect day. We later found out that the previous two days the visibility was reduced to maximum 20 metres, which is super disappointing for those hikers.
The ever changing scenery and the difficulty of the trail combined with a little danger here and there kept things fun and interesting. This really is a fantastic hike!
From this viewpoint we paused to enjoy the view we worked so hard to get to. It’s times like these that make me thankful that we are fit and healthy enough to do things like this.
The descent down to the thermal pools was steep. The path was covered with thick dirt and gravel with a drop off on either side. We figured out how to slide down through the gravel, almost like skiing, getting to the bottom in almost no time at all.
Amazing views smelling of sulphur.
We were approaching the last walk towards the car park. Another cool lake, another lunar landscape.
From this point it was a downhill walk back to the Ketetahi car park.
On the way down from the Tongariro Alpine Crossing we could see the Te Maari Crater. There were multiple warnings that we were in active volcano territory and to not leave the trail. There was no threat of eruption on the day, but it was this same volcano that erupted just six years ago.
It took us approximately two hours to get from the last peak to the car park. By the time we got to the car park we were tired and our legs were sore from bumping on the anti-slippery mat filled up with compacted sand that felt like concrete on the long descent.
We did the entire hike in four hours and fifty minutes, including our breaks for food and photos. The only downside with that was that we had to wait a while for the pick up shuttle, the first one arrived at 1pm. We thoroughly enjoyed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. By far it is one of our favourites in the world. The views are fantastic, the ever-changing views kept us from getting bored, the trails are rugged, and this hike is downright fun.
You should have it on your to do list in New Zealand!
Are you planning to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing? Comment below if you have any questions. Or just click https://www.tongarirocrossing.org.nz/ for all the info you need about the track.