If you’ve been to New Zealand, chances are you’ve been on a hike. Sorry, I meant a walk, because they don’t call them hikes here. Anyway, if you’re into hiking or walking or seeing beautiful landscapes, then put the Tongariro Alpine Crossing on your list; preferably at the top. It’s one of the best day-hikes in the world!
Are you convinced yet? Good. Now it’s time for some necessary advice. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is 19.4 kilometres of scenic, alpine beauty. You not only need to be in pretty good shape, but you also need to be cautious and prepared.
The track starts on the West side of Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom for Lord of the Rings fans) at the Mangatepopo carpark. From there you ascend roughly 800 meters to the top of Red Crater before making the long descent down to Ketetahi carpark.
There are two difficult ascents on this track:
- Soda Springs to South Crater – The first ascent from Soda Spring to South Crater takes about an hour. During this hour, you will climb steadily for 340 meters. On a clear day, this part of track offers incredible panoramic views of the valley below.
- South Crater to Red Crater – This second ascent is shorter but more difficult than the first ascent. You’ll need to be careful because footing is a bit more treacherous at this point. The climb to Red Crater takes about 45 minutes, but once you reach the top, it’s downhill for the remaining 11 kilometres (except for a short uphill section to the Blue Lake).
Once you reach the top of Red Crater, you will be amazed by the views of Mount Ngauruhoe, the Emerald Lakes, and the aptly named Red Crater.
The track continues with a short climb to Blue Lake and then a long descent down to the Ketetahi carpark. On this descent, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Lake Taupo and the surrounding countryside. The most difficult thing about the second half of the hike is the long, seemingly never ending decent.
Obviously, this track is a one-way trip. This means you’ll need to arrange some sort of transportation. Below I’ve listed a few options:
- Full Service – Many transportation companies provide full service from Taupo and Turangi. If you don’t have a car, this is likely your best bet. Your company of choice will pick you up in either Taupo or Turangi, drop you off at Mangatepopo, and pick you up at Ketetahi. This is a nice option because you don’t have to deal with the small, overcrowded parking lots. However, it’s also the most expensive option.
- Afternoon pick up at Ketetahi – If you’ve got your own car, you can park at Mangatepopo in the morning and arrange for a shuttle to pick you up at Ketetahi. This is a good option, because you can start whenever you want as long as you make it to Ketetahi by the agreed upon time.
- Morning pick up at Ketetahi – The other option for those with their own car is to park at the ending carpark and get a shuttle in the morning to Magatepopo. This is a great option because you don’t have an ending time limit. Thus, you can take as long as you want to finish the crossing. We opted for this option because we like to stop and take lots of pictures.
- Find Friends – This is the free option and would be ideal if you can work it out. If you can find someone else with a car who is doing the hike on the same day, you can drop one car at the end and then drive to the beginning. This is a great option because it’s free, but make sure to only do this if you and your friends are likely to hike at the same speed. It could be really annoying if one group has to sit and wait for a few hours at the end of the track.
- Be prepared! Bring plenty of water, food, sunscreen, and warm/protective clothing. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is an alpine environment, and the weather can change very quickly.
- Wear good shoes. It’s important to wear proper hiking shoes with good support, otherwise your feet will hate you.
- Go on a clear day. This one is tricky. It’s difficult to find a clear day in Tongariro, because there are usually pesky clouds hanging around the volcanic peaks. However, this hike is really all about the views! If you can go on a clear day, DO IT!
- Bring a camera and take pictures. This desolate, yet beautiful, environment is crazy and unique! You’ll want to capture some memories.
- Be respectful. The track climbs through beautiful and pristine landscape. Keep it that way by bringing all trash out with you.
- Stay up to date. Check out the DOC website for current info regarding weather and track information.