We completed our first official day hike here in New Zealand on the 8th of December, and it was sunny and warm! We’re not used to warm December dates yet, but they’re fabulous.
Tongariro Crossing is one of the most famous tracks in New Zealand, and I had seen pictures of some of the scenery on Instagram before we even knew what it was and thought, “I want to go there.” It’s a 19.4 km day hike to the summit of a volcano, past the Emerald lakes and down through somewhat of a rainforest.
I was a bit concerned about the difficulty level, as we had heard some mixed reviews on how difficult the hike is. There is a sign on the trail that warns people who are not fit enough to turn back. It does include some fairly steep climbs, as well as some descents with loose footing. The tour companies suggest it will take 6 to 8 hours. Some people I spoke to said it took them upwards of that, and that they were sore for a week, or that they lost toenails. People seemed to be shocked that we were planning to do it on a weekend in between work, so their reactions to our announcement of the plan was a bit concerning. We got set up with all the right gear by some generous friends who had also done it; we made sure we were well fed and sunscreened, and our friends told us we’d be fine!
We had driven up to the mountain the night before and slept in the car in a campsite. We got up at 6:00am and had pancakes for breakfast, thanks to my husband!
There are a few shuttling options, but we went with Tongariro Expeditions’ one way option. We parked the car at the end of the hike, and then took the 8:30am shuttle to the beginning of the hike. I went with this option due to another blogger suggesting it, and I was glad we did the one way shuttle and didn’t have to wait for another shuttle at the end. What they didn’t tell us though, was that after getting off the trail we still had a ways to walk to our vehicle; the 19.4 km trail ended up being over 23 kms according to my FitBit.
We hit the trail at 8:48am. It took the first kilometre or so to adjust the backpacks and distribute the weight properly, so we were off to a bit of a slow start, but once we figured that part out, we were well on our way.
The hike begins with a nice, gradual incline into the mountain, and passes Mount Doom, from Lord of the Rings.
From there, the first steep climb begins. On the pamphlets and maps they give you, it says it will take an hour to do this climb. We completed it in 35 minutes. The views from the top are amazing!
There is a 15 minute plateau on which we were able to spread out from the rest of the groups on the trail and catch our breath a bit before the next climb, the “Devil’s Staircase.”
It was supposed to take 30 minutes, but we climbed it in about 18.
For a person who doesn’t normally exercise, this would take at least the recommended time, or longer, if one was stopping for rests part way up. We are quite fit, and it was still a very good work out getting up the mountain! It’s not a walk to be taken lightly.
Once at the top, we were able to see the Emerald Lakes in the distance, which were my favourite part of the track. Most people eat lunch at the top, but we decided to continue to the lakes before stopping for lunch, as it was only about 11:00am. Walking along the edge of the crater was really cool!
The climb down to the lakes required an adjustment in walking, as it was about a 45 degree slope with very loose gravel and volcanic sand. We slid with every step. I fell 3 times, but it wasn’t a far fall seeing as how the angle was so extreme that my hands were so close to the ground anyways. Eventually we got used to the sliding and began adjusting for it as we learned how to transfer our weight properly.
We had an enjoyable lunch on the rocks overlooking the lakes, and took the most photos around there. It was really windy! Some days, if the weather is unfavourable, people have to do the crater walk (pictured above) on their hands and knees.
The above photo was our lunch spot!
The lakes were amazing, as you can see.
Once we passed the lakes, we used one of the many toilet stops. No TP was supplied, but thankfully, I had my own! We had to wait in line. I couldn’t believe how many people were on this track!
Then we began the long descent down. The views were great at the top, but the trail down was long. This was the most difficult part for me, as my feet kept hitting the fronts of my shoes, leading to very sore toes. It was also a tedious climb down with similar scenery for a couple of hours, until we got into the rainforest area at the end.
We finished with a walk next to a beautiful, rushing stream, exited the trail at 2:44pm, and then, of course, added on the longer walk to the car.
We were surprised we’d finished so early based on the expected time, but I believe we saved a lot of time during the two inclines; we took lots of time to enjoy lunch and stop for photos, and didn’t rush ourselves, but we still finished in 5 hours and 56 minutes.
We had originally planned to stay another night in the car, but as we finished early, we went to Taupo to some natural hot springs to refresh our sore muscles and relax, and then decided to drive back for a hot shower, and a nice, comfortable sleep in a real bed. Wow, did we ever sleep well that night!
In conclusion, Tongariro Alpine Crossing is amazing, and although I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, I would highly recommend it to anyone who is fit, up for a good physical challenge, or is a regular hiker. It definitely requires a certain level of fitness to be enjoyable and safe, and the proper gear, clothing and food/water is essential. Planning ahead for transportation, and leaving lots of time to do the track is important, as I believe 6 to 8 hours is a reasonable expectation for time. We were also fortunate to have amazing weather, and that is key as well. We finished off the night with a celebratory wine from the winery I work at.
Happy exploring blog family, and cheers!