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Tongariro Alpine Crossing (NZ)

 

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is described as one of the best one-day hikes in New Zealand.

Highlights

  • Mangatepopo Valley
  • Red Crater
  • Emerald Lakes
  • Blue Lakes
  • Te Maari Crater
  • View of Mt. Ngauruhoa

We woke up before the sun had a chance to gain the sky and the air was still in the single digits. We weren’t brave enough to face the cold so we just crawled from the back of our van to the front seats and just like that we were out of that freedom campsite by 5:30 am.

After about a 25-minute drive we found ourselves in a security parking lot where a bus we had pre-booked took us to the beginning of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. With our breath materializing in front of us we all got on our 6 am bus and made our way to the start of our hike.

During the drive, we were properly welcomed by our Maori driver into the land of his people, a fresh reminder of the beautiful history of our surroundings. Even with an early start, we found ourselves amidst a large crowd all eager to start this unique 20 km adventure.

As the sun rose and the blue sky above us illuminated we started the hike with an easy walk through Mangatepopo Valley with a sight that only belongs near volcanoes. As the elevation gain started increasing there was a ‘warning’ sign asking you to think twice about this hike and your fitness level. Although the hike is hard do not let this deter you, take your time and always think a step at a time.

After a hard incline we were greeted with an astonishing view of Mt. Ngauruhoa and with visibility on our side we could see all the other mountains and lakes in the surrounding area. We paused here to rejuvenate on snacks and enjoy the view we had earned.

After a quick break, we made our way towards the fuming Red Crater and the Emerald Lakes, making this one of the most colourful hikes I’ve ever done. Emerald lakes have gained their brilliance partly from dissolved minerals that have been washed down from a thermal area nearby. Making an area not only interesting to look at but one that you can also smell from afar.

Our walk continued over a long desert-like field with the track stretched out in front of us, at this point we were about half-way and unsuspecting of what was yet to come. The trail wound its way around Blue Lake, past black streams from the Ketetahi thermal springs and tall grasses. Eventually, we crossed paths with a tiny overnight hut, here you can see the clouds coming out of Te Maari Crater that last erupted in 2012.

After another quick rest with a phenomenal view we got back on our path and headed towards the parking lot. Focusing on my feet I hadn’t realized until I looked up at how quickly the landscape around us changed. Within an hour we were now immersed in a rainforest with cooling streams running through it. This might have been mentally the hardest part, we knew we were close to the end but every turn we made all we saw was the trail stretched out in front of us. Thankfully with great company and interesting surroundings, time passed quickly enough and finally after what I thought was just another turn was a parking lot full of tired hikers and campervans. With a smile stretching from ear to ear we had made the trek in 6.5 hours. Resting in our colourful van we had our coffee and sat around mapping our way to Wellington. With time on our side, we decided to take the scenic route through the Desert Road.

As the sun was setting over this exquisite landscape I couldn’t but smile knowing that this was just the beginning of an amazing road trip.

Essential Gear

  • Warm woolen or polypropylene pants (any-season)
  • Backpack with lots of energy-full snacks
  • At least 2.5 litres of water
  • Waterproof outer layer (weather is subject to fast change)
  • Good hiking boots
  • Sun protection (any season)

How To Get There

The beginning of the track finds itself on Mangatepopo Road off of Highway 47 and the end is on Ketetahi Road off Highway 46.

You can park in one of the parking lots and have a shuttle drive you to either the beginning or the end. This needs to be pre-booked!

Best to sleep close by the night before to get an early start. Using WikiCamps we were able to find a Freedom Campsite less than 30 mins away. Tongariro National Park Village also has viable options.

Activities

  • Hiking
  • Photography

Skill Level

Moderate- Difficult . 6-8 hour hike.

Distance/ Elevation Gained:

19.4km from carpark to carpark / Approx. 700m


We Are Explorers is trying to broaden our New Zealand presence. Do you have any unique adventures to contribute? If you’re keen, email Ellie at ellie@weareexplorers.com.au