Tongariro Alpine Crossing

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Red Crater and Mount Doom

Photo of Tongariro Alpine Crossing by Elizabeth Ferguson

Ready to Go!

Photo of Tongariro Alpine Crossing by Elizabeth Ferguson

Starting the Trail

Photo of Tongariro Alpine Crossing by Elizabeth Ferguson

Trial Markers

Photo of Tongariro Alpine Crossing by Elizabeth Ferguson

Caution: Volcanoes

Photo of Tongariro Alpine Crossing by Elizabeth Ferguson

In Front of Mount Doom

Photo of Tongariro Alpine Crossing by Elizabeth Ferguson

In the South Crater

Photo of Tongariro Alpine Crossing by Elizabeth Ferguson

Lunch Stop

Photo of Tongariro Alpine Crossing by Elizabeth Ferguson

Using Geothermal Steam to Warm my Hands

Photo of Tongariro Alpine Crossing by Elizabeth Ferguson

Emerald Lakes

Photo of Tongariro Alpine Crossing by Elizabeth Ferguson

High Risk Lahar Zone

Photo of Tongariro Alpine Crossing by Elizabeth Ferguson

Finally Done!

Photo of Tongariro Alpine Crossing by Elizabeth Ferguson

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is rated as one of the best single-day hikes in the world, and I can’t say I disagree. Situated in the Tongariro National Park, which is both the oldest national park in New Zealand and a World Heritage Site to boot, the Alpine Crossing is 19.4 kilometers of beautiful and varied terrain. The trek includes the volcanic peaks of Ngauruhoe, Tongariro, and Ruapehu, all active volcanoes.

Like all hikes, it is important to be prepared. The 19.4km is a one-way trip, so it is advisable to arrange transport from one end. Many companies in the area offer shuttle service, dropping you off at the starting point around 8 am and offering pickups at 3:30 pm or 5 pm for around $35 per person.

The weather can be extremely varied, so a rain jacket and adequate layers are a must. Sunscreen and a hat are also necessary for all hikes in New Zealand. Like most hikes, adequate food, water, and a basic first aid kit are also essential.

Since the hike involves crossing three active volcanoes, it is also advisable to check the volcanic alert level before starting the trek. Mount Tongariro last erupted in 2012, and Mount Ruapehu last erupted in 2007. 

Offers some of the most useful alert bulletins in New Zealand. In the event of an eruption, being familiar with the risks and what to do to stay safe is essential. Information can be found, but to summarize:

  • Watch for burning ash clouds and flying rocks; run out of the way or find shelter behind banks or ridges
  • Cover your head with your pack
  • Move out of the bottom of the valley
  • Evacuate the hazard zone, staying on ridges if possible

We started the track at the Mangatepopo car park and climbed from the park to Soda Springs, which was relatively easy. We had beautiful views of Mount Ngauruhoe most of the time.

This mountain was also known as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films. Several areas visible from the trek were used to film different portions of Mordor, including Mordor itself and Emyn Muil. Of course, while hiking past Mount Doom, everything became the “___” of doom: the hike of doom, the water bottle of doom, the lunch of doom, etc. It helped us get through the long climb from Soda Springs to the south crater, which has aptly been named the Devil’s staircase.

South crater then climbed a stored crater, which was stunning. A brilliant red colour and an active volcanic vent, the area, also offered stunning views of the surrounding landscape. It also served as the perfect location to have lunch since it was situated at the highest point along the trek (an elevation of around 1900m). We were fortunate to have excellent weather the entire way along the trek, although it did get a little bit blustery at the top of Red Crater.

From Red Crater, we started the long climb down to the end. First, we stopped by the Emerald Lakes, a set of brilliantly coloured lakes as a result of the mineral deposits found in them. We decided to take a detour past some steam vents and visit the third lake, which was a nice walk.

The trail then climbed again to Blue Lake and then followed the Mount Tongariro around to offer us some amazing views of Lake Taupo and the surrounding landscape.At first, we thought that we were seeing the ocean, but knew that to be impossible; Lake Taupo is huge! The trail continued down with good views of the Tongariro steam vents all the way to Ketetahi Hut. The hut is a preserved area after the Mount Ruapehu eruption, which sent a rock flying far enough to crash through the hut.

The trail then descended even further into a beautiful forest, which is also, unfortunately, an active Lahar danger zone should Mount Ruapehu ever erupt again. The forest was such a dramatic difference from the barren landscapes that we had hiked previously that it was almost shocking to see so much greenery.

We were getting quite tired towards the end, but we made it just in time to catch the shuttle! I think, after nearly 20km had hiked in a day, we earned our steak dinner and hot tub time for the night!

Although challenging, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the best hikes that I have ever done. I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in hiking.

This trip was originally published on Adventure Is There

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