New Zealand diaries (Part III) – Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Active volcanoes, vivid crater lakes, steaming vents, glacial valleys, old lava flows, alpine vegetation, tussock and bush…
The Tongariro National Park is the oldest park in New Zealand and belongs to UNESCO World Heritage. Tongariro Crossing was one of my best experiences in the land of the Hobbit. An AMAZING 20 km (8 hours) trek through all kinds of landscapes. It’s considered the best one-day hike in New Zealand and apparently also one of the top 10 day-hikes in the world.
I was very keen on doing the crossing but I was actually a bit concerned if I will manage. A week before the climb I suffered from sinusitis and was not fully recovered yet. We heard the crossing is not easy… Well, I managed and was super happy! It was definitely my highlight!
Tongariro Crossing means steep climbs and unpredictable weather
The surface of the track was well formed, in some sections however indeed quite steep and rough. To me the steep parts didn’t feel dangerous though and it was definitely worth the effort ! It’s said that a high level of fitness is required for the Tongariro Crossing. I don’t consider myself very sporty and on the top, as I said, I was fighting a sinusitis. Therefore, I would say: If I did it, you can do it too!
With a bit of preparation everyone can do it. Certainly, don’t ignore the challenges! The weather can be unpredictable up there. When passing active volcanoes, you come across a traffic light system which indicates that you should return if the weather conditions are not good. Luckily we had green light throughout our journey. It’s definitely recommended to turn back if you realize that weather conditions are poor in the valley, as they will only get worse when you climb higher up the mountain.
Clothing wise, you should dress in onion style – with layers that you can put on while climbing (there is snow up there) and take off when going down. At the peak it’s minus degrees, at the bottom t-shirt weather. The change of elevation is about 1.2 m. Take enough water and snacks for the day.
Stages of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Mangatepopo Road End -> Soda Springs
We started in a grassland – savannah-ish landscape, followed by a dramatic moon-like scenery, were we hiked over layers of ancient and modern lava flows and other volcanic deposits. l felt like Neil Armstrong! As the altitude increased, I noticed a change in plant species. They became ‘rougher’ to my eye.
We walked along mountains, on cliffs, passing (active) volcanos. All-around us was awe-inspiring natural scenery with unique landforms and soaring volcanic fumes. All of a sudden I felt like I had been ‘beamed’ into a movie scene and now walking through Middle-earth, at any minute expecting to meet a fantasy character with long ears.
Soda Springs -> South Crater
Here it gets difficult: This section is called the Devil’s Staircase. It’s steep and the ground is rocky. The amazing, surrounding countryside is worth the effort though! The view of the volcanic cone of Mount Taranaki is absolutely epic. Enjoy the view but watch your feet and walk mindfully.
South Crater -> Red Crater
Climbing first to the South Crater and then around the ridge to the Red Crater. Take enough time to take pictures of the spectacular views (that way you can also catch your breath). You won’t be able to stay for too long on one stop because it gets cold and windy up there when you don’t move.
Red Crater -> Blue Lake
From Red Crater we started walking down. Walking carefully to not to slip, because it was very steep and loose scoria underfoot were moving quickly and easily.
On my left I saw an old lava flow from Red Crater spreading out across the floor of Central Crater. On my right were the Emerald Lakes. The name comes from the color of the water. Minerals leached from the surrounding rock and ‘painted it’ blue.
There is geothermal activity in the park, especially near Emerald Lakes. It’s better to stay on the track and don’t approach steam vents if you don’t want to be cooked alive. It’s very hot and the ground can be unstable.
The trek took us around the edge of Central Crater then up to Blue Lake . The cold acidic lake is sacred, so don’t touch the water. Even small picnics are not allowed around its shores.
Blue Lake -> Old Ketetahi Shelter Site
One more climb (but a short and easy one this time) took us to the edge of North Crater. Amazing views (again)! As we had nice weather, we were able to enjoy an outlook until Lake Taupo.
Then we zigzagged your way down through a boggy scenery, crossing a stream that flows down from Ketetahi Springs and I noticed silvery particles around. Very beautiful. It’s the minerals from the water which stain the rocks. The trek took us further down through an open tussock land and entered a bush.
Old Ketetahi Shelter Site -> Ketetahi Car Park
I really enjoyed the last etape of the crossing. Tired but happy, walking through a juicy bush which drops steeply to the Mangatetipua Stream. Before reaching our final point (Ketetahi Car Park) there was a lovely waterfall.
It was just the perfect ending of an amazing hike! I love New Zealand’s bushes. So green and mystic with the ferns and their spiral korus – the Māori symbol of creation!
My dear New Zealand diaries, Tongariro Crossing was definitely a highlight on this road trip! Thanks Gaia for creating such a wonderful country!
Tongariro Alpine Crossing in pictures
For more information check out the official Tongariro website.