When planning our trip to New Zealand James and I knew that we wanted to go hiking (or tramping as it’s called here) but were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to manage one of the multi-day great walks. As a one day walk, and one that went past Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings films, the Tongariro Crossing was soon a definite on our itinerary.
The walk itself is meant to take 6-8 hours and is 19.4km in length, going through an active volcanic zone. As a result it’s important to check volcanic activity before you go as well as the weather. It wouldn’t be very pleasant in the rain and it would be dangerous on the crater ridge if the wind was too strong. We actually ended up changing our plans to do the walk as gales were forecast for the day we originally wanted to complete it.
The first part of the walk goes from Mangatepopo car park to Soda Springs and is a well marked path which is relatively flat and easy in comparison to the rest of the walk. The next part is more difficult, an ascent up from Soda Springs to South Crater. It’s sometimes called the Devil’s Staircase so we weren’t expecting it to be easy. This is where you start to get some good views so taking advantage of some photo opportunities for a break is a good idea. If you’re interested in geology then it’s fantastic as you are walking through an old pyroclastic flow.
The walk across South Crater to the base of Red Crater Ridge is nice and flat. It’s a good place to get views of both mountains, just try not to look too much at the ridge you’re about to climb! The Red Crater Ridge was the hardest part of the walk in my opinion. Partly because it’s a steep uphill climb, but also because it’s on a ridge. As we were going up the cloud was coming down so we couldn’t see where we’d just been, or what was either side of the ridge. I’m not a fan of heights or edges so found this bit pretty tough and couldn’t understand why so many people were walking so close to the edge! Unfortunately once we reached the summit it was covered in cloud so we didn’t get that great a view (apparently on a clear day you can sometimes see from coast to coast) but it was still a decent spot to catch our breath and have some food.
From the Red Crater Summit you walk down to some Emerald Lakes which are really beautiful and rich in colour. The path down is best taken slow as there is a lot of ash which is slippy underfoot. The rest of the walk is then largely descending, although there are still a few uphills.
As you leave the lakes and craters it becomes more what I would describe as an Alpine walk with views over the valley and the path winding down one side of the mountain. It gave you a good idea of just how big Lake Taupo is as you could see it extending off into the distance. Here we could also see some steaming vents which was a gentle reminder that we were in fact on a volcano. As we came closer to the valley floor we also walked through a Lahar danger zone. I was quite relieved that we didn’t experience any major volcanic activity on the walk!
We managed the walk in just over 6.5 hours which included photo stops and two longer breaks for food. When we arrived at the end point there were already lots of people there so depending on fitness levels it’s quite manageable to complete the walk in the recommended amount of time. If you plan to do the walk then read the advice and make sure you have plenty of food and water with you as well as layers of clothes. It was pretty cold for most of the walk and the wind was quite penetrative. I was pleased I had my gloves with me and I’d also suggest taking a hat!
We booked a shuttle bus from Taupo to the crossing which meant we were dropped off at the starting point and picked up again at the end. I’d recommend this as if you have a car you can only park it for 4 hours and you’d still have to get back to it at the end. It meant an early start (we were picked up at 5:15) but it meant we had plenty of time to complete the walk and we got to see the sun rise over the mountains. The thing I found most surprising about the walk was the number of people completing it. I think it’s one of the busiest walks I’ve ever done! At one point we looked back and there seemed to be a continuous stream of people behind us. By the end we were exhausted but had a real sense of achievement. I’d recommend it – it’s not the most beautiful walk but the scenery is really striking.