If you are to do just ONE hike on New Zealand’s North Island, then make it the 19.4km Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is quite possibly the greatest single day hike I have ever done. The trail is situated on the outskirts of Lake Taupo, in New Zealand’s oldest National Park – The Tongariro National Park.
The area has two World Heritage statuses, firstly for the spectacular volcanic landscape and secondly to mark the cultural and religious significance to the Maori people. Note to self: it is culturally disrespectful to pee along the trail and to climb certain peaks in the area, so always check up-to-date guidelines before venturing out.
What to expect
The rich landscape has so much to offer, from steaming volcanic vents to ancient lava flows, vivid emerald crater lakes to fiery red volcanic peaks and plenty of rich fauna and flora. The start of the hike reminded me of the Scottish highlands and there were areas that resembled an otherworldly rocky moonscape.
You can walk the track in either direction, but most people begin at Mangatepopo as the altitude is higher than at Ketetahi, so there’s less of a hike involved. Though be warned if you choose this route and you have bad knees or joints, there is a LONG downhill stretch at the end which you may struggle with.
This hike isn’t for the faint-hearted
This is a demanding, challenging and physically exhausting hike. You will be covering 19.4km in approximately 6-8 hours. You will tackle near vertical rock walls, scramble up and down scree paths and use guide ropes tacked into rocks to reach the peak, where strong winds are likely to push you back. Don’t be fooled. This trek isn’t for the faint-hearted.
We were surprised to see holiday-makers in unsuitable footwear, a lack of layers in case the weather changed and one lady with a simple sandwich box and bottle of water – no rucksack with supplies or extra clothing!
We have relatives living in nearby Lake Taupo who have tackled this hike on more than one occasion. They are only too aware of how changeable the weather in the mountains can be and how unprepared some people are for such a hike. So make sure you have the right gear.
So, what’s the ideal kit list?
Sturdy walking shoes with a good grip. Ideally with an ankle support as there’s a lot of loose stone underfoot. Make sure they’re comfortable, as once you reach the peak, it’s a 2.5hr walk downhill before you get to the finish line.
Layers. Wear lightweight layers that can easily be removed/added. A rain jacket/trousers and down or insulated jacket are a must. Also bring hat, gloves and a neck buff to protect against the wind. These are particularly important if you are trekking in the winter months as it’s likely there will be snow in the hills.
Sun protection and sunglasses. There is no cover on the trek and you will be exposed to the elements.
Bring enough water, food and high energy snacks. There is no where to buy these at either end of the trek or along the route.
Mobile phone or two, ideally on different networks. We borrowed a GPS emergency device just in case.
Camera and GoPro.
Map of the trail, with the all important official toilet stops!
What time of year is best?
I would strongly recommend Spring, Summer or Autumn. Even during these warmer months, the weather on the crossing is extremely unpredictable. It can switch from warm and sunny to icy winds within minutes.
In the winter, it’s likely the higher peaks will be covered in snow. If you’re looking to trek at this time then it’s recommended you bring a guide.
How to get there
To ensure the best weather, start your trek early – 5-6am. There are numerous companies that offer drop off and collection. We used Tongariro Expeditions – and the experience was seamless.
This iPhone app may be of use preparing for and navigating the hike.
The official guide from Lake Taupo tourism.
Have you completed the Tongariro Crossing? I’d love to hear all about it. Leave a comment below.