Planning to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing DAY HIKE? Don’t know where to start? Read on.
The i-Site in Taupo is amazing, and can help you with any information you would possibly need to know about the hike. They can book your transportation, they give you a pamphlet describing the route and the different ‘legs of the hike’, and answer any other queries you might have.
First thing to consider – THE WEATHER. Do you have a specific day in mind to hike, or do you have a flexible itinerary? The weather can make or break this hike. The hike is already tough on its own, you don’t want to battle against the weather too (and you want the best possible views, right?). Do your homework, check the weather forecasts, maybe ask the i-Site about the day you intend on going (they actually also show the weather forecast there for people to make an informed decision) – this is where a flexible itinerary may be advantageous, for you to choose the best possible day, weather wise…
Next to consider – are you PREPARED for this or not? The short of the long – it’s a hike of 19,4km, and it takes 7-9 hours to complete – are you ready for that? Let’s be honest, you have to at least have a moderate level of fitness to do this, otherwise it will be a long day for you out there…
Now we get to the GEAR checklist: (this is the bare minimum you’ll need for a comfortable hike)
– Proper hiking shoes with ample support (debatable subject – I did it in my Merrell Trail Glove’s easily)
– Appropriate clothing; you will sweat, so consider wearing materials that wick away sweat and can dry quickly. (Many people wore shorts on the day, your choice, decide what’s best for you) [tip: layering is the way to go – put on and take off as you need to]
– A waterproof and windproof jacket/raincoat, and a fleece pullover.
– A cap or hat for the sun.
– Sunglasses (glare is tough in summer, and I bet in winter too).
– Sunscreen (neck, legs!)
– Food and enough fluids. It’s vital to stay hydrated on this hike. Also, think more functional, food wise… (We had some trail-mix, energy fruit bars, bananas, apples, sports drinks, a hydration-bag in backpack and a water bottle each)
– Small backpack to carry your stuff.
– A map (track is simple to follow, but map is a nice reference for different legs on the hike)
– Small first-aid kit (you never know…)
– Toilet paper (the few toilets there don’t have any…)
– Don’t forget your camera!
Optional gear: cellphone, gps, hiking poles, MP3 player (music will distract you from the discomfort the last leg down…)
Breakdown of our day (how we experienced it):
Firstly, we booked our transportation through the i-Site in Taupo. The transportation we booked was just for a one-way transfer from the Ketetahi car park to the Mangatepopo Hut (NZ$30 per person). We had our own campervan, so we drove from Taupo to the Ketetahi car park (finish point of the hike). This took around 50 minutes. From there the shuttle bus picked us up, and dropped us off at the starting point of the one-way hike at the Mangatepopo Hut.
Leg 1: Mangatepopo Hut to Soda Springs (±1h).
You just follow the small stream (sometimes along boardwalks) with the awesome Mt. Ngauruhoe next to you, until you reach the Soda Springs. This is the easiest walk of the day. [tip: DO use the toilets at the Soda Springs, there won’t be any for a longggg while]
Leg 2: Soda Springs to South Crater (±1h).
This is a hard ascent. It’s also known as the “Devil’s Staircase”. At the top you have some nice views of the way you just came. This is the entry point to the South Crater.
You have the option of doing the Mt. Ngauruhoe summit from here – it looks really tough, it takes 1,5h up, and 0,5h down apparently, and the slope is really steep with lots of loose rock.Leg 3: South Crater to base of Red Crater Ridge (±10min).
This is an easy flat walk. You are surrounded by impressive rock formations.
Leg 4: Red Crater Ridge (±20min).
This is a difficult ascent (check your footing), and also the steepest part of the track.
**Optional (extra 1,5h).
After arriving at the Red Crater, you can do the Mt. Tongariro Summit from there. This is a side-track to the normal route, and will add an extra 1,5h to your total for the day. We highly recommend doing it – you are there, so why not? The view from the summit is exceptional! As you hike up, you have the pretty Emerald Lakes over your right shoulder. From the summit you can literally see that you are above the clouds that are in the distance. Next to you, Mount Doom (Ngauruhoe) looms – there’s no better vantage point than from here. To the right of Mt. Doom is the snow-capped Pukekaikiore. Spectacular photos guaranteed from the Tongariro Summit!Leg 5: Red Crater Summit to Emerald Lakes (±15min).
This is classed as an easy descent, but can be treacherous due to the loose dirt and rocks, which causes many people to slip and (often) fall. As you are descending you have a nice bird’s-eye-view of the stunning emerald blue lakes.
Leg 6: Emerald Lakes to the Blue Lake (±20min).
The walk is easy and flat, with a small climb at the end to reach the Blue Lake.Leg 7: Blue Lake to Ketetahi Shelter (±1h).
You have fantastic views of both lakes Rotoaira and Taupo. This is an easy descent. BUT, it still is taxing on the legs because of the hike that you’ve already completed… You are by now really starting to feel your muscles (lower back, legs). Here you’ll also find the last toilet on the track.Leg 8: Ketetahi Shelter to Ketetahi Car Park (±2h).
This is a long, monotonous, final descent. You’ve seen enough awesome for one day, and by now you just want to get to the finish point. You’ll have to dig deep to finish strong, because fatigue will be starting to set in. For us this last stretch felt like it wouldn’t end… When you hit the bushline, you enter a forest, from where it takes roughly another hour to get to the car park.
When we got to the car park it was all smiles and high-fives. WE DID IT. This was the biggest hike we have ever undertaken, and we felt such a sense of accomplishment afterwards. The landscape and the views are just amazing! At some points you feel like you’re walking on another planet. The terrain is just so other worldly – it’s simply not an environment you see every day.
This surely is up there on the list of ‘the best things we’ve ever done in our lives’. This experience will never be forgotten. There’s a reason why it’s touted as the “Best Day Hike In New Zealand” and “One of the ten top day-hikes in the world”…
- Do your research, and be well prepared for the trip.
- We did shopping at Pak n Save before the trip (granola/muesli/fruit bars for energy, powerade, trail mix, bananas…)
- Reliable shoes is a must (DON’T try out your ‘new shiny shoes’, you’ll regret it…)
- Use the i-Site to book transportation (multi-day hikes is also an option)
- IMPORTANT: you WILL be tired afterwards, so if you drove to the car park, and still have to drive back to Taupo, take special care. Many accidents have happened like this due to fatigue (I myself could feel my eyes wanting to close, feeling a bit drowsy).
- Set a comfortable pace for yourself. It’s not a race to the end – take breaks, take it in, enjoy as you go!
If you’re ever in the area, don’t let this amazing opportunity slip through your hands. Take it from me, just do it, you won’t regret it!