My Italian driver, Davide, and I set our destination to Rotorua but then decided to continue on to Taupo. Taupo was only 1 hour away from Tongariro Alpine Crossing by automobile. We found a hostel and settled in to wait out the rain so we could hike the crossing, as were the bulk of other backpackers at the hostel. I stayed 2 nights at the hostel then 3 nights Couchsurfing with a wonderful Kiwi gentleman.
After 4 days of waiting, Saturday morning arrived and everyone descended on Tongariro bright and early! One important thing to think about when going to Tongariro to do the hike is that you must figure out how to get there and back! For 60-65 NZD, a shuttle will pick you up from your hostel or hotel, drop you at the north gate (considered the starting point) then pick you up at the south gate (which means you are on their schedule and must complete the hike in their time frame). Another option is to drive to the north gate and park then pay 30 NZD for the shuttle to take you from the south gate back to the north. Some of the backpackers with cars joined up and parked one car at the south gate and everyone climbed into the other car and drove on to the north gate. Once done with the hike, they just drove the south gate car back to the north to pick up the other car. We (Italian driver, 3 German hikers, and me), had 2 keys to the car so we dropped 2 people off to hike from the south gate and then we parked at the north gate. Once done with the hike, the 2 reaching the north gate drove the car back to the south gate where the rest of us were waiting. There is always the option to park at the north gate and attempt to hitchhike back to it from the south gate but you would be taking a risk at the end of a very tiring hike!
Tongariro Crossing is amazingly beautiful and foreign! Moonscape is a common description as it is volcanic landscape with an active volcano. Black volcanic rocks with delicate white flowers growing from them; red mountains adorned in clouds; flat expanses of tan sand; hills of green moss and gold bushes; eerie mists the hikers disappear into and the rising sun dissipates; steam rising from hot pools and rock walls; valleys of black, copper, and gold; lakes of gold, emerald, and teal blue; and waterfalls and babbling brooks. Not to mention the incredible views once you’re at the top!
The trail is 19.4 km (12.05 miles) long. There are various offshoot trails that you can hike, other than the main one. I stuck to the main trail which took me 9 hours to do. I stopped a lot to take pictures and rest breaks are a must. I found myself stripping down to my tank top early on then putting my sweater back on and finally my coat too. As you climb, the winds are cold and strong!
From the north gate, Mangatepopo Valley near Whakapapa, the trail is fairly level with a slight incline then becomes steep and rocky. From the flat land of the valley to the side of mountains, winding around and up as you go. Finally, flat again, mountains appear in front of you along with a lake of gold. Pushing on is an immediate steep climb, Mangatepopo Saddle between Mount Ngauruhoe (also known as Doom Mountain on Lord of the Rings) and Mount Tongariro, and the wind becomes more evident. When you reach the top of this section, you’re on the South Crater and there are large rocks to navigate and other trails to wander down (including the narrow ridge along the top of Red Crater). Continuing on, the trail descends to the beautiful hot and colorful Emerald Lakes. This section is fairly treacherous as the black sand is loose and slippery and the descent is very steep. The trail then leads you to Central Crater and Blue Lake which is an old volcanic vent. The rest of the trail is downhill…winding downhill for 2 or more hours through fields and rainforest. My bad knee slowed me down considerably but I was in no hurry as my travel mates were busy exploring Doom Mountain.
Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest national park and a dual World Heritage site. It is also the Land Of Mordor (for you Lord of the Rings fans). The hike, the views, and the people I hiked along side blew me away! If you make it to New Zealand, this is a MUST DO!!
* Please note that the photos are not in any particular order. I took over 200 and have grabbed some to show the beauty and diversity! Enjoy!