How to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the best one day walks in the world through volcanic landscape. This blog post explains how you can do it in a day, where to stay on a budget and how to organise transport to and from the mountain.
The Tongariro Crossing passes by Mt Nguarahoe, famous as being used as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movie Trilogy. The hike is in New Zealand’s oldest National Park and in the centre of the North Island. Over the years the walk has gotten more and more popular. In 2015 we were lucky to walk the track in glorious weather all 19.4 kilometres. Considering up to 3000 people walk the crossing on some days we were lucky to share it with a mere thousand other hikers. My wife has wanted to walk the Tongariro Crossing for years, since I told her about it. I have walked it several times in all seasons. I remember during the 1980’s when I camped up at the Blue Lake Crater how quiet and magical it was to wake up in the morning and see Mount Nguarahoe and Emerald lakes. I was curious how the experience would be with so many people, in the end, it was still a magical walk and the only thing I did not like was the periodic flying planes above doing scenic flights.
Where we stayed?
I decided we should stay at National Park as it is not too far from the kick off point at Mangatepopo car park. We stayed at the Ski Haus at National Park for two nights. It was perfect. It is a hostel and not luxury accommodation. The room was clean as were the bathrooms, lounge and kitchen. Our room cost NZ$68 per night. It is a lot cheaper if you share one of the bunk rooms. The kitchen had cutlery and pots and pans so you can cook meals during your stay. The hostel was not busy unlike the nearby Youth Hostel which was packed with people and where we picked up the next morning on the bus 20 people for the crossing. My only niggle was having to pay for wi-fi at the hostel although we found a nearby cafe with good free wi-fi.
Getting to the mountain
The hostel organised transport to and from the crossing for a cost of NZ$30 each. The bus was on time at 7am and after picking up a few other hikers at other accommodation had us at the start of the track by 7.45am. We immediately started the walk and had till 4pm to get to the end and be picked up by the bus. The driver also gave us a card for emergencies with a number to ring if your delayed.
Since I last walked the crossing the track has improved. There are board walks in places up to Soda Springs from Mangatepopo car park. The devils staircase now actually has steps which it never had in the old days and was a scramble up. Now, it is more like the angels staircase. At the top, you have the choice of climbing Mt Nguarahoe but you need to give yourself at least 2-3 hours. We walked across the plateau then climbed up to Red Crater. To assist people there is now a steel cable in one place which is worn away a bit. We enjoyed the views of Red Crater, Emerald lakes and Blue lake crater from the top and had lunch near one of the Emerald Lakes.
After a small climb up to Blue Lake Crater it is a downhill track to Ketahihi shelter. The hut deceptively looks closer than it is when you see it and before arriving you must embark on a switch back hell. Walking down from Blue Lake Crater you get views of the steam arising from the Te Maari crater which erupted a few years ago. From the shelter you walk for a couple of hours to the car park with views of Lake Taupo along the way.
As long as you are reasonably fit the walk is fine. Take at least 2 litres of water, decent boots, suntan lotion, snacks for energy and enjoy the scenery. We paced the walk to turn up at the car park at 3.40pm. I am glad we did as the car park resembled Dunkirk in 1940 with everyone waiting for their ride. There are lots of people but the scenery is still incredible, volcano’s, red crater, plateau, emerald lakes and the desolate landscape is spectacular.