From swimming with wild dolphins and caving my way through clouds of glow worms to trekking up, up, up a big volcano… I really had to try it all on my trip to New Zealand’s North Island. So finally, on one of my last days, it was time to hike around Mordor and conquer Mt Doom (as in Lord of the Rings) and by that I mean do the single-day trek better known as Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Since I’d already done a few 1-day treks, I must admit that this one’s an absolute MUST if you are a trekking freak or a simple nature lover and visiting New Zealand sometime soon.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing – A 19,4 km trek
If you are doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing get ready for some dramatic scenery and brutal uphill hiking while cutting across quite a variety of habitats! I think, that’s exactly how this cumbersome, but exciting trekking experience can be described.
More specifically, you will start your trek in a tundra like landscape, climb up a rocky sinuous trail where vegetation is replaced by snow and ice, you will look at a staggering volcanic panorama with dazzling azure-blue lakes, then you will slide down a sandy track of warm, ashy soil and make your way through a lush valley of tropical plants. Ah, did I get your attention after all?
Although it is a tiring undertaking, first timers – young and old – can also do this fantastic hike.
- Plan 6 to 8 hours of trekking if you are rather an occasional trekker and need a few longer breaks to get back on track
- 4-6 hours of trekking is a good average for sporty people (and yes, I am proud to count myself among those, even if I temporarily lost hope on my way up…and down!)
- If you plan on doing a trip to Mt Ngauruhoe summit be carefull, it ads 1-2 hours to your trip and it’s quite dangerous.
Just keep in mind, the whole experience is quite breathtaking – and by that I mean the views as well as the steep, steeeeep uphill climbs (just as the way back down and the last painful but beautiful kilometers from Ketetahi Springs through the forest to the finishing line). All I remember of the 3 last kilometers is, that my until then loyal trekking shoes had suddenly decided to become not so loyal anymore. With every throbbing step, I was under the annoying, and though increasing impression that the finishing line was stretching further away!
But hey, that’s just me and honestly, all the efforts are worth those views and this wonderful experience!
You surely will notice that everyone arrives in a state of utter disbelief and happy shock… if you still have some energy left, try to look at the faces of those arriving at the car park. A pretty fun & cheeky pastime while waiting for the shuttle, but bear in mind that you probably arrived with exactly the same shell-shocked look on your face!
NB: The hike starts at Mangatepopo car park and finishes at the Ketetahi car park.
Discover Whakapapa Village & Tongariro National Park (on the map)
Tongariro National Park is classified as a dual World Heritage and is known for its 3 magnificent mountains: Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings as I already mentioned before) and Mt Ruapehu. There are many, many other treks, tours and activities you can devote yourself to, ranging from Mountain biking to bird watching or skiing and snowboarding in winter.
But beware, Tongariro National Park is all about nature, which means: there really isn’t anything else to do in the evenings in Whakapapa Village!
Getting to Whakapapa village
The best thing to do is getting prepared for the big crossing in Taupo and drive down the State Highway 1, get to SH 47 , then turn right when pointed out… it’s quite easy to find your way down to Whakapapa Village.
There are also shuttle buses from Taupo and Turangi to Whakapapa Village for the hike. Just keep in mind that you have to get up at unearthly hours if you plan on sleeping in Taupo or Turangi.
If you are planning on doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing make sure your transport to the start is arranged beforehand! Often you can book the shuttle directly from your hotel or hostel.
Weather in Tongariro National Park
The weather forecast in the National Park is often a bit problematic, because weather in the mountains is quite unpredictable. Be prepared for changes in the weather while being up there. It is also recommended to check out the weather forecast at the National Park before driving to Whakapapa.
In case of bad conditions the site will be closed because of dangerous weather hazards.
So, sometimes you just have to wait and be patient for 1 or 2 days before the track to Tongariro opens again.
You can have a look at the park’s official weather forecast for some warnings, but they will not let you know if the site is accessible.
The best thing to do is either call your booked accommodation in Whakapapa Village or go to the i-Site Tourist Information Centre in the city you’re currently staying. They will call i-Site in Tongariro and give you a thumbs up, if the track is open!
Another thing to keep in mind is that there is still a lot of volcanic activity and smoky clouds rising from some of the 12 craters of the area. The last eruption of Mt Tongariro was in 2012, while tourists were up there.
Trekking Gear & Accessories
What clothes to wear for the trek
- Strong, robust boots (substantial while trekking on uneven volcanic terrain, and trust me: It will be rocky!)
- Waterproof and windproof raincoat and trousers… yes, even the trousers will come in handy. If you don’t own a pair, you can buy your trekking gear in one of the big cities surrounding Whakapapa.
- Warm layers of clothing: Don’t bring cotton clothes, because if you sweat (and you will sweat a lot) you will end up trekking in damp clothes all the way down. Bring woolen or polypropylene thermals and fleece, because even if the sky’s blue and the summer sun’s all out and about, you will get cold…, the winds blowing on the top are icy!
- Hat and gloves are no luxury either; we were happily freezing away at -1C° during our way to the top.
- Sunglasses can be very important, especially if there are no clouds and you have slightly coloured eyes. I ran around during 2 days with sunburned eyes, which is quite painful…and not very sexy!
- Bring sunscreen, because sun’s a bitch up there!
What else to take with you
- Food (sandwiches if you plan on having a picnic next to the lake, but also bananas or cereal bars, which will help you get your strength back when reaching the top!
- Plenty of water, especially in the summer months. We came across a very thirsty guy who took just a bottle of water with him…
- A First Aid Kit, is always handy, especially with all the existing opportunities on the track to fall down and sprain your ankle. (Actually, I’m still a bit taken aback that I got back in one piece, since I’m quite clumsy!)
- A map of the trek, if you get lost.
- Your cell phone, because the various operators note your cell phone number and if they haven’t registered you as safe & sound in the evening, they will contact you on your cellphone, and if they can’t reach you and nobody else has heard of you, they will send helicopters to search the mountains for lost souls.
Whakapapa village accommodation
In Whakapapa Village you will be spoiled for choice accommodation-wise, you’ll find shit loads of motels or hostels specializing in family holidays or backpacker lodging. Just book on time during peak season or weekends… otherwise you’ll have no other choice and stay at the upscale Chateau Tongariro where you can catch some Zs in a very comfortable but costly bed (and somehow dream of the Grand Hotel Budapest… but I really don’t know why).
So, whatever you plan on doing in New Zealand, try to include the Tongariro Alpine Crossing on your to do list … I guarantee, you won’t be disappointed!
Happy trekking everyone!
Interested in other posts about New Zealand’s North Island? Check out these posts: