The Tongariro Crossing is located about 4.5 hours from Wellington City, near lake Taupo, about mid way up of New Zealands’ North Island.
A group of us decided to head up and do it despite a slightly dodgy forecast, to try and beat the peak season crowds that opt to do it in Dec – Feb. We departed Welly for Tongariro on a Friday at 4:30pm and got caught in the most horrific traffic heading north which is pretty standard for a Friday afternoon.
We stopped in the town Levin about halfway there for some dinner and caught the most amazing sunset just on the outskirts 🙂 It was late when we eventually arrived at our hostel but there was still a buzz about the place as it was fully booked out with people attempting to do the crossing the following day.
We got up early the Sat morning to get the shuttle to the starting point of the crossing track. The crossing starts on one side of the national park and finishes on the other. You can view the peaks of 2 mountains; Mt Ngauruhoe & Mt. Ruapehu as you do the crossing but they are sacred to the Maori people and should not be summited (lots of people ignore this & do it anyway). The Park is the oldest in New Zealand and has an Alpine climate. It also contains a big section of the North Island Volcanic Plateau so you can see volcanic terrain everywhere as you do the crossing. It looked a bit like Mars actually… also all 3 mountains are active (Ruapehu, Tongariro & Ngauruhoe) and the possibility exists that they could erupt at any time. Some scenes from Mordor in Lord of the Rings were filmed here and walking through the track in parts, especially the infamous Devil’s Staircase you feel like you’re in the film. You are literally walking on basalt formations and the side of the mountain was so familiar to a scene from LOR.
When you get to the top or highest point of the crossing (Mt. Tongariro I think?) you get a great view of Mt Ngauruhoe and when you turn around you can view the sulphur pools or Emerald Lakes on the descent. You are not supposed to paddle or wash your hands in the lakes as they are also sacred (but yes – some people do this anyway) They are great for a photo as they are a cool turquoise color, the clearer/brighter the day, the stronger the color.
Sliding down the summit on the other side can be a bit tricky – it is literally like sand and we saw lots of people falling. We also came across an older man who had burst open his eyebrow when he fell on a rock so good to have a first aid pack & the emergency number handy if you do need help to get out of there.
The last few hours of the hike have a different terrain/landscape again, “bush” which strangely enough looked a bit like the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland! This is from Ketetahi Hut onwards and from this point it’s approx. 2 hours to arrive at the carpark. This area had much more shelter and lots of people were running this section as the incline and steps downhill were quite steep.
When we eventually made it back it took us girls a little over 6 hours (and the guys 5 hrs 50 mins…but who’s counting) and we headed straight to the hostel to collect towels to go to the Tokaanu Spa Thermal Pools, where you can take a dip in water from hot springs for 12$. This was perfect for sore muscles after the hike and no doubt helped to get rid of some of the stiffness the day after.
Coming back to Welly on the Sunday, we took a trip to visit the giant carrot in Ohakune (a must apparently) and visited the Army Museum in Waiouru. We also checked out the Rangitikei river in Mangaweta. There is a big dam there which is impressive but only found this out after we left the place!
After leaving Waiouru and passing back through Levin, we took a slight detour when coming down the Kapiti coast to get some views from high up. This is an easy enough turnoff to find, just near the town of Paekakariki. The viewing point is well worth visiting and you get a great view of Kapiti Island in the distance 🙂