The Lonely Planet lists the Tongariro Crossing as one of the best one day walks in the world and after completing the traverse during the Christmas break it’s hard to argue. The approximate 6 hour, 19.4 Kilometre trek takes Trampers/Walkers through some of the most diverse and beautiful landscape that New Zealand has to offer.
Our transport to the starting point of the walk (essential as you don’t finish where you start) collects us at 7.15am sharp and our Guide slash Driver (Caleb) gives us all the skinny and what to expect, do’s and donts etc as there has been a few mishaps on the walk lately. The main one was a recent death on Mt Ngauruhoe (which only serves to interest us more on a potential climb up the Mountain that acted as Mt Doom from LOTR). There is very little in the way of Health and Safety nonsense – “if you’re about to do this walk, you should know the risks” is the mantra. When asked “how fit does one need to be in order to complete the walk” by one boffin, “fit enough” is the very sensible reply given!
Soon we are champing at the bit at the starting point at the Mangatepopo Road. The first thing that becomes apparent is that the trek is really popular – there must be at least 100 souls (who look to be of varying age, fitness and preparedness) milling around getting ready to start (including a couple enjoying a Doobie – go figure!) so we bypass them all and rip straight in heading on a one hour upward journey on an established walkway to Soda Springs.
This essentially acts the warm-up, as after a quick drink and chat to a couple of others (mainly tourists funnily enough) we really start to get into the grind on a one hour steep climb to the South Crater – this is where the majesty and beauty of the Central Plateau really becomes apparent and the pathway between Mounts Ngauruhoe and Tongariro emerge via the South Crater. This appears to be about as near as you can get to walking on the moon (or at least the Arizona desert as a back-up). Its dead-set awesome.
Decision time then arrives as the option of what’s known as a ‘side journey’ up either Mt Ngauruhoe and/or Mt Tongariro needs to be considered. We were feeling pretty fresh so we opted for what turns out to be a rather dangerous trek up Mount Ngauruhoe (just over an hour) and a mad scramble back down the scree slopes greatly assisted by gravity (15 minutes). This is quite dangerous (avalanches of boulders and ankle injuries the main risks) however the view (both the Hawkes Bay and Taranaki at the turn of your head) is the prime benefit of our efforts.
More excitement then looms with the next trek to the Red Crater followed by a slippery slide down to the Emerald Lakes with enough time to stop for a quick drink and then across the Blue Lake for a rest and a bite for lunch (you gotta take your own food as there isn’t a McDonalds or Flat White to be had anywhere) – this essentially concludes the main ‘climbing’ phase of the trek – its downhill from here.
Then it’s around the side of Tongariro to Ketetahi and what appears to be a long final 8 kilometre stretch (mostly downhill on good track where we are advised to ‘walk briskly’ as if the whole place is going to go up – this is where it will happen) until after another short trek through the first bush or vegetation of the trip we emerge to the DOC built and maintained exit area.
Our transport is there right on time as promised and after a quiet beer and contemplate, its back to Ohakune for some real R&R.
The Tongariro Crossing is one of New Zealand’s and probably the world’s greatest walks, it’s on our back doorstep and its bloody free! Everyone should include it on their Bucket List of summer activities to do.
More information here.