How to survive the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (Northwest of Mordor)

Mount Doom – ‘a fictional object destruction method from Lord of the Rings trilogy’

or

Mount Ngauruhoe – ‘an active stratovolcano in New Zealand’

Whatever you want to call it, it’s beautiful. And one of the many breath-taking views you’ll get to experience if you decide to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of New Zealand’s many ‘Great Walks’. In addition to Mount Ngauruhoe, you’ll also see Mt Ruapehu peeking over and Mount Tongariro. Despite it being a long time since any of these active volcanos erupted, it still gives the extra edge to the walk when you realise that if, IF, they were to go off – you would be well and truly f****d.

We did our research for this trek and we ensured we were prepared for all eventualities, so when it came to hopping off the shuttle bus at the very start of the trek – we were feeling pretty confident. Now, if you’re reading this blog in hopes of gaining some insight before you do the crossing – just know that each day on that track is different. So, if the weather is forecast to be clear and sunny then keep reading. If not, then… well… do some further research.

Mangatepopo Carpark   >   Soda Springs                            1 – 1.5 hours

The easy part, a nice little warm up. The track is fairly flat with a lot of it being board walked.

Though, knowing that we had 19.4km ahead of us I wasn’t too keen on Steff celebrating every kilometre sign.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The start!

Soda Springs   >    South Crater                                             45 mins – 1 hour

This part of the track, known as the Devil’s Staircase is very steep. It’s the part that everyone had warned us about. Permitting that you stop little and often for water and to re-fill your lungs – you’ll be grand. I feared this part and pictured it to be like the staircase in Covent Garden tube station but worse. It’s not as bad as you imagine – and much prettier than Covent Garden tube station. Winner. Steff has already climbed part of the Great Wall of China so it was an absolute breeze for her!

How to survive the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The long drop!
The reality of any long hike. Long drop toilets. HOLD YOUR BREATH.

South Crater    >     Red Crater                                               1 hour 

Starting out flat, once you have passed the South Crater and your legs have recovered from the devils staircase there is another climb on an exposed ridge, leading to the Red Crater. Despite it being a clear and sunny day, the wind was fierce. You can see why this is a ‘turning-back point’ for a lot of people during the days with bad weather.

How to survive the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Red Crater
Red Crater. Although, it kind of looked vagina.
How to survive the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Enjoying that flat walk…

Red Crater > via Emerald Lakes > Blue Lake                       30 – 45 mins

HA! This part is hilarious. If you’re someone that’s guilty of enjoying the viral videos of people falling over then you’re in for a treat. A steep descent from the Red Crater, I was very proud of Steff for not falling over, considering her track record during hikes. Until the last moment when the ground was flat and she tripped. LOL. When you’re slowly descending and your shoes are deep in volcanic sand, you tend not to look up ahead of you. But try to, at least once or twice, because the Emerald Lakes are bloody glorious.

How to survive the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The steep descent…
Emerald Lakes of Tongariro Alpine Crossing. How to survive the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Look at those happy faces!
Emerald Lakes of Tongariro Alpine Crossing. How to survive the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Before Steff tripped…

Blue Lake   >   Ketetahi Shelter                                              1 hour

A relatively short and easy climb to the edge of North Crater and you are greeted with truly spectacular views when the weather is good. You’re feeling it though at this point. I mean, mentally we were fine, we had a lot of ‘ooomph’. Our feet and legs however, just did not feel the same. A gondola ride back down to the car park at this point would have been fantastic, no matter what the price was. We ate the last of our snacks, fuelled up on water and tried to shake the life back into our legs after a short break at the shelter.

Pit stop for some snacks during the Tongariro Crossing. How to survive the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Fuelling up for those last K’s…
How to survive the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
LEGS. HAVE. STOPPED. WORKING.

Ketetahi Shelter    >      Victory. (car park)                          2 hours

Now, from what part of our memory recalls – this part is a beautiful walk. Shaded through the forest, a stream towards the end, birds are tweeting, and cicadas are clicking. However, neither of us are as fit as we used to be – so we blurred this bit out a bit. A majority of the walk was downhill, and because our toes were hurting so much they were just sinking into the tops of our shoes which is incredibly painful. Our knees were throbbing, hips were aching, and at any given moment we were just hoping that Samwise Gamgee would come along and carry US the rest of the way.

When we got to the 19 km sign, it felt just how people describe what holding their first born is like. I know, a little dramatic. But upon seeing the shuttles sitting there in the car park waiting for hundreds of hikers and their sore legs, Steff couldn’t help but cry a bit. Which was a hilarious ending to a perfect, challenging and beautiful hike.

How to survive the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Couldn’t be happier.

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

  • The trek in total is 19.4 KM (12.1 miles) across various terrain.
  • The highest point of the trek is at the Red Crater – 1,886 metres
  • There is no guaranteed fresh water supplies on the walk
  • If the weather is forecast to rain or snow then you must be appropriately dressed for the conditions and ensure you have enough supplies and even shelter in case you get caught up there – consider paying for a guide too!

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE US?

We hopped on the 5:45am shuttle, started the trek around 6:30am and returned to the car park for the 3:30am shuttle. According to my Apple Watch, we walked for 7.5 hours and the rest of the time we had short breaks, toilet stops and seized all of the photography opportunities we could.

BEST PHOTO OPPORTUNITIES

There are so many! Our favourite shots were taken at the foot of Mount Ngauruhoe, overlooking the Red Crater, the Emerald Lakes and then towards the end when you have stunning views of Lake Taupo. We had our Canon EOS 1300D, tripod and Go Pro Hero 5 with us. Not too bad to carry!

How to survive the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
How to survive the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
How to survive the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
How to survive the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Mount Doom
How to survive the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Mount Doom

HOW DID WE GET THERE?

We booked with Summit Shuttles. As we live in Rotorua, we left on the Monday evening and stayed in a cabin at Turangi Holiday Park. We left the cabin around 4:30am to drive to the meeting place for the shuttle.

WHAT DID WE TAKE?

  • Backpack
  • 3 litres of water in a camel pack each
  • 1 bottle of Gatorade each
  • 2 sandwiches
  • 2 boiled eggs
  • Snack pack of protein balls
  • 1 bag of nuts and raisins
  • 1 apple
  • 1 banana
  • Raincoat
  • First Aid Kit
  • Torch – extra batteries
  • Emergency Blanket
  • Power Bank (to charge phones)
  • Woolly hats and baseball caps
  • Sun cream (this is extremely important!)

WHAT WOULD WE HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?

I think we would have stayed somewhere closer to where the shuttle left from, that way we would have got some more shut-eye and wouldn’t have had to brunt the 45 minute drive back to the cabin.

What we also realised, is that we need better hiking boots. Our current ones are great for 3-4 hour hikes… not 7-9 hour hikes. And for those that we saw on the crossing with a small bottle of water and wearing trainers… we’d be really intrigued to know how the rest of your journey went. HA!

How to survive the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Mount Doom
Mount Doom, in all its glory.
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