New Zealand

Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

The Tongariro Crossing. The walk of all walks – according to any travel guide you read about New Zealand anyway. Every NZ backpacker has a selfie with either Mt Doom or the Emerald Lakes, and I was itching to get one too. But would it live up to the high expectations?

It had been on my bucket list for over a year, and with only a couple of weeks left in the country it had become a ‘now or never’ kinda thing. We’d finished our weekend away in Golden Bay, zipped over to Picton to get the ferry across to the North Island (which, by the way, I highly recommend using Bluebridge) and headed up towards Taupo. We had so many questions about the walk: how do we get there? Do we need to get a shuttle bus? How long will it take us to walk? Are we fit enough, or will I need helicoptering off mid way? Will it be cold? What do I wear?!

Cue Taupo I-Site. Apparently the crossing had been closed for days because of weather but tomorrow, the day we were looking at giving it a whirl, it would be filled with thousands of marchers all making their way along the 19.4km route. The weather would be perfect, sunny with a bit of cloud. We would need to bring lots of food, enough water for the whole walk (there isn’t any water up there), and clothing to suit changes in the conditions. The I-Site also booked our shuttle bus for us, and told us where to camp the night before.

There are two campsites near the crossing – both of which about a 20 minute drive from where we would go to meet our shuttle – and after spending the day in Taupo we arrived at the first campsite somewhere around midnight. It was dark and oh so busy. Cars parked in every nook and cranny leaving us zero space to park little Nancy, so we moved on, driving down a long gravel road for a further 20 minutes, to find a much more spacious campground. We parked up, set our alarm for 6:15am and hit the hay.

We’d packed our bags the night before so as the alarm sounded we sprang into action. Cars had been driving off towards the walk since 5am, keeping me awake and alert, and ready to get going. We drove to Ketetahi carpark, which was insanely busy, and parked up behind the long line of cars that were parking along the carpark entrance. Our shuttle was ready on time at 7:15am, taking 8 of us over to the other side of the walk (we used Backyard Tours – all shuttles cost the same, $30 per person, but they were super efficient and friendly) before sending us off with a wonderful Maori blessing and telling us to text them when we had finished the walk. And then we were off.

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We followed the endless stream of people as we took off along the track. I kid you not, there were thousands of us. The I-Site lady was right, but at least it meant that we wouldn’t get lost along the way. The sun was shining but it was still early enough to be quite chilly, however as we began walking it didn’t take long before we began stripping off our layers and sipping on the 3 litres of water that we’d brought with us. The route was pretty, busy but pretty, but as it grew steeper I began to care less about the views and more about whether my lungs would collapse from being overworked (am I asthmatic, or just really unfit?). The crowds were dispersing, separating the fit from the… not so fit, and looks of sympathy were exchanged with those that had taken a break from the climb.

One hour went by, then two. Up we went. I paused for a break, using the gorgeous views as an excuse to stop and take a breather(other excuses included: needing to put on suncream, adjusting the straps on my bag to feel more comfortable, and ‘OH DAVE, what is that bug/bird/animal over there?’). We passed Mt Doom, climbed up the rocky staircases and faced the full force of the winds before finally reaching the top.
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The red crater, stunning shades of browns and deep reds and blacks. Chutes of steam were streaming out of holes in the sides of the crater, reminding us of it’s power underground. The sheer drop beside the path, demonstrating exactly how high we had climbed (which is not really that high at all, but still).

And then we walked past the emerald lakes, taking in the scent of sulphur and doing our best to take selfies without having random strangers in the background. All the struggling for breath had been worth it – the lakes were beautiful, and the views all around us were exquisite. Of course our cameras did their best to capture our surroundings, but the photos still fail to compare to the real thing. Pushing on we started heading downhill, heading back to Ketetahi were we had parked Nancy earlier that morning. We were no longer surrounded by people – many had stopped for lunch at the lakes but we weren’t particularly hungry – which meant that we could appreciate our surroundings a bit more and half -run back to the car. The views all the way down were phenomenal, as the cloudline was high leaving the sun to shine down over Lake Taupo.

All in all the walk took us just over 5 hours. The suggested time is 6-8 or 7-9 (depending on where you get your information). But this meant that we had more than enough time to head into Taupo, about an hour’s drive away, for a $2.50 shower at the Super Loo’s (by the I-Site). Perfect.

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What we took with us: Food. Muffins, tuna sandwiches, apricot’s, muesli bars. What we ate? The muffin and the apricot. I’m glad we had extra food but we definitely didn’t need it, and I heard others saying the same. Water. About 3 litres, enough for the 2 of  us. But again we didn’t need the amount we took (although we were pretty dehydrated we later realised!). A lot of the time we were too focused on the sights and just getting back to the car to actually remember to drink – oh, and we were worried about needing a wee halfway, and they only have a couple of loo’s across the whole walk. Phones. To take pictures, obvs. These came in very handy as we both have tons of incredible photo’s. Suncream. This is super important in New Zealand as the sun is ridiculously strong, even when it’s overcast. Better to be safe than sorry, so we covered our arms and faces in factor 50.

What we wore: Just joggers/ gym bottoms, a t-shirt, jumper, a hat, sunglasses and a rain coat. We didn’t really need the jumper (only for when it was cold at the beginning) but the rain coat was perfect for blocking out the wind. Oh and trainers – some people had really professional looking walking boots; I used a $20 pair of trainers bought from Warehouse and they did the trick. The terrain is very uneven, steep and will often move out from underneath you, so something really protective is important .

What I wish we had brought: Wooly hat. The I-Site lady did say to bring a hat, which we did, but we only had cap’s as opposed to something that would cover our ears. At the top when the wind is really blowing a wooly hat would have been perfect, and some gloves would have been great too. But again only for the mid-section of the walk, the rest of the time we were boiling.

All in all we LOVED this walk. We kept comparing it to when we walked Mt Arthur a couple of months previously, as both walks took about the same time, have spectacular views and are of a similar difficulty level. But we didn’t quite get why Tongariro was much more popular. Now we can see that the Tongariro has more variety in it’s views – with the volcanic bits, Mt Doom, the lakes and the views over Lake Taupo. Tongariro is perfect for people of so many fitness levels too, because whilst it does have a lot of steeper sections you can just take your own time. We started at 8am and finished at 1pm, meaning that we still had the rest of the day had we needed it. It was a great walk that I would definitely recommend, and can completely understand why it’s one of NZ’s Great Walks.

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