Thursday, 8 March 2018

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a section of one of New Zealand's nine "Great Walks". This dual world heritage site takes you along 19km between two volcanoes; Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe (that's Mount Doom!) through craters, over scree, past strangely beautiful lakes and vents of steam, it really is a unique hike!

Mount Ngauruhoe

 We began our epic journey at the nice and early time of 5:30am, we spent the night in a nearby motel so that there would be a very minimal journey that morning. We packed up our bags and jumped in the car heading for our shuttle bus pickup location at the Tongariro Shuttle Car Park. We decided to park at the end of the hike and hitched a ride to the beginning, definitely a good way to do it! Our Mountain Shuttle bus departed at 6:30am and took us about half an hour up the road to the beginning of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It was a bit chilly given the time of the day but definitely not as bad as we'd been expecting, one thing we were hoping to be without though was the big, looming grey clouds - the weather will, as always, be unpredictable!

start of the tongariro crossing
The Start Point of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The first bit of the journey is pretty easy, a monotonous trudge through some moor-like landscape, not too disimilar to hiking in our homely Peak District, especially with the blanket of cloud that surrounded us. 

tongariro crossing first 5km
Peak District or Famous NZ Hike?
Lava field
Volcanic reminders that you're not in England anymore!
Just before you reach kilometre 5 the hike really begins! You'll reach a warning sign telling you the distance until the next toilets so use them when you can - it's really not the nicest but still a slight step up from the festival loo's!
Here you'll go up the first ascent, it's not too tough a climb and the path is pretty easy to follow and once you reach the top you're rewarded with the first pretty major view point in a large volcanic crater.
Tongariro Crossing first ascent
The first ascent of the Tongariro is a long but fairly easy climb
Volcanic Crater
The first crater and a thick layer of cloud!
From here you hit the real climb, from the bottom of the crater to the walk's highest point at the top of Red Crater where, on a better day than ours, you should be rewarded with absolutely stunning views! This ascent was definitely a toughie, I wouldn't recommend coming up if you hadn't done at least a bit of hiking in your time.

the emerald lakes and red crater
The tops of the Red Crater looking down at the Emerald Lakes
Moving on from Red Crater required a pretty decent down towards the Emerald Lakes, another absolutely stunning sight! The reason this descent is so tough is because of the scree. Soft volcanic ash covers the way down and we saw A LOT of people fall over trying to get down! Our best tip is to try and keep a steady pace all the way down making sure to dig your heel in first with each step - we didn't fall so trust us it works!

coming down from the red crater
The path is basically soft ash
We chose to stop for lunch at the lakes, they are an absolutely stunning site with incredible colours, the smell? Not so good, there are a lot of sulphur vents in the area which, whilst pretty interesting, isn't great on the nose. This was also the part of our walk where the sun made enough of an appearance to cause a bit of burn - be careful!

Taking the ring to Mount Doom
Apparently one simply does just walk into Mordor
It's another climb after this point up to Blue Lake and then continuing along the path to Soda Springs. For us this wasn't a great part of the hike, we really hit cloud here and it became a bit colder and visibility was very poor.

It's around kilometer 13 when the real descent begins and you find yourself zigzagging back down into the moor like surroundings - we were in cloud for a long time here!
After what felt like forever (trust us this second half of the walk is no where near as exciting and fun as the first) we finally dropped below the thick cloud and were met with a stunning view of Lake Rotoaira.

thick cloud tongariro crossing
Finally getting down through the cloud
If you're feeling a little tired with just 3km left to go then the trail has something that might help up your pace a little! Down in this (typically New Zealand in Scenery) area of the hike are Lahar Hazard Zone Signs, a reminder that this entire time you've been walking amidst active Volcanoes and at this point you'd be directly in the path of danger and if you hear any noise coming from upstream... Run!

view of lake Rotoaira
The view of Lake Rotoaira
After 8 hours on the trail seeing the car park was a welcome relief! The Tongariro Crossing was by far the most challenging but also rewarding experience of our New Zealand adventures and one we'd definitely repeat if were ever in that part of the world again to hopefully get a clearer day with better views.

Something I'd been looking forward to doing was using the GPS on my watch to record the route, I'd made a pretty big error the night before however and completely forgot to charge it - oops! So I knew I wouldn't be getting the entire route but still was excited to see how much of it I could record, turns out that was 18.57km... So Close!!

Tongariro Crossing Route Map
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing Route

Tongariro Crossing Elevation
Tongariro Crossing Elevation

So how fit do you need to be to tackle the trail? The Tongariro does offer some difficulties, there are a few tough ascents and slippery slope downhill but perhaps what's most tough is the length of walk, 19.4km is surely more than the average person would chose to walk on a leisurely Sunday afternoon. We'd say it depends on your current level of fitness, if you're a confident walker who exercises regularly then you'll have no difficulties whatsoever completing the trail. If you have a pretty inactive lifestyle then it's worth getting in a few hikes before you hit the slopes - check out our favourite route up the Peak Districts Highest Mountain, Kinder Scout

Have you conquered the Tongariro Crossing? What other Amazing day long hikes would you recommend?
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