If you want to really experience some incredible New Zealand landscapes then a hike along the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is an epic option…you can even scale mount doom!
Now I like exploring – as a traveller it’s in my nature – but I’m definitely a beach guy and mountains aren’t my first choice of terrain!
I do however like a good walk and occasionally a hike too…but again it’s more barefoot wandering than hiking boot style day trips.
Still, I have taken the opportunity to tick the Inca Trail off my bucket list though, which still remains the hardest, but most rewarding experience I’ve had on my adventures.
So when the Tongariro Alpine Crossing was mentioned I didn’t really think much about it – but the more people we chatted to in New Zealand about it the more intrigued I became about it…it seems everyone was going on about it!
And when I arrived in Taupo my buddy Sam who now lives there told me to pencil it into my plans too…it was a sign!
Going In Kinda Of Blind!
I wasn’t really too sure what I’d signed myself up for – other than the fact the views were incredible (which I must admit is the main reason I decided to go!), and it was around 19.4-kilometre (12.1 mi) long.
Oh – and it would work out at around a 7 hour hike!
Talk about chucking myself in at the deep end!
After dragging myself out of bed at some stupid hour of the morning – like 4am stupid – me and T jumped on a bus alongside a heap of other bedraggled looking backpackers and promptly fell asleep for the bulk of the hour long drive to the starting point.
We were in for a rude awakening as we stumbled off the heated bus and into the frigid New Zealand morning, frost still on the ground! I was pretty stoked that I’d packed my scarf, a flannel and a hoodie at this point!
From then on it is was kind of a free for all! After a quick safety/instructional briefing from the bus driver the whole hike itself is a “and off you go” kind of job – I’m not sure if that’s reassuring or not!?
All I remember are the main points;
- Allow around 2 hours extra for the Mount Doom Hike
- Leave the big lake no later than XXX (something I cant actually remember now!haha!)
- First bus home starts at 2pm
…and with that info on board and wanting to warm up pretty quickly me and T set off, whilst most people where still trying to get their game plan on in the carpark!
Hitting The Trail
As the morning sun rose across the mountains (yup we started when it was still dark!) you couldn’t help but stare at the stunning views all around you. New Zealand is one of the most picturesque countries I’ve ever visited and the hike from start to finish was camera worthy!
The first section of the hike was pretty straight forward – meandering around the valley floor across wooden platforms, a nice easy start to the day I thought.
It’s only when you hit an ominous looking sign labelled “last point to turn around, do you want to continue?” that the real hiking starts to kick in and you really start to feel it in your legs.
Still it’s not too gruelling and although you’re temporarily blinded by the morning sun cresting blasting over the crest of the ridge it’s not all that bad.
The next stage is where you can opt to take the detour up to the peak of Mount Doom (aka Mt Ngauruhoe) from the Lord of The Rings Trilogy. It’s at least a 2 hour side trip on the main hike and looked pretty savage – there was no way I wanted to tackle it and no way I was dragging Tara along with me!haha!
We met up with some people at the finish who managed it though – one dude needed stitches after slicing his legs on the volcanic rock and they all said they’d bitten off rather more than they expected! Still good on them!
If you’re not hitting up Mount Doom the next section called the South Crater is pretty breezy – a nice flat stroll across the crater floor. It looks totally surreal and you can see why the New Zealand landscape was chosen by Peter Jackson, very middle earth!
Then the hiking really kicks in!
The ridge part to the Red Crater is easily the most gruelling chuck of the whole hike and you’ll spend most of it bent over with your finger tips on the ground trying to keep yourself balanced. It’s about the part where I took the most verbal abuse from Tara!hahaha!
It’s totally worth the sweat though as when you reach the peak you’re greeted by some incredible 360 degree views across the North Island. Mountain tops nestle on cloudy cushions, geothermal vents dot the hillsides and amongst the volcanic craters nestle the famous emerald green lakes – the perfect spot for a welcome break and some incredible photos.
Some of the more adventurous hikers posed for some shots on some of the ledges, but being afraid of heights there was no way I was doing that – not even for a shameless GoPro selfie!
Slightly re energised it was time to start the downhill section, easy in theory, not so much in practice!
I spent most of the time almost snowboard styling the downhill section which slips and slides beneath you – if you’re hiking with buddies this is probably the most hilarious section as most people ended up on their ass at one point or another – it’s organised chaos!
…be careful of your ankles in this part!
Once you survive that the backdrop of the gorgeous emerald lakes are the perfect spot for a well deserved lunch, rest your feet and soak up even more stunning views.
All Downhill From There!
And obviously what goes up must come down! After a quick incline right after the emerald lakes you start your descent, which to some may sound like a welcome change of pace, but the 2 hours downhill section was probably the most gruelling on my legs and it seemed to just go on forever!
Still winding down the geothermal hillside is beautiful and in complete contrast to the volcanic landscape that dominates the majority of the walk.
As you enter the woodland and the terrain begins to flatten out and air of achievement begins to take over, you can almost feel the finish point edging closer, then as the hustle and bustle of voices begins to fill the air and the carpark opens up into view a smile will creep over your face!
…all that’s left after that is to relax on the bus back to Taupo, followed by a hot shower of course!
Now I’m not a crazy fan of hiking, but if you’re passing through Taupo on the North Island of New Zealand make sure you leave a day to complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, it was a great addition to my Kiwi Experience itinerary and something I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend if you love the outdoors and want to see some more of what NZ has to offer!
What You’ll Need;
- Good walking shoes (I did it in trainers no worries but dont use flip flops)
- Something warm for the start (maybe throughout depending on when you’re going!)
- A camera (with HEAPS of space on it!)
- Plenty of water (there’s nowhere to fill up water bottles en route either!)
- Lunch (we went with hummus, cheese and spinach rolls!)
- Snacks to keep you going!
Have you hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing? How did you get on?