Excited for our first New Zealand hike, we drove towards Tongariro National Park and checked in to the Adventure Lodge the night before we started our hike.
The Adventure Lodge was great because included in the price was accommodations for two nights, breakfast, a packed lunch for the hike, dinner and transport to and from the National Park.
It was easy, it was rustic and that was how we liked it!
We signed up for the first shuttle leaving at 6:30am! As the climb is 19.4km and is estimated to take between 6.5 – 8 hours, we wanted to ensure that we got a good start with lots of time to enjoy the scenery and take some pictures; not to mention avoid the crowds from tour buses arriving later that morning. We packed up our bags and headed to the park!
The crossing is made up of six main tracks varying in difficulty level and length.
The first part of the track, Mangatepopo to Soda Springs, was a nice leisurely stroll with some hills and steps to get your heart pumping! It was a great way to start the track and warm up from the cold in the morning. It also gave you a false sense of confidence that the hike was going to be no problem.
Oh wait. Yes, I could.
The second part of the track, Soda Springs to South Crater, was dramatically more difficult. I should have seen this coming by the sign at the bottom of the hill which read, “Stop, are you really prepared to continue your alpine crossing trek?”
“Sure!” I thought. The sign then asked a couple more specific questions:
“Is the weather okay?” Why yes, the weather couldn’t be better!
“Do you have the right equipment and clothing?” Another yes, Kevin made sure I was all geared up with Merino wool clothing and comfy, waterproof hiking shoes.
“Are you fit enough?” Well…. I certainly hope so…two months with a trainer at the gym was hard work! Although, I never did seem to get in that 3 hours of cardio he recommended every week. I maybe got in 1 hour.
On a good week…
But here I was!
The trail was windy leading us steadily upwards over the next couple of kilometres. There was lots of steps and it was a lot of uphill.
It was hard. But the view made it worth it. Getting higher on the mountain range presented new views. The scenery was the only encouragement that I needed.
Once we reached South Crater, we got a magnificent view of Mt Ngauruhoe!
And it just kept getting better and better.
The third part of the track, South Crater to Red Crater, led us through the level floor of South Crater. It was a very enjoyable stretch after the last climb.
Before I knew it, we were back to a steep climb up the ridge to Red Crater. Along with it came powerful winds which increased the intensity but it did not last too long!
I huffed, defeated. What?
“Well does anything around you look red?”
Well… no.. I guess not.
So up the next stretch of steep climbing we went! While I was getting tired, I was feeling so alive and full of energy from the views I was getting. It was unbelievably perfect.
When we finally reached Red Crater, I knew it this time by the crater’s vibrant color from the oxidation of iron in the rock. It was stunning!
At this point, the wind was blowing hard. I put my jacket back on and even threw on some gloves for extra warmth.
I bragged to Kevin, “It’s not everyday you get to wear shorts and gloves at the same time!”
A little further past the Red Crater up another stretch was the highest point on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing at 1886 metres! This peak provided even better views than those we were treated to along the way.
Far in the distance is the Blue Lake!
Then around the corner looking down to the fourth section of the track are the Emerald Lakes.
This view took the cake for sure.
The Emerald Lakes fill three old explosion craters. Minerals leaching from the adjoining thermal area cause their amazing colour. The Maori name is “Ngarotopounamu” meaning greenstone-hued lakes.
Now it was time to head down to the lakes. Down through the highest accident area of the track. It was steep, relatively narrow and covered with loose volcanic rock. We slid down cautiously, stopping when we could to get some more pictures along the way.
When we got closer, we started to notice the steam vents close to the lakes as well!
We were officially more than half way through our hike with the hardest work behind us! Every bit of effort was more than worth everything that we had seen so far.
Then next stretch of the track was Emerald Lakes to Ketetahi Day Shelter.
After a short stroll along the floor of Central Crater, it was short climb up the rim of Blue Lake Crater.
Past the lake, the track began to wind along an area known as ‘the Notch’ on the edge of the Active Volcanic Hazard Zone.
Eventually, the track began to descend with endless switchbacks along the mountain.
When we arrived at the Ketetahi Day Shelter, we stopped for a quick lunch before the rest of the descent. The Day Shelter was formally an overnight hut until it was damaged during a volcano eruption in August 2012. The hut will not be repaired as the volcanic risk is considered too high to allow people to sleep there again.
It was then time for the last section of the track down 6.4km to the car park. While downhill is generally viewed as easier than uphill, this section of the track was where I really started to feel the pain!
Endless steps and trails caused my butt and legs to begin to tighten. My feet started to swell and my knee started to ache.
I did not like where all these aches and pains were headed… I was glad to be still doing this in my thirties. I really need to get back into shape!
Eventually, the trail dropped into the forest which made for an interesting change from the alpine zone offering some shade for the last stretch.
When we made it, I was so happy it was over but was reliving every moment of it again when I starting flipping through my photos!
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing was one of the most amazing hikes I have ever completed. I was so thankful for the opportunity to be here with Kevin and that we lucked out with the most perfect, clear day on the mountain.
We wore our new t-shirts to bed proudly that night!
New Zealand had done it once again.