The Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Duration: 7h (10h if you go up the Mount Ngauruhoe. 3 days if you do the Great Walk entirely)
Difficulty: Medium / Hard (really hard if you go up Mount Ngauruhoe)
Distance: 19.3 km
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the famous Great Walks in New Zealand. New Zealand counts 9 Great Walks that are hikes on several days, three or four or five… Though, the Tongariro allows you to do a short hike of one day called the Alpine Crossing.
Most people will tell you the Alpine Crossing is the most interesting part of the Tongariro Great Walk and even though I didn’t do the three day trip, I think it might be challenging and beautiful to make the whole tour but we didn’t have three days so we decided to go anyways.
We were meeting friends of ours that came from Auckland at an AirBnB that we rented for the week end. The AirBnB was half an hour away from the start of the hike. We had the most incredible sky. There were a lot of stars even if there was a lot of lights on the street.
There is several possibilities on how to go to the start of the hike.
— Hike’s Parking. A lot of people will tell you it is quite dangerous if you are a backpacker in a van to leave your car at the start (or the end) of the crossing. In facts, there has been several cases of effractions and thefts (not only in the Tongariro Hike but in all the hikes around New Zealand) on the parking lots because people know that if your car is there, you are gone for at least the day. So if you leave your car in the parking of the hikes, make sure it is visible that nothing is inside. It is possible to leave valuables at a DOC (Document of Conservation) in exchange for a few dollars (I heard about 2 ou 3). A DOC is a place where you can find all the informations about the campings, the hikes and the nature around you. Though not all of them do it so you might have to give a call to check before.
— Camping’s Parking. It is possible to leave your car at a campground. They have free buses that will take you to the start of the hike and buses that will get you back to the camping once you are at the end of the hike. Be careful though about the timetables. The last bus is quite early (around 7PM if I recall correctly) so if you miss it, you might have to walk quite a while or have to call a cab.
If you have two cars, you can do what we did but it has some inconvenient. In facts, we left one car at the beginning of the hike and one at the end. One group went to the start and all the people got out of the car at the start except for the driver. Then the other group went to the ending of the hike and the driver from the first group went to pick them up to bring them at the start. This way we had one car at the beginning and one at the end and we didn’t have to care about how long it would take us to do the hike. One thing to know if you want to do that, is that it takes around one hour to set up the cars. it is 25 minutes from one point to another.
We arrived around 7:15 at the starting point and the others joined us around 8:20AM.
While we were waiting for the second car to come, we could see the sun rise over the Tongariro’s most known volcano: Mount Ngauruhoe (I dare anyone to pronounce it, I tried but I can’t get a hold of it..!) or Mount Doom. For those who don’t know that, Mount Ngauruhoe was taken to be Mount Doom in the famous movies: The Lord of the Rings. It is the volcano where the hero of the movie has to go in order to destroy the Ring. I have to say that it was quite magical to see that. I was so eager to start hiking. I knew it was going to be quite hard but epic.
Mount Ngauruhoe / Doom
As we walked through the bushes with the hundred of other people behind and in front of us, I couldn’t stop feeling as if I was Frodo walking to my fate. I felt like walking in the footsteps of the movie crew and cast and at that point I couldn’t want something more than have been part of this incredible set. How could they shot the movie here? What parts were special effects and what was real?
I had a hard time during the hike because I couldn’t stop looking around and taking a few pictures. For once, I didn’t want to rush into the hike just to see Mount Ngauruhoe from closer. I wanted to remember how I felt during the hike and I wanted to remember everything. See everything. I wandered how they could have thought of such a place to shot this movie and how great the special effects were. I tried to see the movie behind the scenes inside my head. I always loved cinema. I would love to make a movie someday.
The beginning of the hike is easier than the rest of it. In facts, after four or so kilometers, you start going up and there is a sign warning you about the difficulty of the hike. It was challenging to climb up all these stairs and take pictures but I took my time because it was so worth it. For once I wasn’t scared we will run out of time. Maybe because it was eight of us this time and if something happened the other ones could go find help.
Vulcano Taranaki in the background.
Anyhow, after two hours and a half of incredible landscapes with a volcano that seemed to come out of nowhere on the background, we finally made it to the bottom of Mount Doom. There is was, standing graciously in front of us, with some red colours on top like if it was in eruption. We could saw it from far away but this was really impressive.
There is a detour you can make during the Alpine Crossing that gets you on top of Mount Ngauruhoe. It is supposed to take three hours way and back. Many people told us that this hike was really steep and difficult and as soon as I saw the small people on the volcano, I knew if I went, I wouldn’t be able to go down. I didn’t want to get into trouble and slow down the others so I waited for them down while they went up.
Hopefully I didn’t go! When I saw the pictures of the hike up that basically was climbing and the pictures of the hike down that was sliding on rocks, I knew I made the right choice. Many people got injured when going down (not big injuries but like hands or knees scratchings). I was happy to wait in such a beautiful place for three hours and a half! Yes, I was starting to get worried.
View from the top
When a first group finally came down, we decided to take some advance because first of all I was cold, there was some cold wind blowing (in April, take a warm jacket because it gets cold), and second of all I am the slowest one. We crossed a flat land with nothing on it that reminded me of the Death Valley.
We had to go up a lot after that. We had an overview of the other side of the volcano with what they call the Red Crater. It is like an impact of a meteorite. A big hole. At this point I felt so small. Everything around us is gigantic and one step is like nothing to get closer to our goal.
The Red Crater
We kept going up until we saw a sand hill. On our left was the Tongariro where you can also do a detour hike of two or three hours. We didn’t go on that one and kept going into the sand until we reached the top.
After that point, I knew why I came. It was so incredible to see the volcano emerald lakes surrounded by the smoke from the geysers. It really was one of the most impressive landscape I have seen. It was like we were out of time.
We had to go down a really slippery way to get to them. Apparently it was worse going down Mount Ngauruhoe. I had trouble letting me go to slide. I was so afraid to fall. It was like skiing without ski and without snow. But in the end, when I understood how to slide safely, it was fun.
The lakes were of this incredible blue and green color I have only seen in Banff. And even in Banff, the lakes were more green than blue. Here they were both colours. With the smoke it added a magical, mystical, dramatic thing to the scene.
We realized it was getting late because of the shadows on the lakes. We headed back on the track to a upper and bigger lake. I decided to not stop so much anymore because I still was the slowest one and I didn’t want to have to run behind everybody.
One thing to know though it that it smells bad sometimes because of the sulphur. This bad egg smell is horrifying but totally worth it.
I though we were done walking up but we did that quite a bit again after. People told us that after the lakes it was not worth going down the other way but I don’t agree. This was one of my favorite part of the hike. When we reached the part that was going down, we entered into some clouds. The scenery was so beautiful. I really felt like I was inside the movie. We couldn’t see very far in front of us and didn’t know what to expect.
When we got out of it, we had the most amazing sunset ever. Behind the mountain, the clouds were gone and we could see a halo of red light from the sun. It was perfect timing. At this point though, everybody was exhausted. Some of us couldn’t walk any more. We had been at it for almost nine hours. The going down was starting to get very long. As the sun had set and there is no light lightening the way, hopefully we took our headlights and some other ones. I attached my light on the back of my back so my friends behind that didn’t have any could see the path and Alexis lead the way with his headlight.
This really felt like we were a community going on a big adventure.
It took us ten hours to complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with going up the Mount Ngauruhoe (three hours and a half). For a first big hike in New Zealand, I have to say that I only want to see more. This was already incredible, what else this country has to offer us?