New Zealand’s greatest walks: Tongariro Crossing

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This stunning hike is on the to-do lists of many visitors to New Zealand for a reason! I have completed the hike three times myself, and would gladly do it again. With diverse scenery, unbeatable views and the chance to walk across the craters of volcanoes, this hike has it all.

Located in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island, the Tongariro crossing is a perfect activity to add to your North Island road trip. Whilst a basic level of fitness is required, you don’t need to be an experienced climber or hiker to achieve this walk. Just make sure you have the right equipment, and make sure someone else knows when you will be doing the crossing.

What to bring

It’s important to remember that the weather conditions on this hike can change very rapidly. While it may be warm at the beginning, once you reach the top, it’s very exposed and wind chill is high. Because of this, make sure to pack many layers of warm and weather protective clothing. Here is a basic list of essential items to pack:

  • DSCN2275Clothes: Waterproof jacket, thermal top, sports Tshirt, polar fleece or warm jumper, long pants, shorts (can be worn underneath), thick, comfy socks, gloves, hat and scarf
  • Hiking boots (or walking shoes with good grip)
  • Food: Lunch, energy snack (like nuts and chocolate) and a big water bottle (you can’t fill this up on the way)
  • Other things: Sunscreen, first aid, tissues/toilet paper and cellphone

If you don’t have room in your suitcase or backpack to bring all the appropriate gear with you, some items may be rented in towns surrounding the mountain, including National Park and Turangi, one of which you’ll probably spend the night in before (and after).

Where to stay

National Park and Turangi are both great towns to base yourself in, with plenty of accommodation options available for various budgets.

For my first crossing, I stayed at National Park Backpackers, which isn’t flash, but it’s clean, tidy and has everything you need. A shuttle service is offered, which takes you to the mountain in the morning, and brings you back again after the hike. Information is also provided there on the hike and other nearby activities, and gear rental is possible. The communal area is large and a great place to meet people, and check out the indoor spa pool to soak your sore muscles in after the hike!

Getting there

Mount Tongariro is located in the middle of the North island. Nearby towns including National Park and Turangi are reachable by bus from all major hubs, including Wellington, Auckland, Hamilton and Taupo, with services running daily. Check out intercity.co.nz or nakedbus.com for more information.

Distance: Wellington 340km, Auckland 343km, Hamilton 236km, Taupo 104km.

Getting to and from the hike itself

It is possible to drive to the start of the crossing, but for logistical reasons, I would recommend booking a shuttle to take you to the start and pick you up again at the finish. This is because the hike starts and finishes in two different places, 23km away from one another. There are heaps of shuttle services available, which you can book directly through most accommodation sites. If in doubt, head to National Park Backpackers on the evening before the hike to reserve a seat in one of their shuttles. They have plenty available, and you can park your car there for the day.

DSCN0001_2Doing the hike    

The first part of the hike is pretty cruisey, following a well formed path with no major hills, to get you warmed up. It’s good to make use of the toilets at the end of this stretch, as you won’t find any more until near the end!

After this, the real ascent begins. This first part of the ascent is known as the devils staircase – you’ll see why when you do it! This set of stairs seems never-ending, so take your time going up, stopping occasionally to soak in the view. After this, you’ll cross the first crater, with terrain which makes you feel like you’re walking on the moon! A clamber up a steep, rocky stretch follows, taking you basically to the summit of Mount Tongariro.

Tip: If you have a little extra energy, take the detour to the actual summit of Mount Tongariro (check out the picture at the top of the page). This takes an extra hour, and the views from the summit are impressive!

DSCN2292After the summit comes an awkward kind of shuffle down a steep and ashy stretch, where you’ll be greeted by the stunning emerald lakes at the bottom. Crossing over the next crater then takes you to the blue lake, a great place to stop for lunch. Following the blue lake is a long and winding descent back down the other side of the mountain, which is partnered with attractive views across lake Rotoaira, making those tired legs totally worth it.

The very last stretch is a bit of a drag, I’m not going to lie! After winding your way through a seemingly never-ending stretch of forest, you’ll find yourself at the car park at the other end. Now you can give yourself a pat on the back!

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