If you’re going to take on one full day hike in New Zealand’s North Island, this is it. Frequently voted one of the world’s greatest day hikes, the Tongariro Crossing is an incredible lifetime experience that nobody should miss out on.
I’ve included a handy FAQ at the end of this post for anybody wanting to take on the Tongariro Crossing but for now, enjoy the journey…
The 19.4 km hike takes a full day – between 6 to 8 hours is average – so we arrived at the start point raring to go a little after 9am. The first section of the walk is a great warm up as it’s relatively flat for the first hour or so. But beware, it doesn’t continue!
After the last toilet facilities at Soda Springs, we come to the Devil’s Staircase. Correctly named for sure, this part was hell. Jamie and I were walking with friends who steamed ahead on this section so, after arranging to meet them at a point later on, we took short, frequent breaks to admire the view and soothe our poor aching legs. Thankfully, this was followed by another wonderfully soothing flat section that takes you right along Mount Ngauruhoe.
Lord of the Rings fans – you’re looking at Mordor! Lots of Frodo and Sam’s journey was filmed in the Tongariro National Park including a digitally altered Mt Ngauruhoe as Mount Doom.
The volcanic landscape is just unbelievable. From here, you can choose to summit Mount Ngauruhoe (2.5 hours for the super fit) but we carried on to Red Crater.
This is where our trip got interesting. As we took on the next big ascent, the wind picked up. And by picked up, I’m talking freezing gales that felt like you could get swept away. Not ideal for when you’re walking across an exposed ridge. This bit is the hardest part of the track and we went really slowly across the rocky terrain but believe me, it’s such an achievement when you make it to the top!
This is the highest point of the course, peaking at a massive 1886 metres! Here are two very happy faces when we realised the uphill part was over…
At the top, we were rewarded with incredible views of the Emerald Lakes with their breathtaking, vivid shades. The descent to the lakes is steep with slippery, loose volcanic rock so be careful not to go flying!
After reaching the bottom, we devoured our lunch at lightning speed and strolled past the stunning lakes to begin our slow descent.
Yep, I’m wearing all my clothes. Despite the sun, it gets pretty chilly up there, especially in the windy parts.
The track down winds slowly through the hills that you are more accustomed to seeing in North New Zealand. While it’s not too tough, the 2-3 hour descent can be really hard on the knees. However, it’s a great place to relax and take it easy if you’ve made good time to enjoy the views. We particularly loved the last hour that winds through forests and streams before you reach the car park.
We made it! Even with our relaxed pace, our total time was around 7 hours. Both Jamie and I look back at this day as the highlight of our New Zealand trip and couldn’t recommend it more highly.
How do you get there?
We stayed at Motuoapa Bay Holiday Park in Turangi which was a lovely little place on the edge of Lake Taupo. This was around 30 minutes drive from the end point car park. Plus, if it’s a clear night, you’ll see an incredible view of the night sky as I found out when I nipped out to the toilet at 3am!
Because the Tongariro Crossing is a one way hike, the start / end points are around 30 minutes drive from each other. This means that you will need to arrange transport.
Personally, I would recommend leaving your car at the end point (Ketetahi) and getting a shuttle to the start (Mangatepopo). This means that you aren’t restricted to completing the hike by a certain time so if you are late, you won’t miss your shuttle. We used Mountain Shuttle for 30 each and would recommend it highly. Jamie and I even hired hiking boots from them in the morning for just $5 and they lend out hiking poles free of charge.
What did I wear?
Along with my hired hiking boots, I wore leggings and a vest along with a hoodie and jumper. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a coat but please take one! It gets super cold up at the higher sections, even in the summer months. I also carried a rainproof jacket as well as a cap / beanie that I changed depending on the heat. Layers are key. You can do this walk in trainers but may struggle on some of the more slippery sections.
If you are hiking in winter, you will need a guide and specialist equipment to tackle the snow!
What did we pack?
Along with the jackets listed above, I also carried water (at least 2 litres each) as well as sandwiches, snack bars, almonds, sunscreen, sunglasses, cameras and my phone. A basic first aid kit is also recommended which my friend brought along – luckily, it wasn’t needed.
Do you need to be really fit?
A ‘good’ level of fitness is recommended. Now, we aren’t the fittest of people granted but provided you can walk for a sustained period of time (including uphills), you’ll be fine. Take it easy by leaving time for lots of breaks and you’ll have a great time!
If you have any questions, leave them below and I’ll do my best to help!
Read more about our New Zealand trip?