An excellent day tramp on the North Island of New Zealand, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is well worth some consideration. It was one of my favourite experiences and the scenery is spectacular. Here’s a bit of information about the hike:
The track is well maintained and in good condition, which isn’t surprising considering the popularity of the tramp. The total distance of the crossing is 19.4km and typically takes 6-8 hours. There is a steep climb near the start, often referred to as the ‘Devils staircase’, but it isn’t too difficult if you’re reasonably fit. Just take plenty of scroggin breaks! Afterwards there’s a bit of up and down, until the steep descent to the Emerald lakes (see difficulty section for more details). Followed by a little more up and down, before a very gentle (and slightly boring) descent back down to the carpark, with the final part being in the forest.
There toilets at the start and end point car parks. And two on the trail – be warned some of these don’t have loo roll, so bring some along. There is no water available, so bring all you need for the day.
For your average hiker the tramp is pretty easy, and if you’re looking for an extra challenge try the Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom) side trip. The hardest part has to be the descent down to the Emerald Lakes, and a lot of people seemed to struggle here. Even if you’re comfortable descending steep scree slops the trail is so busy that you’ll almost certainly be stuck behind many people who aren’t happy with it. We did see a few people slip, but everyone helped each other out and it was a rather friendly experience. Thankfully this part of the descent only lasts 20-30 minutes and it’s much easier after that.
There is a fair bit of up and down, but if you’re reasonably fit it’s all pretty doable. Just be mindful of your timings before considering either of the side trips. The Mt Tongariro summit is fairly easy, but will add 60-90 minutes onto your time on the trail, which might be an issue if you have a return bus booked. Mt Ngauruhoe is only for experienced hikers, and can be pretty dangerous. Allow an extra 2-3 hours.
How To Get There
This very much depends on your transport arrangements and your budget. We opted to camp nearby at a DOC Campsite and drive to the end point (Ketetahi car park). We booked a shuttle bus that took us to the start for around 7am. This was a good, but fairly pricey option (around $30 each). Other people parked at the start and hitchhiked back at the end of the day. We saw a few people unsuccessfully trying to catch a ride (probably because most people were heading back to Taupo rather than in the direction of the start point), but given how easy it is hitchhike in NZ I’m sure they didn’t wait too long.
Another option is to arrange transport from Taupo to the start, and then from the end point back to Taupo. This would be a good option if you don’t have your own transport, but it is very expensive. It also means a very early pick up, and you have to finish by a certain time. My boyfriend did this in 2012 and said he missed a return bus by 5 minutes which meant he had a very boring 2 hour wait for the next one!
▪️The DOC campsite nearby gets incredibly busy so head there early for a good spot. We got there around 3pm and it started getting full around 4 or 5pm.
▪️The campsite also gets ridiculously cold – think minus degrees Celsius and half an hour to de-ice the car in the morning. At this point we only had a duvet and some blankets – it would have much better to have had good quality sleeping bags for that night.
▪️Get to the car park as early as possible. We were on the 6.30am shuttle and got there for 6.15am. The car park was already full and we had to park on the entry road, much later and I don’t think we’d have a got a space.
▪️Use the toilets! I encountered a long queue at the Ketetahi hut toilets and decided to hold it. This was a bad idea and I was desperate for a pee for the last 2 hours (which was very uncomfortable). The route can be very crowded so don’t think you can just sneak off for a pee behind a bush to avoid queueing.
▪️Check the weather before booking – if it’s rainy or poor visibility it’s really not worth going, as the views are what make it so special. High winds and it’s too dangerous, and your transport will probably get cancelled.
▪️Do the Mt Tonagariro summit side trip. This was a great extra, and offered wonderful views of Mt Ngauruhoe.
▪️Be prepared – take sunscreen, sufficient food and water, warm clothing, raincoat, hat, gloves and scarf (very chilly in the morning) and map (mainly for timings – it’s unlikely you’ll get lost).
▪️Don’t wear denim! This is NZ after all and rain can happen – you will feel freezing!
Most importantly enjoy the day. It’s a beautiful hike and a wonderful NZ experience.