We walked for eight hours. EIGHT HOURS! But, every step was beautiful and I can’t even complain about my sore Achilles.
Rated one of New Zealand’s top walks, the Tongariro crossing was just another one of those things that I heard was a “must-do” in New Zealand. And, since we didn’t plan much, and the name rang a bell, we went for it.
There’s a volcano, seemingly desolate landscape, emerald pools of sulfur stinking water and miles of flowered covered hills. You might be ready to breakdown and cry by the end (I thought about sitting down and dying in the forest) but it’s the kind of place that you will only see in the movies if you don’t give yourself the chance to get up in it.
If you want to know how you can hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing too, here’s how we did it.
Where To Stay
The cheapest campground we found near to the mountain was Mangaweka Campground. It cost 6 NZ dollars per person and could accommodate both tent and van campers.
This place was basic, sporting a few drop toilets, a covered hut for cooking and a couple of sinks. However, it sat in perfect view of the mountain, had its own bush walk trails and a glacial fed swimming hole. You can try to take a bath in it to rinse off the hiking dirt but be prepared to literally freeze your bits off. Honestly, my lady parts went into shock and I couldn’t tell if I was in pain or if it felt good.
Where To Get Your Info And Resources
Whakatapa Village is the closest town to the campground and to the hike. I use town extremely loosely as there is a ski resort and information center there.
A day or two before you plan on doing the hike, head to the information center to see a map, chat with the staff about weather conditions and what to expect and get the phone numbers of some shuttle services that can take you to the mountain if needed. The place is also full of hiking gear, clothes, souvenirs and interactive exhibits to learn more about the trail. While the exhibits are free and interesting, the items in stock are severely overpriced.
How To Get There And Back
There are really three ways that you can go about getting to the hike.
1.) Free: This will involve you having two vehicles, one to park at the parking lot where the hike finishes, and one to bring you to the parking lot where the hike starts.
A lot of thrifty campers will start networking with others in their hostel or campground and make some quick friends in order to work this out. However, you will have to commit to the pace and the company of others and if you don’t choose wisely, you are kind of stuck with them until the end.
2.) The Cheaper Option: This will only work out if you have your own vehicle. At least a day before you plan to do the hike, book a shuttle bus to take you from the ending parking lot to the beginning of the hike.
With your car already at the finish line, you will hike from the beginning where the bus drops you off and end up at your vehicle in the end. We went with Tongariro Expeditions and paid 30 NZ dollars per person but there are other companies available, although they will charge around the same fee.
3.) The Most Expensive Option: If you are traveling around New Zealand via public transport, hitchhiking or tour bus, and do not have access to your own vehicle, you may need to book a shuttle both ways. There are multiple companies that provide this service but it will probably cost you around 60 NZ dollars for the complete trip.
If you choose to take a shuttle in any way, check with the information desk in Whatiphuka, get the phone numbers and arrange at least a day ahead.
What You Can Expect
Starting times on the trail vary depending on if you need to take a shuttle and which company you choose. We opted for the shuttle that picked us up from the ending parking lot at 6:15 am. So, we woke up at five in the morning, drove our van to the parking lot and hopped on the bus. They gave us a map listing the different areas we could expect to pass as well as bathroom locations and let us go on our way.
The trail is easy to follow and there are tons of people around. The weekends are said to be insanely busy but we went on a Monday and found it to be busy but not too crowded. Much of the path is lined with boardwalk, a lot of it is treacherous uphill battles with steps, rocks and slippery sand but all lined with unbelievable views.
Sometimes you will be walking in front of a group ruining the mood with their complaints about work and other times you will be behind a group of young 20-somethings blasting the worst of the worst radio hits, BUT…just stop to take a photo, eat an apple or put on some sun-block and you can get back to the nature trip you were looking for in the experience.
Bits of the trek are scary, some of it is covered in so much cloud that you can’t see where you are headed and the landscape changes so often that you will wonder if you are still on the same trail that you started out on.
What To Bring
I was extremely paranoid over what I should bring on this trek. The information center staff was stressing that visitors should dress for every season and thoughts of earthquakes and other natural disasters were going through my head while packing my bag. It turns out that I needed a lot less than I actually brought. Here’s what you should have….
• Comfortable hiking clothes and shoes (whatever you like to exercise in…wear that. Sturdy hiking boots would be ideal BUT I did it in running shoes and Josh managed it in some flat, skateboarding shoes.)
• Something Warm: It actually gets kind of cold up there, especially if you are starting out early in the morning. I was quite happy to be wearing long pants, even in my warmest moments and continuously put my sweater on and off in between sweat inducing climbs.
• Water: You won’t find any on the trail so you better bring some. A camel back would be more convenient but we brought a total of 4.5 liters in bottles between the two of us and we didn’t even drink them all.
• Food: You won’t find any food on the trail either so make sure your bag is full of snacks. We brought trail mix, granola bars, apples and a pretty hefty Tupperware container of rice and beans for me and chicken for Josh.
• Sun-block/ Sunglasses: Protect yourself, there is a hole in the ozone layer above this country and most of the hike is open to it.
• A Camera/ Go-pro: Only if capturing the moment is your thing. You might regret not taking at least a couple snaps of this ridiculous landscape.
That’s really it guys. While I had pain medicine, a scarf, hat, lighter, map, two sweaters and a jacket, only one sweater actually came in handy.