Discover the beauty of nature at Tongariro
I've been back on the farm for almost a week now and been slacking a bit with writing. There was one more thing I wanted to tell you about my holiday - probably the highlight of my entire trip: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It's New Zealand's most recommended one-day hike (19.4km) taking between six and eight hours. And after doing it I totally understand why.
I had signed up for doing the Crossing weeks before my trip because it was one thing on the list I absolutely wanted to do. Why? Because somewhere in the middle of Tongario National Park "arises" Mt. Ngauruhoe - better known as Mt. Doom from the epic motion picture Lord of the Rings. It was this 2287m high volcano that drew me to the National Park.
Because the Alpine Crossing is no circuit route you need a shuttle to get to the starting point and pick you up later on from the "finish line". During some research and looking for cheap accomodation I stumbled across the Erua Crossing Backpackers - a very cozy and atmospheric hostel a few kilometers away from National Park. It's run by a friendly couple, has some neat furniture and other icons AND a cupboard that leads to Narnia!!! But you have to look closely to find it...
Anyway... during the summer months they have a special offer: for $69 you get 2 nights of accomodation AND a shuttle bus to and back from the Crossing. There are two options in the morning - either you take the 6.45am shuttle and are dropped off at 7.30am or one hour later. Since I wasn't exactly sure how long I would take to do the hike and the last shuttle in the afternoon left at 4.30pm I chose the earlier option.
I wasn't as hard to get up that early as I had thought it would. Plus I had good company. I had shared the room with Emma, an American girl, and we decided to walk off together. So at 7.30am we reached Mangatepopo car park, our starting point. The sun was just about to rise behind the mountains and it was still nice and cool - perfect weather conditions.
Even though it was that early in the morning there were already busloads of people there. Not too many, but 50 at least I'd say. We found our own pace and started the hike.
Mangatepopo car park to Soda Springs - 1 hour
The first part of the track is rather easy. It's mostly flat with a few boardwalks inbetween. The Springs are a nice little waterfall only a short detour from the main track (15mins to and back). We decided to have breakfast there which was good because there wasn't anyone around. Take that first bit easy and safe your strength and your breath - for it won't be that easy from here.
Soda Springs to South Crater - 1 hour
After Soda Springs we had to start ascending - and it's quite a steep climb up to the South Crather. I had to take quite a few breaks to catch my breath (and of course I had forgotten my asthma inhaler...) - but that gave us enough time to admire the scenery.
Once we got to the South Crater (which is the flat part you can see in the picture in front of Mt. Ngauruhoe and the lake) it got a bit easier for a while. Lots of picture-taking here =D There is no real track across the crater but poles stuck in the ground lead you along to the next part.
South Crater to Red Crater - 1 hour
To get to the Red Crater we had to master another very steep climb. This probably was the hardest part for me during the entire track. I really wondered what I had gotten myself into and who on earth had forced me to do this. But Emma stuck to me like glue and helped me go on, motivating me and allowing enough breaks for my lungs not to collapse. Once I did make it to the top I was stunned. I don't know if I have ever seen such a magnificent view!!!
By the way - the Red Crater (1886m) is a still active vent of one of the volcanoes and if you put your hand down on the ground you can feel the heat underneath. There is lots of steam coming out here and there and there is a sulphite odor in the air just like in Rotorua.
Red Crater to Emerald Lakes - 15mins
From the Red Crater it was a long but very fast way down. You had to dig your heels into the sandy slope to keep from rolling downhill straight into the Emerald Lakes. It was quite fun though and a welcome diversion from all the uphill climbing.
Emerald Lakes to Ketetahi Hut - 1.5 hours
After the Emerald Lakes we had to cross another flat part followed by the LAST bit of uphill before reaching the Blue Lake (Te Wai-Whakaata-o-te Rangihiroa). There we made our lunch stop watching the lake and the clouds come across the water. All the sudden we couldn't see anything anymore so intense was the band of clouds covering us.
But it slowly faded away again and we could continue our walk - from now on more or less downhill through a plain-like vegetation zone that was suddenly so different from all we've come across before that day. It's amazing how many different vegetation zones you can cross in one day. Before there was no vegetation at all.
Ketetahi Hut to Ketetahi car park - 1.5 hours
And after the hut we even came across some native forest! Amazing. Though this last but seemed to have no end at all. The sign at Ketetahi Hut said 6.3km and since it was quite steep downhill we did the first 2km in 10mins. GREAT! We thought... back to the car park soon and way earlier than we thought we'd be able to finish.
Well - it did take us a bit longer than intended. For some reason these 6kms were the longest of the entire track. We were both getting tired, Emma had blisters on her feet, my energy level was about to reach a point far beyond its borders. At that point we didn't care about scenery or pictures or breaks anymore either. All we wanted to do was get it over with, make it to the car park and rest.
19.4km and 7h later we finally reached it. We were both very proud of ourselves and happy to have done it - and finished...
My verdict: The Alpine Crossing is doable, even in the given amount of time. It is, however, quite exhausting and needs some time and preparation and shouldn't be done out of the blue. BUT - and that is the most important thing - IT IS WORTH IT!!! Every single step of it. You probably won't see anything like it again! And hey - I'm already thinking about doing it again. In a couple of years *lol*
Here a few more things to keep in mind when doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing:
toilets: There are facilities at the Mangatepopo car park (starting point), the Mangatepopo Hut (30mins), Soda Springs (1h), Ketetahi Hut (4.5h) and Ketetahi car park (6h). There won't be any chance of going anywhere else along the track as the terrain is either flat and open or too rocky and inaccesible. Besides you're not supposed to leave the track anyway.
weather protection: BRING IT!!! Especially in the summer time the sun can get really strong and therefore sunblock, hat and sunnies are an absolute MUST! Check the daily forecast for current conditions as you might also need a raincoat and - definitely in the winter time - gloves and warm clothing.
water: Bring plenty! At least a 1.5-liter bottle if not more. I had two of those and finished one and a half. There is no chance for you to refill your bottles along the way. The water from the streams is not suitable for drinking and even that at the huts needs to be boiled and cooled down before drinkable.
rubbish: Take it with you! There are no rubbish bins (unless maybe for the huts) and you wouldn't want to pollute this beautiful land.
huts: If you want to split up the hike and stay overnight in one of the huts you need to pre-book them through the DOC (Department of Conservation).
summit walks: Both, Mt. Ngauruhoe (2287m) and Mt. Tongariro (1967m), can be climbed (at least in the summer time). However, there is no poled route up Mt. Doom, you have to find your own way up to the crater. It adds another 2h to your trip. Mt. Tongariro is easier accesible and there is a poled route from the Red Crater. It's a 2h return journey from and back to the main track.
transportation: Depending on the shuttle company you're using (and there are heaps around) make sure you don't miss the last bus from the car park. Most shuttles leave every half hour until 4.30pm. Calculate your time for breaks, picture-stops and maybe even the summit hikes.
For more pictures of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing click here to my album on Facebook.