Tongariro Alpine Crossing – NZ Best Day Walk

Completing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing was considered a top bucket list item for me. Many consider this to be New Zealand’s best day hike! The 19.4 kilometer walk took us roughly 6 1/2 hours to complete with lots of photography stops and a brief lunch break.

My original plans were cancelled when New Zealand weather went nuts and decided to dump ridiculous amounts of rain on the entire North Island.   The back-up plan included Andrew and our eleven year wedding anniversary weekend.  He was working in Australia so only in town from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon.  With the help of several friends watching our girls, we drove to the Chateau Tongariro on Friday night.  After arriving at the hotel around 9pm that only left time for a quick cocktail in the lobby and a dip in the underground warm pool before bed.

The Chateau arranged our transportation to the start ($30 per person) and picked us up on the other end after completing the walk.  They gave us two bus options: 7am and 8am.  We chose 8am knowing Andrew was still on Australian time and we were not getting to bed until late.  The front desk even offered to have lunch packed for the hike (at an extra cost).  We brought our own but good to know for other travelers.

I put together a slideshow of some of my favorite photos that you can check out here:

Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand from Amber Herden on Vimeo.

The bus dropped us off at the Mangatepopo Car Park around 8:30 am. There are toilets and rest areas to get yourself sorted.  The track begins easy enough with a mostly flat walkway for the 1st four kilometers. The sun was shinning bright as we made our way across the boardwalk admiring the views in front of us.

Layers are the key for this hike!  Things to bring: sun and winter hats, thermals, waterproof gear, lots of water, sunglasses, sunscreen, snacks, extra socks, 1st aid kit, and hiking shoes. They mention bringing a cellphone but I never had reception on the mountain. The track stays busy especially on nice days so plenty of people around to ask for help.

We continued along the walkway following the Mangatepopo Stream and around the old lava flows. About an hour into the walk the track splits with Soda Springs located off to the left about  5-10 minutes.  We took the detour from the main track to get a better look.

The next section leads trampers from Soda Springs up the Devil’s Staircase heading toward the South Crater.  This is where the track begins to get more difficult as you might be able to tell from the name. The stairs are a bit steep with few places to rest if the track is busy.

I try to climb the 1300 step Hakarimata Stairs near Hamilton a couple times a month so did not find this part particularly hard. The slow pace of following so many others helped.   We did not stop to take very many pictures during this section to keep from slowing down other trampers.  Here is a closer look at Mt. Ngauruhoe (or Mt. Doom for Lord of the Rings fans). There is an option to summit Mt. Ngauruhoe but it can be dangerous with an unmarked path and chance of falling rocks. Plus we were on a schedule to get back to our girls!  We opted to stick to the main track.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing - New Zealand Best Day Walk

The track flattens out a bit as you head from the South Crater to Red Crater but this will not last long. The trail is clearly marked with poles leading to an exposed ridge which takes you up Red Crater.

The Red Crater section challenged me the most (both up and down). The steep climb over volcanic rocks are hard on your feet.  The weather begins to chill and wind increases the further up you ascend.  There are chains to help with balance on a few tricky bits. As you can see in pictures below,  the clouds rolled in while we were there and some of our visibility disappeared. The red vent was impressive off you your right! We also added our rocks to the collections piles along the way.

Near the top of Red Crater there is an option to summit Mt. Tongariro to the left.  Again, we were limited on time so kept to main track.

The highest point of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the summit of Red Crater (1886 m). From there you begin your descend towards the Emerald Lakes. The view is spectacular but the walk is not.  The small gravel rocks are slick; in fact, I witnessed numerous people busting their backsides on this section.  I went extremely slow with each step and looking for larger rocks to stop the slide.  The sideways method is helpful!

I learned the Emerald Lakes intense colors are caused by the minerals leaching from the bordering rocks. So beautiful!

Emerald lakes are stunning!

Tongariro Alpine Crossing - New Zealand Best Day Walk

A rare picture together!

Tongariro Alpine Crossing - New Zealand Best Day Walk

The hike resumes along the edge of the Central Crater and then climbs up to the The Blue Lake.  The clouds rolled in by the time we reached this part of the walk where we had planned to stop and rest.  The lake was not visible when we first approached this area resulting in many people walking on by without stopping.  We decided to sit for a while to see if it cleared enough for photos.  We never did get an extremely clear picture but at least you can see the lake!

Following along to the edge of the North Crater we headed towards the Ketetahi Hut and Hot Springs.

The next part of the walk is curvy and seems to drag on. You can see the Ketetehai Hut the high up but the defined pathway loops back and forth taking a long time to reach the bottom.   This section is physically easy considering the path is sloped downhill but hard on your knees after a while.  The Taupo Lake and the beautiful New Zealand scenery were in view once the clouds cleared.

The home stretch is mostly a bush walk which is a nice relief on sunny days.  I found this part to be long as we were tired and ready to get to the carpark.  The walk is not difficult but my feet were sore and my overall body was exhausted at this point.  People began picking up the pace as they were rushing to get to buses by specific times.  We did not stop for many pictures pushing through to the finish!  For the people that have never done a New Zealand bush walk then this would be a great experience! Admiring the moss covered trees and beautiful green scenery.

Finally, we made it to the Ketetahi carpark and waited over a half hour for our bus.  The overall walk is incredible and I highly recommend this unique experience!

Tongariro Alpine Crossing - New Zealand Best Day Walk

Tongariro Alpine Crossing