If you visit Tongariro National Park, you must do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It is a 19.4 kilometers trek, which according to guides, can be done in between 6-8 hours (it can be more or less depending on weather conditions).
I’ve done in 7 hours, under fog and rain! I have no trek or physical preparation and I’m not fit. But it is totally possible, just take your time and you will be fine! Also, don’t be afraid to go alone, there are many others doing the same, so actually you won’t be alone. Please remember to keep to the track, don’t disturb the vegetation and most important, this is an active volcano, so if evacuation siren goes off, get out of valleys and go downhill as fast as you can.
Trek altitude goes from 1100m to 1967m at Mount Tongariro or 2287m at Mount Ngaruhoe summit. Both summits are not part of the original track but can be done in additional 2h approximately, return trip, each from the original path. You don’t need to do the “extras”, but if you do, plan it well, and check your time and conditions. I’ve done just the Mount Tongariro in 1.5h.
Just before the start, the driver gave us some instruction and advice, like where to decide to turn back if you see that won’t make to the end or time for each part of the track.
After that quick chat, I started my way on a Sunday at 7:30 am, around 10°C and a bit of fog. I was alone, no Thais and no kids. Motivation starts as you put yourself in Frodo’s shoes, nerd moment, and imagine you doing the same journey to destroy the ring.
First and easy part, under 5km, from Mangatepopo to Soda Springs. I did in just 1h and thought that would be easy to complete the others 14.4km at the same pace. Once you reach Soda Springs, there is a sign saying to do not continue if you are not fit and etc. This is the place to turn back, as our driver told us, because the next step, or steps, are what they call the “Devil’ Staircase”. You will find out why it has that name. This is the hardest part and brings you all the way up from Soda Springs to Red Crater (top of the track, excluding summit trek).
From the beginning to Red Crater, 3h nonstop, well, stopping each step in the staircase, with a mix of pain, cold and ‘what am I doing here’ thoughts. Not happy and tired, from Red Crater, since I was up there already, decided to divert for a 1.5h return to Mount Tongariro summit. Not bad, easy to moderate, but slippery, fewer rocks and loads of mud.
From that part, it’s the way down. My legs were not helping anymore; the ground was wet, steep and slippery. Both sides of the mountain are hills and I confess I was scared. That is, I believe, the part that took more time: I was going down very slowly, one tiny step at the time. You will find that Emerald and Blue lakes are a great and relaxing view of the green / blue colors while you head down.
The way down is longer, around 13km, it has a mix of rocks, dirt and then rainforest closer to the end.
I would do all again, on a clear summer day, as you can see by the photos, had a pretty ugly day, but it was worth every raindrop and mud in my shoes.
As the trail is in a national park, it is free! You just have to arrange transport from the place you are staying or from the end of the trail back to the beginning. I’ve booked my transport at Macrocarpa Café (Tongariro National Park Village), and it cost me NZD30, which is for drop-off at the beginning, around 7 am) and pick-up at the end (around 4 pm).
What to bring:
- Water, water, and water – at least 2 liters
- Food (I brought a sandwich)
- Fruit and Chocolate bar, as sugar gives you energy and also helps the emotional
- Camera for photos / recording
What to wear:
- Comfortable shoes recommend hiking or trail shoes
- Merino layers, as it keeps your body temperature and adapts to conditions
- Merino t-shirts or any breathable non-cotton t-shirt
- Pants or shorts, breathable and non-cotton
- Waterproof jacket in case of rain forecast
What I’ve done wrong:
- Wearing my running shoes, maybe on a summer day it would have been ok
- I took 2 liters of water, my body needed more
- I started the walk without one of my layers, then decide to put it on: it was raining and cold, so things got a bit wet
All photos were taken using a Polaroid Cube Action Camera, which you can find more about below: