Advantages Great views, varied terrain
Disadvantages Variable weather conditions, can get crowded
The Tongariro Crossing has been described as "the greatest one-day walk in New Zealand". On the North Island, near to Lake Taupo, it's a demanding 17km hike across volcanic terrain. Although it can be done as part of the Tongariro Northern Circuit, a 4 day walk, it's usually done in isolation as a one-day hike, which was energetic enough for me! It's supposed to take 6-8 hours, but will obviously vary according to fitness levels and how often you want to stop.There are a couple of bus companies that do shuttle runs to the start and end of the track - the area's not well-served by public transport. These are staggered over a couple of hours; although it's tough getting up, I'd recommend one of the earlier buses, as you beat (some of) the crowds, and have a bit more freedom to spend time along the way - you don't want to miss the last bus back! If you want to drive yourself, you need a way to get back to your car, so this is only really practical if you're in a group with 2 cars
The crossing is quite variable in terms of weather conditions; some people I met on the way described their previous trip, where for some of the way they were crawling through fog on their hands and knees! Luckily I had a beautiful day, at the start of the trail you could see Mt Taranaki in the distance.The start of the trail is easy and fairly flat, along a boardwalk. You can see the approaching climb towards Mt Ngauruhoe (this was the main "Mount Doom" in the LOTR films, though several mountains were used in various parts of the film). The slope up towards the base of Ngauruhoe is tough; as it's near the start of the walk I think it feels worse than any other part. People also tend to bunch together here, so if you're walking in peak season, as I was, you can actually end up in a queue.
There are great views from the top of this section, back towards Taranaki. It is possible to climb up Mt Ngauruhoe as a detour; as it's unrelenting scree slope all the way up and down (my least favourite terrain), I decided to give this a miss and save my time for Mt Tongariro, another diversion. I think I only saw 5-8 people doing this detour, which is supposed to take about 3hrs return.From here there's a flat section across a plateau, which comes as welcome relief. It's actually quite eerie, almost like you're walking on the surface of another planet. There's then a further climb towards and around the Red Crater. This dramatic sight lies to the right of the track, giving you good views as you walk by. From here there's a detour to the summit of Mt Tongariro. This sounds a little misleading, as there's not as much of a summit as with the other more conical mountains. You basically skirt along a ridge towards a slight peak; but from there there's a good view across to Ngauruhoe and the third peak, Mt Ruapehu, which is usually snow-capped. There are also good views down towards the later parts of the trek, and I'd recommend this detour if you have time.
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