Advantages Great views, varied terrain
Disadvantages Variable weather conditions, can get crowded
|Value for Money|
|Ease of getting around|
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. There's also a risk of break-ins at the car parks, which are fairly remote.
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. I think it actually took a little less than the 2 hours it says in the guide books. But look at the maps in advance, as the trail is initially poorly marked; I think lots of people wondered where on earth we were going heading off at a random tangent.
Once back on the main trail, you descend towards another highlight of the trail, the Emerald Lakes. Anyone who has seen photos of the trail is likely to recognise these three variously coloured, bright blue lakes. The descent was not easy - it's basically a narrow strip of scree slope which is harsh on the knees, and I'd not like to try it without proper walking boots on.After the lakes you start to pass the Blue Lake on your right, then descend through grasslands then woodland, with a winding slope back down towards the end of the trail. There are good views down towards Lake Taupo. I found this section the hardest on my feet, probably because I was wearing fairly new boots, and seriously regretted not having alternative footwear. Having done the side trail to Mt Tongariro, and slowing down a lot in my boots, I was the second-last person back to my bus, though I wasn't actually late.
It's possible to walk the track in reverse - fewer buses run this way, but we met a few people coming the other way. It does mean that you have to walk UP the scree slope after the Emerald Lakes, which didn't look fun! Although there wouldn't be crowds at the ends of the walk, you'd be meeting people coming the other way for most of the trek, so I don't think it would feel less crowded.Overall, the trek is hard work but rewarding, with superb views on a good day. It's essential to remember that the central section of the trip is an alpine crossing, and you need to be suitably equipped. Even if it's a warm, sunny day, you need wet weather gear and warm clothing, as the weather can change quickly. You also need decent boots for the alpine section of the trail, though as I said above, having other footwear with you could be useful. It's also worth bearing in my mind that your bag needs to be fairly sturdy - I think it was a blessing in disguise that my bag (which was probably not up to the trail) fell apart on me as the bus picked me up, so I hired a better one from the company I used for transport. You can hire a variety of gear, either from the bus companies or the local hostels; for clothing it's worth checking it fits in advance.
There's few places you can stay before and after the trek; Taupo is the nearest large town, but there are smaller towns nearer the crossing - I stayed in Turangi, but there's a few other options, including National Park (yes, that's actually the name of the town)! Some people choose to stay in one of the huts at either end, but you need to have equipment for this.The specific criteria for this review aren't very useful as there's no shopping or nightlife! - though it does remind me to say that there really are no shops on the way - you need to carry with you everything that you need for the day, including water.If you have the time, I'd highly recommend doing the crossing, as it shows you a wide range of what the region has to offer in a single day, and it's a nice sense of achievement to complete it!
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