The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is known as one of the world's greatest single day hikes. Knowing this gave me expectations for the day, but I didn't want to spoil the surprise by reading too much about it. My instinct told me to just go and experience it myself. Well. If there were only one thing to remember from my six months road trip in New Zealand, it would be the Tongariro A.C. hike.
The trail wends its way 19.4km through New Zealand's oldest National Park and a dual UNESCO World Heritage Area. Featuring an incredible volcanic terrain, unique and dramatic landscapes and a range of endemic flora, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a beautiful playground for avid hikers and photographers. The hike takes you to three active volcanoes: Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu and Tongariro.
It took me six marvelous hours to do this hike, surrounded by scenery so stunning I didn't know it existed. An experience I won't forget -and as they say, a must-do in New Zealand.
Hiking on a volcanic terrain: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
4:45 am - WAKE UP. It's time. I grab a quick breakfast and jump into my car to drive to the bus station. The shuttle will drop us all at the Tongariro Alpine Crossing starting point, then pick us up at the end. We are a dozen of sleepy/excited hikers. I hop on the bus and crash -to wake up an hour later in a parallel world. Am I on the Moon already? The sun is still so low, which creates a beautiful raking light on the grass. Once the bus is gone, it's all quiet, so quiet the atmosphere is unreal...
7:30 am - LET'S HIKE THIS WONDERLAND! For the first kilometers of the hike, the trail is pretty crowded as we've all started from the same point at the same time. But after an hour or so, people find their own pace, and everyone can get peace.
The Tongariro track is made of 19.4km of pure beauty, from the first footstep to the last one. It starts with a well-formed path slowly climbing up out of the tussocks and into a volcanic rock. The scenery is magnificent, I feel like Frodon on his way to Mordor –without the trolls, luckily. Then the aptly-named Devil’s Staircase is coming… A very steep, sweaty climb, ascending around 300m up the rough volcanic path. The view is incredible, dominating the valley. The higher we get, the more breathtaking it gets.
Once in the South Crater, you have the choice: you can either consider the unmarked trail leading up towards Mt Ngauruhoe or not –the detour adds approx. three hours to the hike. I didn’t, but will definitely rise the challenge next time I go to New Zealand -you know how much I NEED excuses to go back in NZ. I've heard the view from the top of the volcano is magnificent.
If you choose to continue straight on the track like I did, you’ll get to the flat part of the hike, crossing the vast basin of the caldera. This part is very impressive, so pure, so wide and naturally splendid, it’s the kind of view that only exists in cinema -or so I thought.
It’s time to climb again, and the reward on top is unbelievably beautiful: the Red Crater. This is one of the most thrilling moments of my trip. I didn’t expect to see such a stunning nature wonder -a crater! A large scar on the landscape, from prehistoric eruptions, right here, in front of me. It’s the first time I see such a thing -it’s the day my passion for volcanoes was born.
Fifteen minutes later, another surprise awaits me: the Emerald Lakes. The lakes are explosion craters filled with water. They get a neat turquoise coloring from minerals that have lurched and moved away from the surrounding thermal area. Once again, it looks unreal. It’s the cover picture of my New Zealand guide –my Bible for six months. It’s real! It’s here! And it’s absolutely breathtaking.
The stunning scenery continue until the end of the track, crossing the Central Crater, the Blue Lake and tussock slopes to the bush forest line. It’s unbelievable how quick the scenery changes. In six hours, I feel like I've crossed many different regions.
quick guide to the Tongariro alpine crossing
The hike is 19.4km and usually takes from 5 to 8 hours.
The summit of Red Crater is the highest point of the Alpine Crossing (1.886m). It takes about 2.5 to 3.5 hours to reach this point.
On your backpack: supportive hiking boots, comfortable hiking clothing, a good rain jacket, spare dry clothes with insulating properties, plenty of high-energy food for the day and drinking water, sun protection -and of course, your camera!
Don't forget to book your shuttle bus to get back to your car or your accommodation in Taupo.
You can check the forecast the day before here and get all infos you need about the track on the Tongariro Alping Crossing official website.