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The Tongariro Crossing is the most popular day hike in New Zealand. It cuts through New Zealand’s oldest national park, right through the middle of three active volcanoes and exhibits some spectacular volcanic landscapes. It’s pretty damn special and it often ranks among the top ten single-day treks in the world. It’s certainly a top activity for our Stray passengers!
At 19.4kms long, the hike takes you through a lunar–like landscape, over peaks and valleys, alongside active steam vents, mountain streams, emerald crater lakes and through volcanic desert-like sands in the summer (or snow in the winter). Needless to say, the Crossing is quite a challenge, even for your regular gym-goer. You’ll need more than an energy drink and some casual kicks to get through this one!
Completing the Crossing in summer is also a completely different experience to doing the Crossing in winter. In winter, you’ll need specialist gear and a guide, whereas in summer you can get away with wearing clothes and shoes you probably already own. It’s not completely straightforward though, so we’ve put together a few of our top tips to ensure you make it to the other side!
Always ensure you pack a good quality waterproof and windproof light jacket. No matter how nice the weather looks from the base, as you climb up into the alpine valley the weather can turn quickly and you may encounter an entirely different climate altogether. Layer light, wool-based or fleece and polypropylene clothing underneath your jacket so you’ve got less to carry and you can remove or add layers as needed. It is better to layer up than wear a big heavy jacket or sweatshirt.
Wear good sturdy walking boots or robust off-road sneakers with decent grip and that are already broken in. The fluro Nikes you usually wear at the gym won’t cut it when you start scrambling over rough volcanic scree rock. If you’ve got proper hiking boots, you’ll be smugly smiling when the novices start sliding down the hill.
Sunscreen. Sunscreen. Sunscreen! It doesn’t matter if it’s cloudy and you’re sure the sun is nowhere in sight. You’ll need it because the ozone layer over NZ is very thin, making our sun much stronger than other parts of the world. Lip balm with SPF in it is a good idea too.
Pack yourself a lunch of champions. There is nowhere on the mountain (or at the start or finish) to purchase food and this trek will take around 7 hours to complete. Before you depart, organize yourself something nutritious like a wholesome egg salad roll (wholemeal provides longer slow release energy and the egg offers the protein to fuel your hike). Avoid chicken fillings - they don’t travel well in the heat of the day. In addition, pack lots of high-energy snacks like dried fruit, nuts, muesli bars and dark chocolate to keep you going. Better to have too much than too little!
Bring water and plenty of it. It’s recommended that you carry at least 1.5 litres as there are no water stations along the trek and streams you pass on Mt Tongariro are not drinkable, being volcanic and all!
Pack a few biodegradable tissues. These will come in handy for drippy noses as the air temperature cools and for the odd unplanned toilet break. There are three toilets available on route located at the start of the track (Mangatepopop Road), about two thirds of the way through and at the finish (Ketetahi Road).
Ngauruhoe (aka Mt Doom)
As you ascend through the alpine valley onto the volcanic plateau you will see Ngauruhoe (pronounced Na-ra-ho-e) on your right side. It's hard to miss! This is the real-life Mt Doom from the famous Lord of the Rings movies. You have the option to free climb this (there is not a distinct path) - however be aware, you should only attempt this on a fine clear day, if you are very fit and if you can complete it reasonably quickly! It is steep and challenging to climb with the hillside covered in sliding scree rock. For every one step forward, you’ll slide two steps back. A return climb to the top will add at least 2+ hours to your hike so ensure you have the time. If you are late for your shuttle on the other side, it will not wait and you might have to pay for an expensive private pick up. The reward at the top is a great sense of achievement, outstanding views and the opportunity to peer into the depths of a volcanic crater (hobbit-inspired ring photos optional).
Protect your camera
Put your camera in a waterproof, drop-proof case. The scenery is completely unique and you absolutely must get photos by the Emerald Lakes, to prove you did it if nothing else. However, as you descend the South Crater towards the Emerald Lake (for the perfect photo opportunity), the volcanic gravel is at its most perilous and people often slip so make sure your camera is safe and secure until you’re ready to stop and take a photo.
Stick to the track
You’re on active volcanic landscape and there’s all sorts of volcanic activity going on beneath your feet. You’ll probably spot vents of steam shooting up in some places – this should be warning enough!
How to get there
The Tongariro Crossing is in Tongariro National Park about 4 hours south of Auckland and 4 hours north of Wellington. Once you’re in National Park you’ll need to arrange a shuttle to get to the start of the track. The Tongariro Crossing is a one-way route starting at Mangatepopo Road and finishing on the other side of the national park at Ketetahi Road. Shuttle services usually offer pick-ups and drop-offs from Taupo, Turangi and National Park township running between 6.30am to approx. 4.30pm (but check with the local operator before you depart). Stray uses Adrift Outdoor Adventures for shuttle transport.
Tongariro National Park is an activity stop on Stray’s hop-on, hop-off bus route and the Tongariro Crossing is regularly voted the #1 North Island activity by Stray passengers.
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