Tongariro Alpine Crossing – a hike to remember
After their first trip to New Zealand in 1998, Hubi and Petra from Germany were always going to return. And 21 years later, they did. Again, they trusted GUEST NZ to plan their four-week trip – starting December 2019 to January 2020.
What we felt might not be possible, ended up exceeding expectations!
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a World Heritage site, and one of the most spectacular one-day hikes in the world. It is an intermediate level hike for most ability levels. Some of the key highlights include the active Red Crater, Te Maari craters, lava flows of Mangatepopo Valley, cold water Soda Springs of the Mangatepopo Stream, Emerald Lakes and the sacred freshwater Blue Lake.
Being huge Lord of the Rings fans, Petra and Hubi felt the call of ‘Mount Doom’ and knew they had to visit the mountain where Sauron forged the One Ring – the world’s most famous ring. On their route through Nelson City (in the South Island) they made sure to visit the original creator of the ring – The Jens Hansen Studio.
The Jens Hansen Studio is an internationally recognised artisan jewellery workshop. The team of specialist jewellers create beautiful rings – whether it be inspired by Lord of the Rings or something more personal, it’s the perfect place to find a gift that is everlasting.
Starting the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Petra and Hubi take up the story…
“Although Boromir (from Lord of the Rings) warned: “one does not simply walk into Mordor”, we thought: no problem at all – we can do it! And so first thing in the morning, we made our way from Ohakune to the small National Park Villages.
At the Adrift base in National Park, where we had booked our tour, we met fellow travellers. The weather was fine and after our guide had checked our equipment (some guys really do try to tackle the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in flip-flops 🙈), then we hopped onto the bus to the start the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
The Walk into Mordor – Lord of the Rings
After our tour group had been divided into groups, the journey began – and we walked into Mordor. The sign at the beginning said 19 km, 6 hours and 20 minutes. We were curious as to how it would go. The start was totally relaxing 😎. On a wide gravel path, we walked through flat terrain along the Mangatepopo creek towards Mount Doom.
Soda Springs at Tongariro Crossing
After an hour and a half, we reached the first stopover, the Soda Springs and the last toilet for the next 8 km. That was the easy part done, it did get a lot hard further ahead. In fact, one of our group members gave up and decided to return.
DEVIL’S STAIRCASE – which was appropriately named, as it was a devil of a walk to have to conquer – 200 meters of difference in altitude on a distance of 2 km. Pretty steep! Now we know what our daily training on the cross trainer was good for. Although the air was thinner, we proudly mastered the challenge without problems.
The South Crater for a little breather!
We continued through the South Crater which is flat as a pancake. Better for the calf muscles! From here, the walk to Mordor really was a walk in the park. But we could already see that was going to get harder again. The landscape here is just stunning. In fact, it feels like you are walking on the moon!
The variety of scenery on New Zealand walks always amazes us. From lush green rainforests, sparkling glaciers, coastal nature walks and barren sites – this country seems to have it all!
The Red Crater on the Tongariro Crossing
We began to meet the challenge of the Red Crater. Being at an altitude of 1,868m, this was the highest point of the hike. And then we saw it – Mordor! We really felt we were in Middle-earth, but fortunately, we didn’t meet any orcs… only the magnificent Gandalf.
The rest of the walk was quite tricky, but our excellent hiking boots met the challenge. The rocky steep trail up to the Red Crater is completely unpaved and rather tricky, but the view into the crater compensated us for all our efforts. What a unique play of colours in different shades of red and brown!
The Emerald Lakes on the Tongariro Crossing
The path continued a little further and once again, we were rewarded with a priceless view of the greenest shimmering Emerald Lakes.
There is no way you can get down quickly. The path from the Red Crater to the Emerald Lakes is extremely steep and it consists of ash and sand. The descent requires patience and some of our group had a bit of a slip and slide. Thankfully, we made it without too much drama.
Lunchtime at Emerald Lakes on halfway
We made ourselves comfortable at the Emerald Lake and unpacked our lunch packages. They were really tasty and such a treat after all the effort we put in! But the scenery here – clouds of smoke rising from the ground, fascinated us. The yellowish volcanic rock, the green lakes and in the background views were simply fantastic.
But we were not even halfway done yet. There was the last 10 km to tackle. After walking through the relatively flat Central Crater and after another small climb, we reached the Blue Lake. The Blue Lake is sacred to the Maori. It is disrespectful to swim, eat or drink on its shores.
Descending towards Lake Taupo
From here, it was all downhill. For the last three hours, the trail winds through a treeless bush landscape towards the Ketetahi Car Park. From above, the winding path reminded us of the Great Wall of China. The path is very well constructed and the descent was pleasant and fun!
We arrived at the Ketetahi Hut. It was almost finished – only 45 minutes left! It was here that we met the first group of people who did not manage to reach the last public shuttle bus. We are extremely happy that we booked the Adrift tour. It meant that the bus would be able to take us back to the National Park Villages at any time.
The next 45 minutes went by slowly (or we were too slow 😉). We walked through the bush landscape for another 20 minutes. After a while, the vegetation changed and we entered a beautiful fern forest. The hike through the forest took another 50 minutes but every minute was worth it!
As time rolled by, the forest cleared and we saw the bus. It was a welcomed sight for our tired but happy group. It took a total of 8 hours – a fantastic day in a beautiful landscape!
We can recommend this gorgeous trip to every traveller exploring New Zealand – do not miss the trip to Mordor! Simply overwhelming …but remember, you will need an excellent level of fitness.
Weather can change fairly fast in this part of the world, and it is not out of the ordinary to see four seasons in one day, especially in the colder months April – October so we recommend being prepared for all seasons.
If you are interested in experiencing the stunning Tongariro Alpine Crossing with all it’s beauty from mountains, creeks, springs, and volcanoes to sparkling emerald lakes, craters and forests, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.