Jess is a Wanderer tramped across 19.4km of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. From an active volcano to the summit of Mount Tongariro, natural lakes and a Mars-esque landscape, it’s a must-do activity when in New Zealand.
The trail is a one-way trek and there are various companies providing shuttles from Turangi. This is definitely the easiest way to access the trail and depending on the company you go with, will depend on the time you get to the starting point. The average cost is $50 for a return trip. This is pricey but it’s well worth the payment. Sleeping overnight at the starting point is prohibited and parking at the starting point is limited to only four hours. The walk is completed in an average of five and at the end, you’ll find yourself 19.4km away from your car! One-way trips back to the starting point can be booked for $40 so do your research and see what works for you.
We opted for Alpine shuttles and arranged this through the holiday park. We were picked up at 6am and began our tramping at 7:15. It was hot even though it was just after sunrise. I’m sure even if we were there in mid-winter we’d have been sweating just as much due to the steep inclines that we were faced with.
The weather changed every few minutes with thick cloud rolling in and then sudden blue skies illuminating the Mars-like landscape. Craters, steaming vents and red rocks dot the vista and if you didn’t know where you were you might think you’d woken up in some spacey parallel universe. It definitely needs to be seen to be believed as the photos don’t do it justice at all.
After walking through the South Crater at 6.4km, you get some lovely views of Mount Ngauruhoe with its snow-topped peak. That’s also when the treacherous ascent of Mount Tongariro begins. It’s steep but there are plenty of flat intervals for resting. And the views looking out across the plains are the perfect excuse for taking lots of breaks. About half way up, there is a chain which will help you to conquer the especially steep section.
If you think the hardest part is done once you’ve reached the summit, think again. Between the top of Mount Tongariro and the summit of the Red Crater is a narrow sandy-ashy ridge that was the cause of many people’s butts hitting the floor. I decided to sort of run down as I felt more confident having the speed behind me. Others walked sideways to maintain their balance whilst some (sensible and prepared) people had poles to help them. Nonetheless, whilst sitting and waiting for Beth, I saw countless people falling over and tumbling into the sand. It was quite comical but do be prepared for a difficult descent. However, the views from this spot are incredible – three emerald lakes (naturally coloured by the minerals) and the distant Blue Lake add some magical colours to the dusty landscape.
Getting to the top of the Red Crater sees you reaching the highest point of the crossing at 1886m. It’s an easy climb and not too steep. If you’re lucky you’ll see Blue Lake up close. If you’re not, you’ll see a grey haze! The views looking back at Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe are pretty fab too.
Following this final lake, it’s a pretty drastic descent down 1200m. This is definitely the hardest part of the whole crossing and it’s recommended you cut your toenails beforehand! Seriously, your toes will be pressing into the end of your boots for at least 10km and it’s uncomfortable enough after a while as it is!
The crossing finishes by mooching through the New Zealand bush for the last couple of kilometres. It’s a welcome relief to be in the shade after the scorching sun – if you’ve read the Maze Runner books, I likened this experience to Thomas and Teresa’s time in the Scorch Trials.