Tongariro: Hiker’s Highway Tongariro Alpine Crossing, North Island, New Zealand

New Zealand is a hiker’s paradise. With hikes from five minutes to five (or more) days, there’s something for everybody. One of the most well-known day hikes is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, an almost 20km hike across volcanic terrain.  It’s so popular, that in summer up to 1000 people a day walk the track. If it’s that popular, it must be good. Right?

How to get there

The closest town to the trail is National Park Village (such a creative name). Coming from Rotorua or Taupo, one can either drive directly to the village or take a detour and drive the Desert Road. Desert Road sounded much more intriguing and adventurous so we took the detour.

After Lake Taupo, the road winds its way through forest until it reaches a, really, desert-like plateau. Brown bushes and grass dominate the landscape. West of the road, as a backdrop to the brown colored plain, towers snow-capped Mt Ruapehu. The scenery, so different from the green hills you get accustomed to when driving through New Zealand’s North Island, is stunning. Not very photogenic, however, at least not at the time of day we were there (hence no photos, sorry).

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Crossing is a one-way trail. There are several ways to get to the starting point and then back to your accommodation from the end. The common place to start is at Mangatepopo since it’s a bit higher than Ketetahi at the other end so there’s less climbing to do.  The easiest and most convenient way to get to the trail and back is by shuttle bus. Like that, you don’t have to worry about finding a parking space or, if you prefer to hitchhike, finding a ride to the trailhead (back should be easy).

The Red Crater

The day was gorgeous; sunny, and warm, and clear – a perfect day for hiking. We had planned well (only one day around Rotorua) but it was also luck; it had been snowing the week before.

The hike takes you up to mountain through beautiful volcanic landscape. On a clear day, a fantastic panorama unfolds in front of you and in the distance, you can even see the almost perfectly shaped cone of Mt Taranaki.

It was warm but the winds on the highest point of the trek, around the Red Crater, were very strong and cold; a jacket is definitely necessary. There, the trail becomes also more difficult. That’s not a big problem when going up to the Red Crater but the descent from there to the Emerald Lakes is a bit tricky. The ground is very loose and we saw more than just one person slip and fall (including me). Due to that, the descent takes quite long but all the way down you have fantastic views of the colorful lakes; their color in stark contrast with the surrounding landscape.

The Emerald Lakes

The last bit of the hike, after the Blue Lake, is less interesting and once you’ve reached the forest, you just want to finally get to the parking lot, take off your shoes and rest your hurting feet.

Depending on how fast you walk and how many photo stops you make, the hike takes between 6 and 9 hours to complete. Since the summer days in New Zealand are very long, you could very well start at, say, 11 am or even later, but it’s better to start in the morning around 8 am because, even if it’s a clear day, there’s always the chance that clouds come up in the afternoon. And you definitely don’t want to miss that amazing panorama!

The Blue Lake

The Tongariro Crossing is beautiful, no doubt, and it’ a great place to enjoy and see volcanic landscape. However, it’s also overcrowded. We enjoyed the hike, the scenery is amazing and the views fantastic, but we probably wouldn’t do it a second time.

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