If anyone is wanting a challenge with breath-taking views (quite literally! The forceful nature of the wind when it hits your face in just the wrong angle in some parts will literally take your breath away!) I fully recommend the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
After coming out of emergency abdominal surgery to remove my gallbladder just 2 months earlier and having not really gotten back into physical activity until 2-3 weeks prior to our trip due to complications I was regularly told that I was crazy for even thinking of attempting this trip. But… if I can do it, so can you! In fact, the only person who had no qualms about my ability to do this was my Hubby and I can tell you I clung to his words of encouragement to get me through some spots.
There are 4 hour parking restrictions in place now so you need to go through the shuttle services that run in the area. The Ketetahi end of the track is the only place you can park for longer than the 4 hours and the shuttle will pick you up from here (this is what we did) or you can catch a return shuttle from the National Park Village and even from accommodation in Taupo.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a 19.4km track (add an extra 1km if you park at the Ketetahi end and catch a one way shuttle to the start of the track like we did as you will need to walk back to the car park) and you trek across a volcanic alpine landscape, taking in stunning views of the mountains, alpine lakes, alpine vegetation, volcanic craters, volcanic vents with steam coming out, craters created from rocks thrown in the last eruption, ancient lava flows, you even trek through the bush…. A truly unique experience!
The trek begins at 1120m and the first part up to the Devils staircase is easy-going and if you have packed lots of warm gear (which I highly recommend you do, including a wind proof jacket of some sort!) I recommend starting out with not many layers. In this section I was just wearing some exercise tights, a merino singlet, a t-shirt and some sturdy footwear (I saw so many people struggling in their flash sneakers which by the end of the day were covered in mud and had stones all through them).
You climb up Devil’s staircase (which isn’t the hardest part just by the way) and once you reach the top you’re at the saddle between the two mountains, Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom for all those Lord of the Rings fans) and Mt Tongariro. You then trek through the South Crater before the trickiest part of the whole trek, climbing up to the Red Crater, the highest point you will get to. There used to be a chain here but for some reason this was no longer in place when we did the trip but I can say it would have been incredibly helpful! It had snowed the day before our trip and so there was icy and slippery conditions through this spot. That coupled with the strongest wind I have experienced hitting you can make it a little bit sketchy in parts. I’m pleased to say that I proved everyone wrong in their assumptions that I would injure myself (accident prone blonde right here!) and it was actually Hubby that slipped and sliced his finger in this section. Be prepared to wait here if there are a lot of people on the track as it can take some time to navigate this tricky section which can cause a backlog.
Once you reach the Red Crater you take in some incredible views! The highest point of the trek is 1886m and on a clear day like we were lucky to have you can see for miles! From here you get your first glimpse of the breath-taking Emerald Lakes. If there are a lot of people on the track when you are there, be prepared to have others in your photos (also, don’t be afraid to be a complete quintessential tourist and have a selfie stick so you can actually get some photos of you and your partner without having to ask people to take photos for you)
Here you travel down the scree to the Emerald Lakes, a lot of people chose this spot to have a rest and some food. Or if you’re like us, you just take small breaks every so often to have a quick snack and wait until the Ketetahi Hut past all the exciting views to have some more substantial food for lunch. After the Emerald Lakes you go through the Central Crater before climbing up to the Blue Lake. This is about where the truly stunning alpine views end and where the more mundane views begin (don’t get me wrong, it is still incredibly beautiful, just not as exciting as the alpine views)
This trip was just the two of us, we left our son with my Mum and Dad for a couple of nights and took advantage of having some us time and being able to switch of from parenting mode (as much as you can when you’re a parent anyway! You never truly switch off am I right?!) We drove down after work on the Thursday and stayed in a cabin near the Chateau at the base of Mt Ruapehu. On the Friday we had an early start with the first shuttle of the day and completed the trek. We then drove home back to Auckland the same day, picking our son up the following morning.
It is so important to take time out from being a parent and spend time with just you and your significant other. Put time and effort into your marriage/relationship, do something the other enjoys and you might just find you enjoy it too! Tramping is something that my Hubby loves to do and to be able to get out there sharing something he loves was so special. What does your significant other enjoy, what really makes them happy? Is it something you could do together every once in a while and have some truly special memories together? Think about it, what can you do to really connect and spend some quality time together? I mean, you can’t get more quality time than stuck in a car for 4-5 hours each way and then an 8 hour hike in between right?! Don’t get me wrong, it is important to have your own hobbies etc but there is nothing wrong with sharing them every so often either. Hubby absolutely loves getting out into nature, he is even out there again today in the Hunua Ranges on another day trip this time without me.
They say that the trip should take between 6-8 hours and we did it at a comfortable pace with lots of stops for photos and snacks at 7 hours 40 minutes. (Keep in mind that I am still recovering from surgery 2 months ago and have basically zero fitness at this point) So… if I can do this, you can too! What is stopping you from giving this a go and experiencing some of New Zealand’s most dramatic and stunning scenery in your very own backyard?!
Toilet stops along the way in case you were wanting to plan a trip are part way along the first section before you reach Devil’s staircase, at the base of Devil’s staircase (Soda Springs), at the top of the Devil’s staircase, just after the Blue Lake, at the Ketetahi hut, and part way along the remaining track to the end. (I recommend taking your own toilet paper though as there isn’t any provided)
Also for safety aspects, please read up on the conditions expected when you are wanting to go, be prepared for the weather to change without warning, be prepared to turn back if needed, have enough water and food to keep you going, put sunblock on as you are out in the elements all day and it may not feel hot but you will burn, and remember that although walking sticks make you look incredibly silly they can actually be pretty great at helping.
Until next time friends,