Tongariro Alpine Crossing is commonly cited as the best one day walk in New Zealand and considered to rank in the top ten single day walks in the world. In my opinion this walk truly lives up to it’s reputation. Why? In short, the scenery is mind bogglingly magnificent. A photographer’s dream. A nature lover’s nirvana. I’d hate to pull out the word ‘epic’, as I’m not a fan of it…but I’m tempted.
The track spans the length of Mount Tongariro and jams some spectacularly diverse nature into it’s 19.4 kilometres. Among its highlights are timeworn lava flows, steaming vents, bubbling springs and brightly coloured water filled craters. On perfect days you can also see Mount Taranaki, Mount Ngauruhoe, the Kaimanawa Ranges, Lake Taupo and beyond.
Predominantly the trail is walked from the Mangatepopo Car Park end to the Ketetahi Car Park and on average takes between seven and nine hours to complete.
I have spoken briefly on each section of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing below.
Mangatepopo Car Park to Soda Springs (Easy – allow 1 – 1.5 hours)
We get dropped off at the carpark to begin our walk and I’m glad to see that the Volcanic Activity sign is green! The walk begins relaxed enough on a wooden boardwalk with tiny streams on either side and feels quite tranquil and relaxed at this point.
At the head of Mangatepopo Valley is a small side track that leads over to Soda Springs. The water here is slightly infused with dissolved gases which gives a “fizzy” quality to the water and has inspired the name.
Soda Springs to South Crater (Moderate to Difficult – allow 45 minutes to 1 hour)
Soda Springs is the turn back point and there is a sign begging you to consider if you are prepared to move forward. It is immediately after this sign that the track starts going up and up – this section is aptly named the Devil’s staircase.
The track levels out as you walk across the South Crater and it’s awesome to realise that you are actually walking in the mouth of a crater. It is at this point that you are close enough to Mt Ngauruhoe see it’s unique colouring and just the size proportions of everything around you makes you feel small.
South Crater to Red Crater (Moderate to Difficult – allow 1 hour)
After crossing the crater there are several uphill sections that can be quite blustery as you are trekking up an exposed ridge. These lead up to the Red Crater which is the highest point on the track and for me this was the hardest part of Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Make sure you take a rest and also look back and around to appreciate the scenery. When you reach the Red Crater you will be able to see both the Blue Lake and the Emerald Lakes. They are the gems of this walk and make the climb completely worthwhile.
Red Crater to Blue Lake (Moderate – allow 30 minutes)
To get down to the Emerald Lakes you need to slip and slide down loose volcanic scoria which could be perilous for the knees and ankles. But the path takes you to the three Emerald Lakes and they are amazing! Their brilliant colour has no need for photo shopping and is caused by minerals such as sulphur leaching from the neighbouring thermal area. If it’s not too windy this the perfect spot to rest and contemplate life.
The Blue Lake is just ahead in the distance it is formed in an old volcanic lava vent. Again minerals are responsible for it’s bright blue hue.
Blue Lake to Ketetahi Hut (Moderate – allow 1 hour)
After the Blue Lake the track is pleasantly flat for a bit and then you head back up before winding your way down to the Ketetahi Hut. You will also see some active steam vents at Te Maari on your way down. Ketetahi Hut is only for day use now due to a small eruption in 2012.
Ketetahi Hut to Ketetahi Carpark (Moderate – allow 2 hours)
After the hut you feel like you are on the home straight and the track weaves through some interesting volcanic shrubs and bird life returns. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing ends walking along a rambling stream to the carpark where you can high five your walking buddies and plan a well-deserved dinner.
- It is very important that the alpine nature of this walk is recognised and prepared for. Due to the high altitude the weather can change in an instant.
- This walk has some steep climbs and there is very limited shelter. For this reason a good level of fitness is required.
For more detailed track information on Tongariro Alpine Crossing visit the Department of Conservation website.