You’ve seen the beautiful pictures of the Tongariro Crossing, right? The Emerald Lakes, the mountains in the distance. This is what it’s meant to look like:
However, when a friend & I drove down and did the Tongariro Crossing earlier this year in February, it looked like this:
Pretty right?? It’s a seven-hour hike and it rained for four hours. At one point, we were wearing two raincoats. Two. Raincoats.
For anyone coming to New Zealand, welcome to New Zealand weather!
Despite the rain, the Tongariro Crossing was amazing and I’m so glad I did it. I mean, it started out pretty decent, weather-wise.
Our shuttle dropped us off at the start of the track around 6:30 am. It’s a good idea to start early because if it’s a hot day, you beat the heat. You can also avoid the hordes that often descend on the track in high season; many shuttles drop people off between 7:30 am & 10 am.
It starts out pretty easy, gently sloping upwards with a few steep bits and some staircases.
Then you hit the Devil’s Staircase and the climb (with chains to assist you) up to the top of the ridge at Red Crater. If it’s a good day, you can relax up the top and enjoy the view.
We, however, hunkered under a rocky outcrop and sipped warm soup from a thermos (easily the best decision we made) while water dripped off our noses.
After sliding down the loose scoria (make sure your shoes have good traction and dig your heels in!), we walked along in the mist for quite awhile. The cloud was super thick, you could see the trail markers in front of you easily enough but forget any sort of view.
The rain also continued to fall steadily, ranging from a light mist to a downpour. It was extra fun wearing glasses, I honestly needed windscreen wipers!
Eventually, we reached Ketetahi Hut and began our descent down the never-ending stairs – prepare to destroy your knees.
You end up in the (warm) rainforest at the bottom, where we raced to peel all our wet layers off. You also catch up with everyone else who’s done the hike. We were alone for quite a bit of the walk so it was surprising to see so many people at the end!
All that’s left is to wait (sweatily) for your shuttle to pick you up, or to find your car if you drove yourself.
The shower at the end of it was probably the best I’ve ever had.
We were told it’s important to do some stretches and a light walk the next day so your legs don’t seize up. We had a 4-hour drive to do, but we did stop off in Taupo for a bungy swing. That counts as a stretch right?
Apologies for the photo quality, they film your bungy swing then give you the stills as your pictures.
Tongariro Crossing Logistics
If you’re driving down from Auckland like we did, good towns to stop off in along the way are Cambridge, Otorohanga, Tirau and depending on which way you come, Taupo.
We stayed at Discovery Lodge; it was reasonably priced, has a big kitchen, decent bathrooms (except for the lame shower curtains) and our tiny hut was basic but had what we needed. A lot of people stay in Turangi or Taupo (an hour or so from the track) to do the crossing, but the lodge is just 20 minutes down the road from the track and has awesome views of Mt Ruapehu.
The lodge also has their own Tongario Crossing shuttle ($35 NZD) which I can recommend. It was on time and it was great to be dropped off earlier than the other shuttles. The hike itself is free.
I wore regular gym leggings, a gym tee, soft shell jacket and two raincoats, but also had a merino thermal in my bag just in case. Make sure you bring plenty of warm layers and a decent raincoat (not a flimsy festival-style poncho) and decent shoes. We saw tourists doing the walk in converses or slip on shoes…crazy! I had trail runners (with excellent sprig-style tread) and I still got terrible blisters and sore ankles – a decent hiking shoe/boot will support your feet much better!
Bring food, snacks and 1.5 – 2 litres of water. We munched on dark chocolate and barley sugars in between our apples, scroggin, sandwiches and soup – we got seriously hungry.
Optional: wine to drink out of mugs (we forgot glasses) back in your cabin after the hike.
And yes, for you Lord of the Rings fans, that mountain you’ll (hopefully) see in the distance is Mt Doom.