Trekking Across New Zealand’s Tongariro Crossing

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Like any good travel writer, I turned—where else?—to the Internet when planning my whirlwind tour of the North Island, namely to fellow bloggers and Twitter friends who have far more knowledge of New Zealand than I. And I’m glad I did—a number of fellow travelers threatened to hang me up by my toenails and sacrifice me at a Maori powhiri if I didn’t hike the Tongariro Crossing. Well, generally, when I’m traveling solo, I don’t engage in too many day treks, particularly when my time is extremely limited as it happened to be this trip. (Technically, I wasn’t exactly solo, but that’s another story for another time.) But I didn’t want to risk losing friends I’ve still never met in real life, and in retrospect, I’m sure glad I listened to the Internet.

So armed with my day pack and an oversupply of trail mix, I set out to tackle what is hailed as one of the world’s greatest—if not, the best—day hikes.

The hike was somewhere in the area of 20 kilometers (roughly 12 miles). That’s a lot of time spent talking to myself, let me tell you. And man was it steep in places. It takes most people in the seven-and-a-half-hour range to complete. I finished in 5:50 (and that was with a couple water stops and a half-hour lunch break with some old Kiwi men I met along the way). Guess all that running occasionally pays off.

There was an additional three-hour hike to the top of this crater (a lot taller than it looks in this picture; an additional 6,000 feet or so), but I wasn’t about to press my luck.

Since the area is very volcanic, there was a lot of scrambling over boulders to be done—my calves are killing me at the moment.

It probably comes as no surprise that my favorite part of the walk was the perfectly flat stretch that reminded me of the Arizona desert (because I’m shamelessly lazy like that).

In fact, much of the trek was strikingly similar to the American Southwest (see Arches National Park here, ha?).

Everyone—the Chateau employees, bus driver, Internets—highly advised packing warm gear. So I lugged a spare set of pants, sweater and fleece 20 kilometers. In the end, I needed a long-sleeve shirt for maybe 15 minutes of the entire day. Glad I didn’t invest in gloves like the national park worker advised.

When we neared the highest point, it began to reek of rotten eggs. OK, people, who cut the cheese? Turns out it was just a plethora of geothermal activity.

The path going down between the lakes was at about a 60-degree grade and sheer loose gravel. Guess who bit it (more than once) and slid down much of the slope on her ass much to the mixed horror, entertainment and bemusement of the fellow trekkers? The same girl with the big goose egg on her forearm and scrapes down her thigh. But, man oh man, were the views spectacular.

For almost the entire second half, I could see all of the Lake Taupo region in the distance. See, Mom, turns out I’m not always a magnet for bad weather—every single day in New Zealand has been cloudless and brilliantly sunny.

The last three kilometers were primarily downhill and through the bush. I swear it was double that distance—someone needs to go out and re-clock the path. I pretty much jogged that entire stretch, as I was just ready to be done (and also, I hadn’t seen a soul in an hour or more—I feared I’d somehow gone astray!). At the end of the day, I was pooped and fell asleep on the bus ride back to the Chateau. When we arrived, I was all prepared to jump in the pool, only to find it under construction (of course it was). So I had to wait three hours for the backpacker to return from his alpine experience and the 90-kilometer drive to Taupo before I could finally clean myself. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat (though if I were to do it over, I’d stay in one of the budget accommodations like the Skotel, as opposed to the Chateau, as the rooms there were dark and dingy and not at all worth the price). Three days later, my ass may still be cursing me, but—cliche though it may be—it’s an experience I’ll never forget. I will say this: I’m going to need one big vacation after this vacation!

**All photos taken with a Canon XTi, 17-85mm lens, 67mm filter.

  • March 27, 2009

    Awesome pictures! When I did the Tongariro Crossing, it was early spring and the weather was no good – we only made it halfway. (compare my pictures). For anyone reading this wishing to do the hike, my accommodation suggestion is The Park, in National Park. Yes, it’s a hostel, but one of the nicest I encountered in NZ. It mostly consists of semi-permanent residents and backpackers off the Stray bus, so to get a room you might have to book ahead. It’s got a somewhat-reasonably-priced restaurant and a hot tub! They offer services to get you to and from the Tongariro Crossing, and other destinations like Mt. Ruapehu in ski season. Dorm beds are $25-$30, depending on the season.

  • March 27, 2009

    Man, you have now officially given me the hiking bug…although I’m only going to get an hour or so away from home here in the great Northwest…thanks for the inspiration! Lovely pics!

  • March 27, 2009

    Arches National Park was exactly what I thought when I saw those pictures, with a dash of Yellowstone, as it appears!

  • March 27, 2009

    I seriously want your life. Just for a week. I know I keep saying that, but it’s TRUE.

  • March 27, 2009

    A nice report on the great day hike. The reason everyone recommends plenty of warm clothing on Tongariro Crossing is that every year people get rescued with hypothermia when they get caught out by sudden bad weather. Being in the mountains, weather can turn bad at any time.

  • March 27, 2009

    Abso-freaking-lutely amazing!

  • March 27, 2009

    WOW! How amazing does that look?!?! The acid green lakes look almost photoshopped . . . they’re gorgeous!

  • March 27, 2009

    The lakes are ALIEN-bright. & I agree with what you said – even the foliage looks similar to Arizona’s!

  • March 27, 2009

    so pretty! i plan on doing some research in NZ next summer and this will become a must do!

    fyi – I think the color of the lakes is due to all the sediment in it (at least that is why lakes are that pretty milky color here in the pac nw)

  • March 29, 2009

    Yup, the geothermal pools reminded me of Yellowstone, too!

    Amazing scenery and trip. NZ has always been one of the top places on my travel wish list…thanks for giving me this little virtual taste of the place.

  • March 29, 2009

    who knew geothermal activity smelled of rotten eggs. those views are amazing!

  • March 29, 2009

    That was a well recomended hike. Great post and captures. I feel like I went along, and my ass hurts.

  • March 30, 2009

    SO glad you did this (and did I not tell you to stay at Skotel…)! You reminded me that I need to finish my own post of our adventure climbing it in dresses. ๐Ÿ™‚ It blows my mind to see it clear, since we were bundled up and trudging through snow at times, but you did have some good weather karma on your side. And yes, I swear, the last 3KM were some of the longest in my life and my knees felt like an eighty-year-old woman!

  • April 10, 2009

    What amazing pictures. I soooo don’t know that part of the world. I’m dying to go there and see eveyrthing!! it looks so amazing, and untouched in many ways.
    The Travel Expert(a) and an Expat with a Twist

  • April 10, 2009

    Really spectacular. I long for the peace and quiet that these photos evoke.

  • April 10, 2009

    What beautiful photos. My hiking husband is ready to pack our bags!

  • April 10, 2009

    Stunning photographs. Thanks for the inspiration (and good work on that hike!)

  • April 11, 2009

    I love the story! Thanks for taking us along. It also reminds me of some of the volcanic lands in Southern Oregon

  • April 21, 2009

    Great photos! Being 74++, I don’t intend taking this hike, unless someone is carrying me. Any spare llamas?

  • April 24, 2009

    New Zealand is made for hiking – or ‘tramping’ as the Kiwis call it.

  • April 24, 2009

    Thanks for taking us along on this extraordinary journey (minus the bumps and bruises :-)! The photos are fantastic. We are moving to Bangkok in July and, along with our excitement about living in South East Asia, we are also really looking forward to affordable flights to Australia and New Zealand.

  • April 24, 2009

    It was great to live through you for a few minutes with this article and pictures! What a great story.

  • April 24, 2009

    I’m definitely jealous both of the trip to NZ and the ability to go on a twelve-mile day hike – it’s going to be a little while before I can do that again. You did a great job of describing it and I love the photos too.

  • May 1, 2009

    really cool travel photos!! it looks so magnificent there, like the sky and land go on forever. that lake was so blue. wow!

  • May 1, 2009

    OMG, what a great hike!
    I’m not sure if my children will ever speak to me if I take them on a full-day hike like this one, but I’m putting it on my to-do list anyway ๐Ÿ™‚

  • May 9, 2009

    New Zealand is definitely on my list of “places I want to visit someday”. That hike looks awesome!

  • November 16, 2009

    Nice photos:) cheers

  • February 6, 2010

    One quick correction – Ngauruhoe is only 1100 feet higher than Tongariro. Only the tallest peak in NZ (Aoraki Mt Cook, South Island) is 6000 feet higher!

    I’ve been over the crossing twice and didn’t even realise you could see Lake Taupo like that on a fine day, brilliant photos and you really did luck out with the weather. Maybe I’ll have to go once more…

  • March 22, 2011

    Love this walk! I’ve done it twice, doing the additional climb up Mt. Ngarahoe on one occasion! That took a good hour or so up, but only 20 minutes scree running down.

    My parents did it when they visited and I was really proud of them; especially as my Dad sprained his ankle with 3 hours of the walk still to do! He managed it – and was relieved to get to The Chateau in the evening!

  • March 22, 2011

    That is incredible! I am a Kiwi and have never done this. Thanks for your article and for reminding us all what NZ has to offer!

  • March 22, 2011

    Just came back from Indonesia. One of the things that I wanted to do was hike up a volcano but simply didn’t get round to doing it. If I ever going to NZ THIS is definitely one of the things that I plan to do. Thanks for this post!

  • March 22, 2011

    Okay so even though I said I wasn’t a hiker I did do this hike. I didn’t make it all the way to the top because we were almost there and it was hailing and there was really bad fog. My hiking partner, who actually hikes quite a bit said it wasn’t worth it so we turned around – I was happy because hail hurts!

    • March 22, 2011

      For “not a hiker,” you definitely did not pick an easy one to do! I was sore for days!

      • March 22, 2011

        Honestly I was crying at the top. It was hard!

  • March 22, 2011

    Everyone is doing New Zealand posts lately- did I miss the memo? This is one place I wish I went before I got Darcy (they don’t allow dogs to enter) and I’m reluctant to leave him with anyone yet. NZ looks magical!

  • March 22, 2011

    How beautiful! I’m absolutely chomping at the bit to get back to hiking this spring, and hopefully I’ll be adding to my own collection of amazing views!

  • March 23, 2011

    Lovely pictures – you were really lucky with the weather, so perfect!
    And you were also pretty fast, I normally need twice the time the rangers suggest, as I constantly do picture- and piknic breaks ๐Ÿ™‚ If I ever go to NZ, I will for sure do this hike!!
    Have a lovely day, Kristina
    Oh, and I will be leaving for Marrakech on Saturday – have you been (by any chance)? If yes, any recommendations?? ๐Ÿ™‚

    • March 25, 2011

      I have been, but sadly it was six years ago, I was on a student budget (meaning I stayed and ate at the cheapest place possible), and I remember nothing other than that the souks rock and I couldn’t drink enough mint tea! Also, we went on a day trip to Essaouria, and it wasn’t really worth it in case you’re enticed to do the same. But if you have time to head over to the Sahara while there, you should definitely take it!

  • March 23, 2011

    Those turqouise blue lakes in the brown landscape look very inviting, are they cold or hot?

    • March 25, 2011

      Good question–I’m inclined to say hot due to all the hot springs in the area, the volcanic terrain and the sulphur smell, but I didn’t go in them so I can’t say for sure!

  • March 30, 2011

    Well done! what great weather you had too. I had a couple of friends who tried to hike it but ended up needing to crawl down on hands and knees due to fiercely strong winds.

  • April 7, 2011

    Really fantastic photos! Hope you are having a great time

  • April 14, 2011

    Fantastic! I’m in New Zealand right now – wasn’t that Devil’s Staircase insaaaane? We did the tramp backwards to avoid crowds but it was almost harder to climb down those lava stairs rather than up!

  • May 2, 2011

    The turquoise blue lake is looking quite impressive in that beautiful place. I would like to visit that place someday near in future.

  • May 7, 2011

    It definitely seems so. Great post by the way!

  • May 27, 2011

    Amazing post. This turquoise blue lake looks very incredible.
    You have done good job.

  • April 18, 2020

    I’m planning on doing this as soon as lockdown is over! I’m so excited for the trek, been a few rescues over the past 6 months. Hopefully, I get it on good weather! Great post!

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