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New Zealand Greatest Day Walk: Tongariro Alpine Crossing

⬆︎The start of the track: congestion

I have not expected to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. However, after much persuasion from people around me -why is everyone talking about it?! – I had to try it out. Plus, it was absolutely FREE! The cheapskate in me was screaming in excitement. 

Book a shuttle

Before I continue, if you decided to walk this gorgeous day walk after reading my awesome description of it, remember to book a shuttle. This is because this walk is not a loop, it starts at one point and ends at another. What a way to explain it, eh?

If not, feel free to skip this part:

Shuttle:

There are a few ways to do it.

Start of the track: Mangatepopo Car Park 

End of the track: Ketetahi Car Park/State Highway 46

1. Park at the end of the walk, take a shuttle to the start of the walk, finish the walk in your own pace and walk back to your car at the end of the day. (A great option for cheapskate like me) Shuttle price: Around $18-25 pp

2. Stay somewhere else, book a shuttle to bring you to and fro. Shuttle price: Around $50pp

3. Get two cars – park at start and end so you don’t have to book shuttle. (Rich people option/friends option) Shuttle price: $0 (but you need two cars, obviously)

4. Many other options like parking in a paid secure car park and taking the shuttle. 

Note: It used to be that people could park freely at the secure carpark at the end of the track (Ketetahi), but the government had imposed a parking restriction of only (4hours) of parking, which is impossible time for you to finish the track in that short amount of time (we used 8 hours taking our own sweet time). Therefore, everyone opted to park along SH46, which was free. Just follow the instructions and signs, and there were lots of workers along the highway to make sure you don’t park where you might obstruct shuttle vans or other shuttle services. 

⬆︎Covered up real good like an ahjumma because the sky was CLOUDLESS! Would’ve been a roasted chicken by the end of the day if I did not lather thick sunscreen on me and put on a sun hat.

Every time when we go for “serious” walks like these, we were sure to be blessed with good weather. There was no doubt that nature just adored us. 

⬆︎Dramatic landscape was starting to unveil themselves in front of us. We were just beginning!

The start of the walk

The climb was gradual and it wasn’t too much of a huffing and puffing for the buffalo that I was. I pant very loudly and always pretend to act calm when I go past people around me. Louis, on the other hand, was a hiking machine! 

I used to be really turned off when I looked at pictures of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. What was wrong with the barren landscape?! Why would people love brown and “dead” landscape? Boy, I did not have the slightest clue how awesome this would turn out.

⬆︎Look ahead. What’s the weather doing? Oh, the weather was sitting still and pretending to be a pretty princess. It was absolutely a dear to us. Now, excuse me, we’ll go ahead thanks.

⬆︎The moon still going strong at 9.30am. It’s time for you to go to sleep, old man.

⬆︎If you find yourself in a “poo” emergency, feel free to use one of the many “pleasant” toilets along the track. We used most of them and managed to still smell okay. Tip: Use the second toilet 3KM into the track instead of the first one because the first one had a massive queue. People were warned but still went for the queue anyway. 

The Devil's Staircase

We were basically walking on long-winded gravel path in the beginning to Soda Springs before slowly approaching the steep section of the walk – the Devil’s Staircase. I know, I know, you must be thinking, “How can there be springs in such a barren land?!” I KNOW! There was even a waterfall! Craaaazy.

Too bad, we did not take the detour, instead we headed straight for the Devil’s Staircase.  

⬆︎Going up the Devil’s Staircase. There were rocks everywhere! Apparently, the rocks were all from the volcanic deposits. Whaaaaaat.

Arriving at the South Crater

We arrived at the South Crater first.

⬆︎South Crater

⬆︎A beautiful lady and Mt. Ngauruhoe.

A little fact about Mt. Ngauruhoe (summit 2,287m)

Mt Ngauruhoe is the youngest volcano in the area having begun to form about 2,500 years ago. It is the most active vent in the Tongariro area with its last eruption recorded in 1975.

– Adapted from https://www.tongarirocrossing.org.nz/national-park/geology

Continue to Red Crater Summit (summit 1,886m)

Then, there was more climbing.

⬆︎ We were way past South Crater and had arrived at the ridge of the Red Crater – another volcanic mountain! Can you believe it? We were walking at the ridge of a volcanic mountain!

⬆︎The mountain behind me was Mt. Ngauruhoe – also known as Mt. Doom for its famous appearance in The Lord of the Rings film. I was already at Red Crater when I shot these photos.

Hikers used to climb up to Mt. Ngauruhoe (now forbidden)

It used to be that people could climb Mt. Ngauruhoe by taking another 2-hour detour, but recently the government had been telling and advising people to not do it because the mountain is considered sacred. Don’t – do it. Just don’t. There were lots of search and rescues carried out to help these daredevils too. 

The most recent confirmed volcanic activity from Red Crater was reported between 1855 and 1890. 

– Adapted from https://www.tongarirocrossing.org.nz/national-park/geology

⬆︎Like Milford Sound, the weather on top of the mountain can change ridiculously fast! We had just arrived at Red Crater when a cotton of clouds started roaming around Mt. Ngauruhoe! It was like an eruption had happened! Sadly, it wasn’t. 

⬆︎A lot of the school kids went to play in the snow up at the Red Crater. A volcanic landscape with waterfall and springs and lots of snow? WHAAAAAAT?! This place just wouldn’t stop getting crazier and crazier!

⬆︎Taking shots of the Red Crater and trying my best not to fall to my death. I read a news after the walk that a few tourists had died on this crossing because they refused to turn back when the weather was bad – ALWAYS LOOK AT THE WEATHER. 

Sliding down to the Emerald Lakes

From the Red Crater to Emerald and Blue lakes, we had to literally slide down from the mountain to descend. Many hikers were injured along this part of the track because of the loose scoria (tiny volcanic rocks) along the way. It was like sliding down sand dunes, but with scoria and rocks. When I see big rocks, I stepped on them, thinking I could land my feet on them so as to not slide down further (a skill I picked up from hiking around New Zealand) – BAD MOVE – I slid the whole way down along with the rock.

⬆︎After sliding down a decent amount of way, we took a picture with the blue lake on the left and the three emerald lakes underneath towards the right. 

A colour so surreal

It was then that we started smelling boiled eggs. Apparently, no one was eating boiled eggs, it was the sulphurous smell that came from the steam vents around the lakes. Their lakes are considered sacred, so it was extremely disrespectful to even touch them. 

⬆︎Looks like they can qualify for brochures or flyers?

⬆︎More epic pictures of the lakes.

All kinds of landscapes

Wait – let me get this right.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing has a spring, snow fields, lakes, steam vents,… I can’t get my head around this epicness. 

⬆︎A random hiker who hiked around one of the many steam vents along the lakes. He was so photogenic. I wished we could be friends.

⬆︎And then photogenic-lady myself tried to get the same picture. Close enough.

⬆︎Our turn to play in the snow like kids. He threw snow balls at me first! 

A sacred blue lake

Located much further away from the three emerald lakes was the blue lake. It did not have an emerald colour, but the blue of the lake was equally magical, hence it was dubbed the sacred lake. It seemed to be rather close to the emerald lakes when we were watching from the Red Crater, however it was located rather far away with a little bit of climb in between.

⬆︎At the sacred Blue Lake. 

Winding our way down to the end of the track

⬆︎The dramatic landscape did not end there as more great lookout views and landscape were thrown in our faces on our descend to Ketetahi Car Park (the end of the track).

⬆︎Thus began the long-winded, dull, repetitive, and tedious way back to the car park.

⬆︎Accompanied by sick views along the way.

The final leg

When we thought we were finally at the end of the walk, we came to an entirely different landscape – this time not a barren one. There were trees, plants, ferns, and all shades of green. We could finally hear birds singing and felt the more humid air around us. 

During the final leg, we crossed a short part of the forest with streams along the way to the end of the track. 

That was not the end. We walked another 1KM to our cars and completed half a marathon for the day! 

*Pats on our backs*

 

8 hours and 34,000 steps.

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