Tongariro National Park Alpine Crossing , New Zealand
19.4kilometres long, hiking from ground level to 1,120 metres above Sea level, along Volcanoes and Craters. Waking up at 5am to start the Hike at the Mangatepopo side by 7am and taking upto 7 – 8 hours to complete where most people will finish in the Ruapehu region to end the Walk.
Known around the world by avid trekkers and hikers (known as trampers in NZ) as one of the 10 most beautiful 1 day hikes to complete (I had never heard of it!) The Tongariro National Park which the crossing passes through and over is volcanic terrain of the multi-cratered active volcano Mount Tongariro, passing the eastern base of Mount Ngauruhoe (the Mauri name of it). But to others it is the Volcano which inspired Mount Doom in the Tolkien films The lord of the Rings. Eeeek now i am excited!
When I started my travels around New Zealand it started in the North Island, I met a lot of people who were keen to hike and climb a lot of the mountains which New Zealand has plenty of. I did not have the same dream of all this hiking but I did appreciate the beautiful scenery of this stunning place!
To the people who know me I am not the fittest or healthiest girl who when it comes to enjoying the experience of climbing and hiking, give me a cable car to the top anyday!
The closer we came to Lake Taupo the closest main town to the National Park, the topic of the Tongariro crossing came up, from people saying it was the reason they had come to New Zealand, to others saying it’s a challenge they cant wait to complete, even people saying that the views were meant to challenge the south islands! So finally with my Fear of missing Out syndrome (FOMO) I took a chance, and said yes to doing it! Full of worry, excitement, anxiety and definite fear of what i was about to let myself in for. All I knew was this was about to become one of the hardest, physical , emotional and mental challenges of my life.
Tops things to Bring;
You can do the hike on your own, but the whole experience involves hiking from one side of the mountain range to the other so 2 separate drop off points, in this respect I organised a transit shuttle who specialise in this trek. They pay for drop off and pick up at either side, and also due to the payment to enter the national park means everything is done smoother. You have your name taken too to make sure if anything doe happen on the hike, they have a record of who set off. It sounds crazy to think that they take you name for a hike but that shows hows serious this Hike is! WHAT AM I DOING!
4.45am – Alive but not Kicking
Well I was up and alive, not exactly kicking at this moment in time, but I had packed everything the night before so I could roll out of bed and be in the coach by 5am.
In all there was over 40 people, all with hiking boots, walking poles, full on proper hiking equipment, I felt so unprepared! I had a nap until we were woken up 10 minutes ahead of the starting point, till pretty dark, layered up, rucksack on, still having so much doubt whether I can actually do this!
7am – Welcome to the Tongariro National Park
I set off with a group of 10 friends, but as I expected I fell behind going at a slower pace knowing I needed to save my energy for the steeper more challenging areas, but also to go at my own pace to enjoy the surroundings. We had chats, photos at the start, taking in the sun rising through the hills around us. I could see for the first time the snow topped volcanoes and mountains. It was a beautiful area of cracked lava, fresh water streams, parts with snow still laid on the floor, but also fawna placed round the area. At the start you are dropped off in the Mangatepopo region, and 1000 metres above sea level already!
The steady pace had paid off, I felt I was in a rhythm, with small areas of climbing up some rocks, but mainly flat, along incredible streams, with much more dramatic lava formations now, looking back on where I have walked there is a gradual upward hill compared to what I was about to start. Seeing people behind me made me feel a little better, but the people I had been with were full in front of me now with 2 exceptions, 2 girls who i had known for a few days and were both much fitter than me but doing their own pace, and enjoying the views. We stayed together, sang, laughed, chatted while I still could at this leisurely pace.
9am – Can you do this, Do you want to do this, Do you feel okay?
The first stomach drop happened within the second hour, around the final high cliff there was a sudden OH GOD! Moment, because I could see the ascending pathway in front of me, with rough steps gradually curving up the foot of the mountain. With small splashes of colour from people rucksacks and jackets, making sure you realise what you are about to get yourself into. There was even a sign!!
I took one more big breath, and starting heading up, no real strategy, or breathing excercises but just to push my body until I was out of breath at a good vantage point, taking in the already insane views of the flattened terrain I had already climbed up. Thinking silently to myself if this was all I had to do. The mountain in the very far distance with snow on the top was stunning through the clouds and blue sky which had now appeared during sunrise.
Every few minutes I would stop and get my breath back, to my surprise this incline never seemed to stop, we kept climbing up and up and up, even the fittest of people were finding it hard with breaks. Then a guy with a huge camping backback came past jogging/ Showoff, but also repeated to me just how fit you may have to be for this Crossing challenge. I started thinking why i had decided to do this!
I came to a more flattened point of the hike, which gave me, and the 2 girls I was with time to just absorb the scenery around us, from the wind playing with the dry brown sand infront of us, to the amount of snow we were walking very close to which we had to go and make snow angels into, and finally volcanoes either side of us. Me and my friends had helped each other up the first major incline, waiting, cheering each other on, me behind one of the girls, who was so considerate and kept asking how I was, we were supporting each other when she was down I was picking her up!
10am – Mount Doom Challenge
The only down side of the relaxing flat walk was 20 minutes later seeing the next steep section of the Hike, the foot of the Volcanio. The first thing I noticed was the dots at the very top which were people, my legs aching already from knowing what i was about to make them do. Bring it on I suppose! Already feeling a little embarrassed, alone and out of my depth with this I started climbing again. Firstly infront of the girls I was with to try and keep some kindof challenge and determination in me, but soon enough I was so out of breath I fell behind. I had put my scarf over my mouth due to a tiny sore throat I had I didn’t want to make it worse, and it defintily helped me and my breathing.
I was struggling big time, every time I thought I had reached the top, there was another hidden section of the steep mountain I had to climb again, I had so many breaks, so many moments of just complete exhaustion, several times I just thought I cant do this, but knew there was no going back. The one thing helping me was actually seeing the volcanic top this time, with people taking pictures and waving to others to get there, one of the girls we met was shouting my name and it really did give me that last push I needed.
At exactly 10.54 I MADE IT to the top of the Volcano ridge! 1,340 m metres above sea level, not a cloud in the sky, with the sun on my face finally being able to really appreciate what i had just done. The last push is more volcanic ash and rocks than an actual pathway, and is a struggle but the impeccable views are so worth it! It looks photoshopped! Here you also get a look at the many craters for the first time with their brilliant colouring whish is caused by minerals washed down from the thermal area of Red Crater. As a keen geographer I basked in the idea of being at the top of an active volcano, like really how cool and crazy is that! Plus there was no Orcs (LOTR film reference)!
11am – Lunch time!
We stayed at the top for quite a while to take everything in, with the background views looking over to the volcano which is known as mount doom in the Lord of the Rings franchise. Now, the drop down towards the craters is actually a hard descent, with volcanic ashy sand rather than rocks, you can easily slide and i will tell you its a narrow way down so take your time, in some ways it was harder on my knees than the ascent .
As you go there is one or 2 rest points to capture some beautiful photos of the craters below, and as i headed further down they became much bigger, bluer and brighter. I could finally reward all this effort with an early lunch, Me and my friend finally sat down, relaxed and took in where we were having our lunch we were, savouring this once in lifetime moment. The water from one of the craters is actually running fresh water and people are told not to touch it or go into it due to it being sacred to the Maori people. There is a sign saying you are halfway to the Ketetahi carpark, HALFWAY! I wanted to cry from happiness and exhaustion.
12pm – The final climb
One last push, to the summit of the Tongariro peak, 1880metre above sea level I MADE IT! This last push is just as hard, especially after you thought the Volcano edge was the last uphill push (yay for surprises). At the top you have the beautiful North Crater lake to your left, and the whole view of the volcano and craters on the other side. Stunning, Breathtaking, I actually screamed out loud with excitement when i saw it, it just makes the whole morning so worth it. It also makes for another great lunch spot! It was literally like being in the last scenes of lord of the rings with Frodo and Sam climbing with their arms to reach the top of Mordor! No joke! So now LOTR fans can picture how hard the hike is! I just needed to be carried by Sam to the top please!
If you hadn’t already guess my legs and bum were killing me at this point, but in all i felt like the adrenaline of it all was pulling me through . The views were just spellbinding as you looked round. All the determination and energy has paid off!
1pm – Time to head back down
I was tired, I had ran out of snacks (big problem), the sun was fully shining at this point and I could aprreciate it. The highest point was very cold and extremely windy so i didn’t spend too much time up there, it was protected in some stages by boulders and taller areas of the mountain side. I twas completely flat for a good 20 minutes and all i could see was downward curve of pathway from this moment with incredible views of the New Zealand scenery in the background. There was snow to play in, there was camouflaged portaloos, and now only an enjoyable downward walk infront of me.
I walked along snow covered narrow walkways, down the valley paths in the next hour, slowly going enjoying the views which were now in front of me rather than always behind me. There was a spring in my step, an easier more enjoyable feeling throughout, and an evil cackle at the people still heading up the opposite way? sorry!
I was heading down a zig zag of pathways through fields of grass and steadily down the mountain, fawna was starting to take over from the volcanic rocks. The views were just as impressive as the mountain top, but this time with softer scenery, greenery, bushes, trees, yellow flowers and even waterfalls sneaking down the narrow valleys and the bright Blue Lake below
I set a challenge to be the first out of us not to take a photo and just enjoy the views for a while because we really had been stop and starting due to how clear the views were, we both lasted only 5 minutes, its just too beautiful, I was so lucky with weather, infact by this point i had changed into shorts and and t-shirt for the final stretch.
2pm – The final sprint
Finally after a fast walk, I would even say a slow sprint though the forest and snaking bush pathways at the bottom of the track, i could feel the end was near, and my last bit of energy got me to the finishing spot at 2.32pm, the Ketetahi carpark where our transit bus would be picking us up. We just smiled, sat down and took in what we had accomplished, almost giddy!
The transit buses come every hour, for most people there will be room at each time you finish , but sometimes you must wait for the next bus, for us ours was nearly empty prompting that fact we had done the whole crossing pretty slow but i didn’t care, because I HAD DONE IT!
Looking back through the photos i really forgot how beautiful the whole Tongariro Alpine crossing was, and started to remember the feeling everytime i looked round or took a break to catch my breath, and just loosing all the aching again from the sheer beauty of what i was hiking on and around.
Looking back after a week of achey legs, sore backs and muscles aching i never knew I had, I look back on this experience with a smile. It was stunning from the beginning to the end, from the sunrise to dramatic terrain, and then finally the pride of completing it, the funny moments and the emotional moments all helped, shared and remembered with my friend who was with me through out. It was a unforgettable day, and I highly recommend to anyone visiting New Zealand to at least look into it!
I feel a sense of Accomplishment, of proving my determination and also my independence to mentally get myself through this with a little help from my friends.
Would i do it again, Hell no, Should you do it , Hell yeh!