Tongariro Crossing – Mt. Doom
Considered to be one of the best day walks in New Zealand and some would argue in the top 10 in the world. Having done it twice I would definitely agree with this statement. If you are into walking, hiking, tramping (whatever you like to call it) and you find yourself in the North Island of New Zealand make the effort to do it, you won’t regret it!!
The crossing itself is located pretty much in between Auckland and Wellington in sort of the middle of the country if you leave out the long narrow bit at the top.
The first time I did it I based myself in the largest town in the region, Taupo. The town sits overlooking Lake Taupo, itself a massive crater formed from a super volcanic eruption a long while ago. Stunning views and a cool place to hang out for a backpacker with lots to do. I did it on my own so I decided to stay in a social hostel to get to know a few more people.
I stayed in Base Backpackers a franchise chain of hostels which are found all over New Zealand and Australia. The cost per night was approximately $30 NZD. I asked the people in reception about getting to the crossing and like the majority of kiwi people, they were really nice and glad to help me out. Taupo is about 100km from the start of the walk so the pick up time was between 5:00 and 5:30 am with expected arrival time close to 7am. I had to make sure I had myself ready to go the night before so I could just hop out of bed and be ready to go.
The second time I did the walk I stayed with a group of friends much closer in the smaller ski town of Ohakune which is just south of Mt. Ruhapehu, (a great place for snowboarding and skiing in the Winter) We stayed in the Hobbit Motorlodge. It’s a nice quiet accomodation that’s ideal for a group of friends travelling together. It cost again close to $30 for a dorm room. The kind Kiwi lady that worked there sorted out the transport for us to and from the crossing. The pick up time from Ohakune being closer to 6 am so if you need your beauty sleep it may be the better option to stay here.
The crossing is 19.4 km from start to finish one way and crosses the volcanic terrain of the active volcanoes of Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe. It is an Alpine crossing with the highest point close to 2,000 m above sea level so it can get fairly nippy even at the height of summer. It’s important to pack your food (sandwiches, chocolate, lollies etc), 2-3 l of water, phone/camera, a hat, sunnies, sun cream and a fleece or jacket. Once you are packed and you throw on your runners you are all set.
I think of myself as quite a fast paced walker and relatively fit so once I got off the bus I was ready for action and wasn’t too keen on walking in a slow group. Luckily enough there was a guy from Seattle called Bryce that had the exact idea as myself so we headed off to do the trek together. The weather was wet and miserable in the morning but luck was on our side and the weather gradually started to clear as we approached the peaks. Being an alpine walk the weather changes very quickly but keep your fingers crossed you manage to get your pic of the day as you pass by.
When I did the walk first in January 2013, the full walk wasn’t possible due to an eruption of Mt. Tongariro a few months earlier. We had to walk to a certain point and then turn back and go in the direction we came from. There were toxic fumes being expelled from the volcano so it was deemed too dangerous for us to go any further. It was a bit of a shame not to complete it but it gave me a good reason to come back and do it again.
There was an obstacle to doing it the second time also. We did the walk the second time around in early November of 2014 when there was an irregular amount of snow that had fallen on the high lands of the central plateau. There was a possibility that we wouldn’t have been able to do it due to the high levels of snow but again luck was on our side. We had all our fingers and toes crossed the night before so that seemed to do the trick.
The crossing can be done all year round but in Winter months or when there is heavy snowfall they recommend a guide which requires use of proper gear like cramp ons and ice axes. I was treated to a completely different view to the one that I had seen when I was there first. It was amazing to see the contrast and how the land can look at different times of the year. Just be aware to check out the accessibility of the trek before hand if you’re not sure but generally should be grand.
The walk offers a few little detours if you wish to take them. You can climb or attempt to climb Mt. Ngauruhoe. Myself and Bryce made it about 3/4’s of the way up and we got to a point where it was 1 step up and 3 back. If you are keen to do it, you are better off trying with proper hiking boots instead of a worn down pair of asics runners. It also adds some extra time into the walk. The walk can take from between 5 and 8 hours depending on your speed and how often you want to stop for. Its important to be mindful of the time as transport stops generally between 5 -6 pm. If you find yourself stranded here you would want to make sure you have the electric blanket packed.
After the failed attempt to the summit of Ngauruhoe, we trudged on and made it to the highest point on the walk, which is the Red Crater at 1,886 m. Amazing views all around.
As you pass here you peer down the hill and see what I think is the highlight of the walk, The Emerald Lakes. You find a lot of people congregating around this area as it is a nice place to have lunch and enjoy the views.
After a bit of lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches and pineapple lumps for dessert, we set out again. The first time I did the walk with Bryce this was where we had to turn back and return to the start. Bu luckily enough the second time around we were able to keep on going to the end.
The rest of the trek from here on out was relatively easy. Once you reach the Red Crater you have all the hard work done and its all downhill from there. The terrain changes from the rocky volcanic harsh surface to a more grassy marshy outcrop.
The stunning views continue to amaze. As you near the finish you get to see the lakes on the North and most notably Lake Taupo.
The end starts to approach. The legs start to tire and you start to look forward to a hot meal and a cold drink (Tui in these parts) Everyone gathered in the pick up point where a throng of buses were stationed. The buses go in a number of different directions so it’s best to chat to the drivers around and they will point you in the right direction.
We found a quiet spot on the grass and looked back at the photos we took of a great day.
It’s easy to do it, if you want it to happen. So pack your bags and get out for a walk. Start backpackieing now, you won’t regret it.