One key objective of our trip to New Zealand and our visit to the North Island was the ‘classic’ walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. A 12 mile or thereabouts tramp that can be done in a day.
The dilemma was the ‘what ifs’. What if the weather was bad, or something happened and we didn’t make the finish in time for a shuttlebus, etc, etc. So, I didn’t book one and decided to leave it to fate when I arrived.
This strategy as it turns out seems to have been a good plan as first of all they are expensive. Secondly they appear to be inflexible as one of the guests in our accommodation discovered. They were the only pick up for the bus company they used. Arriving at their finish point an hour and a half early they rang for an early pickup only to be told they would have to wait. So they ended up getting a ride with some fellow travellers. A better strategy maybe to drive to your finish point, then get a bus to the start so you don’t have that worry. I believe some bus companies will do that so worth asking if you intend to try the crossing.
So we decided we would drive to Mangatepopo road head – there is a large car park, and do a walk up on to the tops and return to the car instead and save on the shuttle costs. We left the car park, unwanted participants in a huge procession of walkers on a walkers motorway. Literally hundreds. So if you are looking for peace and tranquility then the Crossing is probably not going to give it to you.
After all the hype about how this is one of the most amazing walks in the World, I was distinctly underwhelmed as we completed the first section of the walk. It was nice, we were blessed with a clear sunny day, but I’ve seen a lot more spectacular in Iceland for instance. The first 4km was a gradually climb up a valley that was littered with debris from explosive volcanic eruptions as well as craggy lava flows. At the start of where the well defined track took a turn up the head of the valley and became steeper, 2 smelly long drop loos were the point of interest for walkers as they prepared themselves for the next section.
Ascending manmade wooden stairs on some stretches of the climb we reached the edge of the huge south crater. A flat basin with mountain tops rising around its rim. Another short climb on the other side of the basin took us up on to the ridge, and then finally the real views appeared.
Although we were sharing our view with hundreds of others it was pretty spectacular as you can see. It was at this stage, around 1670m above sea level, that my partner who struggles with heights, decided she couldn’t take on the steep and slippery climb up to the Red Crater, so my plans of reaching the summit of Mount Tongariro were changed and instead I ascended the route to the Red Crater on my own.
I climbed on over the summit of the short climb and dropped down the other side to get a view of the Emerald Lakes. Fortunately the sun was just about holding its own from the clouds and the colours were fabulous as you can see below.
From here I reluctantly returned to rejoin my partner and we returned back down the track the way we came to the car. All in all we spent about 5 1/2 hours on the walk.
So, what advice would I give if you are considering it.
1. Start early as the cloud builds up on a clear day as the day goes on. Start 9am at the latest but earlier if you can. Be prepared for rain and for it to get colder if the cloud comes in.
2. Don’t bother with the shuttle buses as they are an unnecessary expense. We spoke to various people who did the whole Crossing and they told us we had seen the best part of the walk. The start and finishing thirds are long drags to get you to the interesting bit. So why do do the summit of Mt Tongariro or just visit the Red Crater as we did and save your money.
3. If you do take a shuttle bus to do the whole route, drive to your finish point and prebook a shuttle bus to take you to the start so you are not on a time clock and won’t have to wait around if you finish early or miss your bus if late!
4. The route is slippery with scree and sand on some steep sections so make sure you take boots, or trek shoes with very good soles.
5. These are high mountains and like all mountain areas, the weather can change quickly for the worse so be prepared with waterproof and emergency kit including first aid, just in case.
6. If you are looking for solitude then This may not be the walk for you. To avoid the crowds start in the afternoon of camp over and start around 6am. Or, do a different walk in the National Park.
7. Enjoy it!
The middle third is worth the effort of the climb and the views are quite something. A throughly good day.