Tales of Tongariro

Tales of Tongariro

Posted on 23. Mar, 2011 by in Blogs

Blog4NZ has been a worldwide blogging event running from 21-23 March and is a grassroots blogging and social media effort to support New Zealand travel in the wake of the Canterbury earthquake. This is my last post for Blog4NZ but it’s not my last post on New Zealand, there’s still so much to say.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the best day hikes in New Zealand and I wanted to make sure it made it onto my agenda before the weather changed. The hike is 19.4km and averages between 7-9 hours to complete. There are optional side trips for the adventerous amongst us.

Firstly comes the prep work on what to take. Of course there are no shops, cafes or restaurants on the way so food and water came first. Swiftly followed by clothing. I did some research and turns out weather can change quite dramatically up there. Our bus left at 7am from the hostel to the crossing and with the choice of a 3pm or 4.30pm pick-up I was determined to be prepared. My packing list consisted of:

2 litres of water, 3x sandwiches, fruit, nut and seed energy bars, chocolate bars, muesli cereal bars

Sports bra, polyprop long-sleeved top, hiking socks, leggings, shorts, t-shirt, fleece, long-sleeved t-shirt, hat, gloves, trainers, waterproof jacket 

Camera, phone, tissues, suncream, sunglasses

Hiking boots would have been better than trainers I’m sure, but as I don’t own them I made do. There was a boy in my hostel who only had beach sandals with him – do not make this mistake they won’t let you climb! I didn’t wear all the layers and in fact the waterproof jacket and long-sleeved t-shirt stayed firmly in my pack the whole way. I’m glad I took them though because it’s easy to see how the weather changes and the wind catches you at the top!

We booked a bus from our hostel, the Ski Haus. It picked us up at 7am and dropped us at Mangatepopo car park. The sun was just rising as we go on the bus and by the time we’d made it to Mangatepopo it was beginning to peak over the mountain. The crossing takes on average 8 hours allowing for stops – and there were plenty of those!

If you need the toilet, go now in the car park! The beginning is flat and leisurely, just look out for those pesky rocks on the path, with the sun sneaking up there’s a chance you may miss them with the opportunityfor some brilliant photos to be had. Mangatepopo Hut isn’t too far away, if you didn’t take a toilet break you’ve got a second chance!
Soda Springs is your next landmark, with the Mangatepopo Stream winding it’s merry way.  For the smaller legged of you there are some large rocks to be clambering up along your way as the path gets a bit steeper. Mt Ngaurahoe watches over you and just off the boardwalk is your chance to grab a quick photo stop!

When you reach the waterfall at Soda Springs this is your last toilet stop until Ketatahi Hut. If you didn’t listen to me before, I beg you to go now. You won’t regret it, look up and to the left of the toilets. Yep you’re climbing that! A small break and then I’m good to go. I was in no way prepared for how long or steep or difficult this would be.  It’s called the Devils Staircase and you go from 1400 to 1600m above sea level. There are a lot of steps and the best way to tackle it is maintain a steady pace, put the weight onto your whole foot not the balls and take breaks. It’s easier to carry on when you’re not out of breath before you even begin!

Get to the top and you’re now heading straight for the South Crater. Enjoy the flat because it won’t last long! Don’t forget to get your photo in front of Mt Doom! A new phrase was coined ‘reverse mugging’ as I kept pushing my camera onto people. They can’t run very far after all! All the way along I kept thinking of Lord of the Rings, it’s not difficult to see why.

The climb begins again to get to the Red Crater. The climb is short but steep. Don’t be deceived when there’s a temporary ledge. You can see the people when walking along the flat-  this is not your aim! There’s a scramble up the scree to get to the top. Persevere, there’s no going back now. The reward as you come over the lip and you’re at the top is enormous. Sandwich time? It may only be 11 but I’ve been walking for 3 hours, why not!

A smaller climb awaits with a stunning reward the other side. Emerald Lakes! Don’t make the mistake I did along the flat – there’s a small detour to a dried brown murky lake. The Lakes haven’t dried up they’re just hiding from you! Before heading down to the lakes take some time to admire the views and the amazing redness of the lava.

There’s a steep hill down to the lakes. This could be fun or dangerous depending on your take. Don’t get complacent, downhill can be just as tough. My first tactic was similar to skiing, making turns and going across the slope. Fun but lots of wobbly ‘OOOOH’s along the way.Tactic 2 was my favourite and I went storming ahead – bend your knees, dig your heels in and go straight down. By far the funnest way!

The Emerald Lakes are such a stunning colour because of minerals seeping out of the volcanic rocks. Don’t be alarmed by the smell, you haven’t been teleported to Rotorua, there is sulpher here too! Stopping at the Lakes you could well think that the worst is over with but there is still a long way to go. There’s a small climb to the North Crater with another stop worth taking. It was quiet when we were there and we were in no rush having decided the 3pm bus wasn’t within our reach – and besides it was an enjoyable day not a race to finish.

The path to Ketetahi Hut is windy as it navigates down. Don’t be misled by the corners – you may be able to see the Hut but it’s a long way down. The Hut has some benches, a sink with water (do not drink this) and the piece de resitance for me – toilets! I’m sure that made my legs speed up, the water was welcome but when they say there’s nowhere to hide along the way they’re not lying!

From Ketetahi Hut it’s said to be an hour and a half to the car park. Allow 2 hours for this, it is longer than you think. For me this part was the hardest. My little toe was swollen twice the size courtesy of a visiting blister, and my oomph went a little as the views became less spectacular and the end was out of sight. Definitely not out of mind though.

Determination to make the bus kept my pace up, and when you see those 3 wooden bollards in the pathway that’s your sign you’ve made it! Congratulations you’ve just completed one of the best walks in the world. Now time to catch that bus and find your accomodation – and the inevitable hot tub waiting for you there!

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2 Responses to “Tales of Tongariro”

  1. Nisha

    23. Mar, 2011

    Very good account of your hike. Also, the tips are quite good.
    What’s the best season to do it?

    Reply to this comment
    • Dayle

      05. Apr, 2011

      Thanks I’m glad you liked it 🙂 I would have thought Spring/Summer is probably the best time – it’ll be cold in the WInter. I guess it all depends if you want sun or snow – but the weather is so interchangeable I don’t know if it makes much difference!

      Reply to this comment

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