The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is known to be one of the best day hikes in New Zealand; it is 19.4KM (12 miles for those in the US), formed by volcanic eruptions and one of the hikes in the world where you can experience all four seasons in one day. We hiked the crossing in late March where the mornings were cold and we needed to be bundled up! Layers are very important on this hike! There were five of us total who did the hike for the day.
We started the hike at about 7:00 in the morning and when we pulled up to the drop off area there were already several cars and tour buses dropping people off. We were told to not start the hike any later than 7:30 in the morning, otherwise you could lose light or the heat would be too much to bear at the end of the hike. The hike begins with a flat walking area and spectacular views of the mountains around you. There are bathroom stops, but the first one wasn’t for the first 5KM and trust me they are not that lavish at all. I was surprised at how organized and clean the first portion of the hike was. There were very clear trails that had been laid over the ground.
After about an hour into the hike we came across the Devils Staircase and I was surprised to see that they were actual staircases that had been built alongside the side of the mountain. My glutes were definitely thanking me the next day, haha! I was surprised at how much the hiking varied throughout the entire six hours from flat lands, staircases, shifting rock, and descending boulders. I was amazed how varied this crossing was; it was absolutely beautiful.
After completing the devils staircase we ascended to the top where all of us immediately put all of our warm clothing back on. The wind was vicious and we were not able to stand there for long without starting to get cold. We hiked for a few minutes and came across another portion of the hike that required supporting yourself with ropes as you climbed up due to the steepness of the section.
The next milestone in the hike greeted us with breathtaking views of Emerald Lake. The wind was still treacherous so I snapped a few photos and was ready to descend down Red Crater. This section is known to be the most difficult portion of the hike due to the loose gravel and trust me it can be, but I was surprised to see how well all different ages were doing down the descend. The loose gravel does indeed catch at your feet and I fell down only a total of five times. If there were not so many dangerous edges, I feel like it would have been easier and more fun to just slide the whole way down, haha!
After the five of us made it down the red crater successfully without any serious injuries, we headed to the last lake of Emerald Lakes to take a break and have lunch. I was so hungry at this point and couldn’t wait to eat my ham sandwich at 10:00am (haha). The view was beautiful as we all sat quietly munching on our sandwiches and breathing in the faint scent of sulfur around us. It really was incredible and reminded me of the benefits and views that one can experience with a little work.
After lunch it looked to be we had about three to four hours left in our hike. The rest of the hike consisted of beautiful views, lots of steps, and aching knees. I had never in my life experienced such pain from a hike before, but wow my knees were in pain (along with others in the group) with every single step we took descending the crossing.
I was happy to see signs of coming close to the end of the hike as we continually descended down the summit. I thought for sure once we reached the end of the summit the parking lot with our pick up car would be there, but alas our wish was not true. After reaching the very bottom of the summit, we were greeted with about an additional hour and a half of walking through trees and descending down more steps. Out of the entire hike, this last portion of the hike was the worst for me because of the ache in my knees ( and I wasn’t the only one). Thankfully, there was some beauty to distract us as we made our way through the woods. I was so exhausted once we reached the end, but thankful that I did it. It was one of the best hikes I have ever been on and strongly recommended to anyone that gets a chance to make it to New Zealand.