New Zealand: My hike at Tongariro Alpine Crossing

By Cubie - April 28, 2018

I first saw this when I googled for things to do in North Island NZ. Then I read about it and thought, maybe it is beyond me. After that, I saw MMC included this in the first draft of itinerary. What followed was me trying to climb the steps at work during lunch time. It could hardly be considered as training, there are only 23 floors and I wasn't even running up and down. I was going up and down leisurely in my work clothes but had sneakers though.

My biggest fear was there is no giving up midway as there is no other way out except the chopper for emergency and I am trying to avoid that happening (hence the steps climbing). Some people made up their lack of stamina with great determination but I have no redeeming values when it comes to exercise. Not only my stamina is crap, I am not very good in motivating myself. Haha.. but I do know that I do not want to get off the crossing with an emergency chopper. That said, I am glad I went for it, and this is probably my favourite activity in our NZ trip, along with the kayaking. No, I am not an adrenaline junkie. I am more of a sloth if anything.

On the way to the start of hike
Tongariro Alpine Crossing (TAC) is 19.4 km. The walking time depends on one's pace, weather condition, stops for photos, etc but estimate will take take 5-8 hour. We took 7 hours 25 minutes.

We prepared our food the night before, lunch and snacks consisted of ham and cheese sandwiches, a hard-boiled egg, chocolates and muesli bar. I also carried two 1.25 litres water bottles. I only have a small pack and my stamina is non existence, I left dslr but am glad I am now on S7 rather than iPhone 4 due to photo quality. Ha!

Little P and Y very kindly drove us all the way to the start of the hike, at Mangatepopo Road. They also came to pick us at the end of the hike, we arranged to meet after 8 hours. Otherwise we would have to engage shuttle to drop us and collect us thereafter. In the meantime, they went for their own excursion, I believe it was to see Gollum at the Mangawhero Falls followed by afternoon tea treat.

After we were dropped off with a parting message of "Please don't do stupid things" in front of the staff who works there, we started our walk. Haha... I certainly hope he knew we were joking, because there were news about people underestimated the weather and hike resulted in the needing rescues. [Read: my concern over me needing chopper assistance. A very valid concern.]

Mangatepopo Valley to Soda Springs
MMC recorded our timing but I don't have them, and obviously I'm a newbie and recording timing for each leg had not crossed my mind at all. Haha.. I only know we have to finished in 8 hours so Little P and Y didn't have to wait for us. Apparently this is the easiest stretch but I could feel tightness over my right calf so it took me awhile to walk comfortably on this flat-ish stretch.

Soda Springs to South Crater
Soon after Soda Springs, it was a consistent uphill track. I thought this section of the track is known as the Devil's Staircase but MMC said it was only that most steep part (see photo below, the one where the hikers get rope to hold on to). Regardless, fancy name but very apt. I find the track before this rope bit was tougher. I stopped many times trying to let my lungs and heart catch up. I am sure MMC would have made a better timing if she didn't have to wait for me. At this point, I can picture myself in Lord of the Rings pilgrimage to drop the ring. I counted my lucky stars that there weren't any orcs.

Devil's Staircase
South Crater to Red Crater
There is hope after Devil's Staircase as we reached South Crater. It was flat!

As you can see the clouds were hanging quite low at this time but we still had good visibility.. until we reached an exposed ridge! In matter of seconds, it was just white and very windy. 

Luckily it was cleared as fast! I probably had stayed put for very short while before I could continue walk without falling off either side... and have some view after all the uphill hike!

Red Crater to Emerald Lakes
The summit of Red Crater, at 1886 metres is the highest point on the TAC. From there onwards, it is steep descending to Emerald Lakes.

I was standing in the middle of the descent.. haha. This was to my right
MMC had suggested that if we could find a cheap hiking stick, then it would certainly help especially at this stretch. I walked in to Aussie Disposal to see if they have any but hiking stick were sold out. At that point, I had images that everybody in Melbourne was going to go to TAC. Haha. Case of watching too much TV. 

It was suggested to me to try another shop which carries outdoor equipment. Unfortunately for me, the ones sold in this outlet was too pricey for me, who probably only hike once in a blue moon and MMC who already has one in her house which she didn't bring along. So I left the shop bar hiking stick, post judging looks from the salesperson who attended to me and told me that they carry high quality equipment, so none of those cheapie stuff for me. 

Looking down from where I stood
Looking up from when I stood
Back at this stretch of track, without a hiking stick, I could not 'ski' down gracefully. I can't ski anyway, and clumsy is my middle name. I am super grateful for my pair of boots, which really assisted me from tumbling down from the crater and straight to the lake. 

Emerald Lakes to Ketetahi Shelter
I realised many times turning back gives a good view too. 

We came down from there!
I was playing a fool and picked up a small stone from a big rock. When I put it back down, I accidentally knocked my little pinkie and earned a blood blister. This was when we realised that my chubby fingers has gone chubbier. It looked like my body was protesting this healthy hike thingy too. Haha. 

We were not lost
Blue Lake
After a short climb out of Central Crater, we reached the Blue Lake. This lake is Tapu (sacred) and one is not to touch, enter, eat or drink around its shores.

Lucky for the spectacular views because the zigzag down to Ketetehai Shelter was neverending. It's like you can see the bottom but no matter how fast the little legs work, it was still so far away. 

This was a much welcomed sight. 

Ketetahi Shelter to Ketetahi Bus Park
Definitely the case of so near yet so far because even this stretch will take about 2 hours.

We finished our food ration here but definitely could eat more. MMC and I were talking about steak and all sorts of food we want to eat. Food motivation was real!

When you see the forest type of walk, the end is near!

I am glad we started from Mangatepopo Road end because I think the big reason why we could finish this was because we did the harder part first. I cannot imagine having to hike up the volcano gravel to get to Red Crater! 

We didn't eat steak for dinner but had an evening snack of Hungry Jacks before dinner! Haha. 

Side note: I'm already thinking of next week's meals.. hahahah

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  1. This seriously look like a really great hike!

    Let's say I'm renting a car and driving to either the start or end point of the hike. How does the shuttle work?

    1. It is!

      There's a 4 hours limit of parking at Mangatepopo car park but none at Ketetahi. So one would park the car at Ketetahi car park and then take the shuttle to Mangatepopo to start the hike.

      It is said that the parking duration limit will only run through the busy period till 30/4/18. Not sure if it will continue yearly though.