Tongariro Crossing – Finally!!!

So, I’ve ranted a lot about the potential of not being able to do Tongariro Crossing while we are still in New Zealand because one of its volcanoes just erupted on 21st November 2012. Well, fortunately for us, the Crossing was open “partially” a few days ago so we quickly went there last weekends. Now, I am back to sunny Auckland with two wobbling legs but I can’t be thankful enough for being able to complete this Crossing, one of the best experiences in my life!!!

The Park: Tongariro National Park is about 5.5 hour drive to the South of Auckland, NZ. The track itself takes about 7-10 hours to complete, depending on your speed and also whether you do any side tracks to any of the summits. Usually, people will arrive nearby towns such as Taupo (most popular, 1.5 hours away from the crossing), Turangi or Tongariro National Park itself, to rest a night and do the crossing the next day.

The Crossing: As the name stated, this is a “crossing”. It’s not a loop trek. So in order to complete the crossing in full, we need to book a tour to bring us to one end of the trek and pick us up from the other side about 7-8hrs later. So what I mean is, you can’t probably self-drive to do this crossing. Unless, you decide to trek to the mid-point and turn back to the original car park, which is also a sensible arrangement since most of the amazing scenes are along the first half of the trek anyway. Actually, this was exactly what we had to do with our trip since the crossing was closed from Red Crater onwards due to the recent volcano activities.

Cross section of the Tongariro crossing trek

Cross section of the Tongariro crossing trek – from the National Park website

What to bring for the trip? The National park website has already said about this in great details here.

Personally, among those items, here are the MUST have:

–       Shades: when you start the trek, you will walk directly facing the sun.

–       Warm hats preferrably with front caps to help shade your eyes from the sun. Also, the wind can be very freezing so it’s important to keep your heads and ears warm

–       Walking stick: definitely you can complete this trek easily without walking stick but I just think it would be so much easier on our knees and legs if we had carried them with us.

Our experiences: We booked the crossing tour with Tongariro Expeditions because it’s one of the few operators that have really early schedules to advoid the crowd (believe me, it’s crowded up there). Plus, the operator was really funny and bubbly which gave us a great start of the day. We left Taupo at 5:30am and reached the start of Tongariro crossing at 7am. Thanks God, it’s a beautiful day!!!

Mount Tongariro looking from a distance - it is gonna be a great day with great sky and weather!

Mount Tongariro looking from a distance – it is gonna be a great day with great sky and weather!

Part 1: Mangatepopo car park to Soda Springs – Easy – 1 hour

... starting from car park...

… starting from car park…

... leading to soda springs ... it's a level, easy walk ...

… leading to soda springs … it’s a level, easy walk …

... after about an hour, that's soda springs ...

… after about an hour, that’s soda springs …

Part 2: Soda Springs to South Crater – Moderate to difficult – 1 hour

This part is called “the Devil’s Staircases”. It’s made easy for us by having stairs to climb but it really damaged our knees and leg muscles.

... starting to ascend a little on the Devil's staircase...

… starting to ascend a little on the Devil’s staircase…

... Mt Ngauruhoe following us ... on a good day, people can climb this summit and return in 3.5 hours... below is cooled down lava ...

… Mt Ngauruhoe following us … on a good day, people can climb this summit and return in 3.5 hours… below is cooled down lava …

... taking a breathe on Devil's staircase stretch ...

… taking a breathe on Devil’s staircase stretch …

Part 3: South Crater – easy – 15 mins

... so happy to have finished the Devil's staircase ...

… so happy to have finished the Devil’s staircase …

Walking across South Crater is like walking on another planet. The landscape is just so surreal. Enjoy this before the next ordeal!

... beginning of South crater ...

… beginning of South crater …

... reaching the other end of South crater...

… reaching the other end of South crater…

Part 4: South Crater to Red Crater – Difficult – 1 hour

There’s no stair cases. The route is very small and slippery at parts due to snow.

... starting another steep ascend ...

… starting another steep ascend …

... passing by an unknown  lake...

… passing by an unknown lake…

... at parts, it can be very slippery ...

… at parts, it can be very slippery …

... reaching Red crater, the highest point along the crossing ...

… reaching Red crater, the highest point along the crossing …

... magnificent view from the top ...

… magnificent view from the top … directly infront is the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe…

... human look so small...

… human look so small…

Part 5: Red Crater to Emerald lakes – difficult due to snow – 15 minutes

Some people still managed to approach the lakes but we couldn’t because it was just too slippery for us, so we just admired them from a distance …

... blue lake (acidic) from a distance ...

… blue lake (acidic) from a distance …

... emerald lakes on the right ... colors are really beautiful when the cloud clears...

… emerald lakes on the right … colors are really beautiful when the cloud clears… The right hand area next to Emerald lakes are where volcano activities are very much active. The rocks and soils here are hot.

Part 6: Turn back and go home… Another 3.5 hrs

... cloud is nearer than the world below...

… cloud is nearer than the world below…

... going home...

… going home…

Judging between my friend’s photos and ours, we are inclined to think visiting Tongariro Crossing at the end of spring, beginning of summer would be ideal because there’s something about snow covering mountains that makes the landscape look more magnificient. However, the snowy condition makes the trekking more difficult at parts but it is still manageable without special equipments.

Yay, Mission New Zealand accomplished!!!

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