Next up on our whistle stop tour of New Zealand was the Tongariro Apline Crossing, and after two nights of hot showers, a comfy bed and good food in Wellington, we were back in our bright green camper van and hurtling along the winding mountain roads towards the Tongariro National Park.
The oldest national park in New Zealand, Tongariro National Park is situated in the North Island between Wellington and Auckland and it is an absolute must-visit if you’re driving between the two cities, or if you’re in the North Island in general. The active volcanic mountains Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro are located in the centre of the park, and it’s home to the Tongariro Apline Crossing, which is widely considered as one of the best one-day hikes in the world.
It is a 19.4km hike, which sees you navigating past lava flows, climbing up the side of and through the crater of an active volcano, dotted with unbelievably beautiful emerald green lakes, and hot smoky steam vents. It’s safe to say it is unbelievable! Visitors are encouraged not to park their own car at either the start or end point of the hike, but instead to make use of the many shuttle bus companies in the area. We stayed at the Whakapapa Village Holiday Park and booked a shuttle bus via the holiday park to take us to the Crossing for 7am the next morning.
Along with whale watching in Kaikoura, completing the Tongariro Apline Crossing was on my travel bucket list, and I was so excited, but it was touch and go as to whether we would be able to complete it at first. It was the beginning of autumn in New Zealand, and the weather (despite being so much better than it is in the UK at the equivalent time of year) was a little touch and go and the Crossing wasn’t always open. We kept checking online as to whether it would be open on the day we were hoping to do it and luckily, it was! The weather changes so quickly in the National Park.
We arrived bright and early at the start point at Mangatepopo Valley, and from here the journey begins. There were quite a lot of people taking the hike, despite there being pretty poor visibility, and the track is easy to follow. It’s pretty straightforward for the first 5km. In fact, having done it twice previously, Shane had warned me about how difficult it was, and I was pleasantly surprised. There are inclines here and there, but compared to climbing Roy’s Peak it was pretty straightforward.
That was pretty short lived though, as the next 10km or so saw us clambering up the side of a steep volcano with horrendously poor visibility. The first few km involved steep stair climbs, as the temperature got colder and you ascended into the clouds, and we then found ourselves literally clinging to the side of the volcano, as the wind nearly blew us away and our hats and gloves iced over. It was actually pretty scary! You couldn’t see more than a metre or so in front of you, and the scree – although iced over so more compact – made it a really tough, and sometimes dangerous, climb.
So imagine getting to the top and you can’t see anything…
It’s fair to say I was really disappointed. We’d climbed all of that way in freezing conditions, had been up since 5.30am, had driven about 6 hours to get to the Crossing the day previously, only to find that the striking views of the Emerald Lakes which are situated in the crater were completely clouded over. We couldn’t see a thing!
Begrudgingly we started to make our way down, mainly because of how cold it was. The wind chill made it colder than -10oC and it was far too cold to hang around in hope that the clouds would part. But just like that, they did! A hushed “wow” fell across the crater, as the clouds cleared and the bright green Emerald Lakes emerged. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in my life. It was simply breathtaking.
Without a doubt, this was one of my favourite days of the whole trip. It made me fall in love with hiking and exploring even more, and I now am making it my mission to visit more places and to just do more. To think that I may never have experienced this in my lifetime had I not taken the plunge to fly over to New Zealand — it gives me serious FOMO. There’s so much to see and do, and I want to experience it all.
Despite a pretty treacherous climb down into the crater and on past the Emerald Lakes (seriously, you’re practically surfing down at some points as the scree and volcanic rock is so fine), the rest of the journey is again pretty straightforward and sees you walking down the other side of the volcano with views of Lake Taupo and through magical forestry to your shuttle bus at the end. We completed the hike in 6 hours and 8 minutes, which absolutely smashed Shane’s previous time of 8 hours, and it’s safe to say I would recommend the hike to everyone.
One thing I will say is to make sure you have appropriate walking gear, lots of layers, plenty of snacks and get yourself some walking boots. It’s tough! Especially if you’re not used to it, but the views are simply out of this world.
Lots of love. xoxo