Fully rested after a relaxing time in Taupo, our next challenge was the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. One of New Zealand’s most popular day walks, the 19.4km trail passes through the volcanic terrain of the Tongariro National Park. The Park is home to three active volcanos including mount Ruapehu, the summit of which is the highest point in the north island at 2,797m.
The evening before attempting the walk, we made the short drive south along Highway 47 towards the National Park Village, with the Park’s volcanic peaks looming large in the distance.
Given the length of the walk, it is usually completed one way. We therefore arranged a shuttle bus with Tongariro Crossing Shuttles, one of the several companies operating within the park.
After parking near to the walk’s finishing point at Ketatahi, we took the 7am shuttle to the starting point at Mangatepopo. Although aware of how popular the walk is, we were still amazed by the huge number of people also beginning the walk. At least we wouldn’t have any difficulty knowing which way to go!
Having worn literally all of the warm clothes in our possession to begin the walk, we were soon wondering if we had come over prepared. Despite the early start, we were far too warm as we began the gentle ascent along the wooden board walk, and the layers were soon coming off.
After completing the first few kilometres, we reached a rather ominous sign warning us of the dangers to come. This marked the beginning of the Devils Staircase, a much steeper ascent taking us from 1,400m to 1,600m above sea level.
Initially conditions were good, however we soon climbed into the clouds, and before we knew it the torrential, sideways rain had reduced visibility to almost zero.
This final stages of this section of the walk felt especially treacherous, as we battled against the strong wind, scrambling across the loose rocks with exposed ridges barely visible either side of us.
Finally we began the steep descent towards the famous Emerald Lakes. The deep volcanic scoria underfoot made this incredibly difficult, and we were soon sliding down the hill, trying our best to stay on two feet. At this point the walking boots and poles that looked like overkill earlier in the day really came into their own, as the serious hikers powered past us.
The conditions meant the vivid blue lakes were barely visible as we made our descent, however this did improve slightly as we finally reached solid and flat ground. Despite the brutal wind and rain, I did brave getting my camera out one more time although I’m not sure if this was really worth it.
We finally reached the relative safety of the Ketetahi Hut, where we found several groups of hikers huddled together, enjoying some respite from the brutal wind. After stopping briefly to refuel with some much needed flapjacks, we continued along the track.
With the walk starting at 1,120m and ending at 760m above sea level, the second half of the walk is almost entirely downhill. This was great news for us, but not for the people waking the other way, and we wondered if they knew they were taking the considerably harder route.
As we descended along the wooden boardwalk, the visibility slowly began to improve, and once out of the clouds the vast lake Rotoaira came into view in the distance.
The final part of the descent followed a small stream, taking us through thick woodland before we emerged into the Ketetahi Carpark, the official ending point of the walk. Unfortunately for us the shuttle bus car park is a further kilometre along the road, and we struggled along for another 15 minutes before we finally arrived back at the van to finish an epic day of walking.
It was a great decision having the van waiting for us at the finish line, and an even better decision filling the fridge with Powerade and snacks! After changing out of our wet clothes, we enjoyed a late lunch before beginning the short drive to our campsite for the night.