The Big Trip: Tongariro Alpine Crossing

As mentioned in our previous post, we undertook the Tongariro Alpine Crossing whilst we were staying in Taupo.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a hiking track through the Tongariro National Park.  The National Park has been acknowledged by UNESCO as one of 28 mixed cultural and natural World Heritage Sites.  It was the fourth established national park in the world and contains three active volcanoes, Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro.

The Alpine Crossing is considered one of the world’s best one-day hikes.  The hike itself is just over 12-miles (19.4-km) long and covers a diverse landscape.

Our main reason for wanting to do the hike was because it featured in The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King film, specifically when Sam and Frodo had to climb Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring.  The opportunity to be able to follow their footsteps was far too tempting.

As Tongariro is over an hours drive from Taupo we utilised one of the shuttle services available.  Our bus collected us from beside Lake Taupo at just after 5am and we arrived at Tongariro at around 7am.

The walk starts really easily, the hardest and worst part being waiting for the loo before starting the track.  The walk was easy enough with a few small hills but it was mostly a scenic alpine walk with a well-formed track that was boarded in places that would become too boggy to cross in colder climates.

The walk from Soda Springs to the South Crater is affectionately known as the Devil’s Staircase.  It is very steep, climbing from 4,590-feet (1,400m) to 5,250-feet (1,600m) over a relatively short distance.  The track takes you over ancient and modern lava flows making it quite unstable underfoot.  The views, however, are breathtaking.  We were very lucky that we had a clear day and could fully appreciate the almost alien landscape.

From the South Crater, you head up to the Red Crater.  There was also the option to climb Mt. Ngauruhoe but there was absolutely no way we were even going to attempt it!  We climbed to the Red Crater and found ourselves a suitable warm rock and enjoyed our lunch feeling as though we were on top of the world.

After we’d scoffed our lunch and taken an appropriate number of selfies we started our descent into the floor of the Central Crater, passing the Emerald Lakes.  The descent was precarious because of the loose scree and scoria.  There seemed to be only two options for descending, either run down as fast as possible hoping that you didn’t hit a hidden rock or slowly and steadily slide through the ash making sure there was ample footings.

The walk through the Central Crater and subsequent climb to the Blue Lake was relatively easy-going and offered us a bit of respite after the horrors of the Devil’s Staircase.

After a short rest at the Blue Lake we began the final short ascent to the edge of the North Crater.  As we walked round the corner the valley opened up to breathtaking views of Mount Pihanga and Lake Rotoaira and Lake Taupo.

We zigzagged our way down the mountains, over the hills and the beautiful alpine meadows to the Ketetehai Hut.  Again, we stopped here for a quick toilet break and a quick snack before heading off.

The final descent was really hard going.  We felt like we were constantly walking down for hours and we didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere.  At one point we were sure there were CCTV cameras set up and we had been walking round in circles.  It’s amazing how quickly your mind turns on you when you’re tired and in pain!

We finally reached the car park and it took us around seven hours including stops for lunch, snack and loo breaks.  We’re immensely proud of the fact we managed to complete the trail at all, especially given our medical problems.

If you haven’t seen our video already, be sure to watch it here.

Last, but by no means least, here are our favourite photos from our day.

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