New Zealand is famed for its scenic landscape – with majestic mountains, pristine lakes, daunting volcanoes, rolling hills, sandy beaches and breathtaking fjords dotting the entire country. So for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing to be one of the highlights of my Kiwi adventure, it is pretty god-damn spectacular! It certainly lives up to its acclaim of being “one of the best day-hikes in the world”.
Being a day-hike, you do not have to carry along a truckload of belongings. Yet, the Tongariro will not short-change you on the scenic department. In a mere 6 to 8 hours of hiking, you get to witness active volcanoes, sulphuric lakes, rugged terrain and breathtaking panoramic views. For the LOTR fans, you will also get the opportunity to come face-to-face with “Mount Doom”, where Frodo destroyed the One Ring! And while the trek is definitely challenging, the difficult portion is constrained within the first quarter of the hike (if you hike from Mangatepopo to Ketatahi, as most people do). Sounds tantalising enough? Here’s a photo tour:
Soda Springs (1 hour) [Difficulty: 1 Star]
A generally flat, paved boardwalk trail takes you from Mangatepopo carpark to Soda Springs within 45 minutes to an hour top. It’s a good warm-up to get your adrenaline pumping, blood flowing and to shake off those sleepy eyes from waking up at 5am to catch the Tongariro shuttle (http://www.tongariroexpeditions.com). At Soda Springs, take a quick break (and bite) and brace yourself for … the Devil’s Staircase!
Devil’s Staircase (1 hour) [Difficulty: 3 Stars]
The “Devil” prefix might sound terrifying, but fret not – the name is far more daunting than the actual hike! I admit – I was still huffing and puffing during the 300m uphill climb but at least, the hike is in the form of a staircase. Steps (as opposed to slopes) allows you to take a break and catch your breath whenever you want. It also framed my mentality: “Two more flights of step before I take another breather.” And not long after, I realised I have tackled the almighty Devil’s Staircase and arrived at the South Crater!
Optional: At the South Crater, you can choose to climb “Mount Doom”. For bragging rights alone, it does sound cool to say you have scaled the LOTR mountain. I opted to skip it so no photos there!
Red Crater (1 hour) [Difficulty: 4 Stars]
Take a 10-minute leisure walk from the South Crater to the base of the Red Crater, where another 300m upwards hike awaits. This time round, you have to hike up a 45-degree slope consisting of loose rocks! I definitely struggled with this portion of the hike, as a fear of slipping and falling into the depths of the abyss constantly plagued my mind. Hence, I ensured each step planted forward was with so much force and grip that I probably expended far more energy than I had to! But hey, with the awe-inspiring views around you, that really isn’t much time to be fearful :)
Emerald Lakes (15 mins) [Difficulty: 3 Stars]
Once at the top of the Red Crater, give yourself a pat on the back as you have reached the highest point of the hike (which means you are generally going downhill from here onwards)! But don’t take it easy yet, for I really hated the descent down the Red Crater due to all the loose scree! I tried various methods – toes first, heels first, sidewards – but I just couldn’t plant my foot firmly into the ground and constantly felt that I was going to fall on my butt :( But it might just be myself, as this was the portion where numerous people overtook me haha. Nonetheless, you get the best views of the hike while descending the Red Crater with panoramic views of rugged alpines and the sulphuric Emerald Lakes!
After you descended the Red Crater and arrived at the Emerald Lakes, photo-taking opportunities are still ceaseless. Hiking alone (without a selfie stick)? No worries! There will be plenty of fellow hikers around to help you get that perfect photo.
Blue Lake and Beyond (3 hours) [Difficulty: 2 Stars]
After witnessing so many “eye-gasmic” views, you might think that it’s no longer possible to be amazed. But that isn’t true, as the hike to the Blue Lake and beyond still offers you many spectacular views – the oval-shaped Blue Lake, vantage viewpoints of Lake Rotoaira and softer, grassier terrains!
With the adrenaline and gorgeous scenery all-around – I did not once feel tired at all during the hike – despite it lasting for more than 6 hours. I highly recommend the Tongariro Alpine Crossing to those visiting New Zealand (ps: please don’t overlook the North Island)!