Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Traversing The Spectacular Volcanic Topography Of New Zealand’s North Island, Probably The Best One-Day Walk On Earth
Tongariro National Park, North Island, New Zealand. May 9, 2012
Tongariro National Park, slap-bang in the volcanic centre of New Zealand’s North Island, was established in 1887 as New Zealand’s first national park. Today it is a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site which has the distinction of dual status, one of only 29 of UNESCO’s 981 sites total (as of 2013) to have been acknowledged for both its natural and cultural significance. It is probably the most famous of New Zealand’s 14 National Parks, & definitely its most spectacular.
Tongariro National Park & The Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Tongariro National Park is dominated by three peaks, three active volcanoes: Mount Ruapeha (2,797 metres/9,177 ft), conical Mount Ngauruhoe (2,287 metres/7,503 ft), & broad-domed Mount Tongariro (1,967 metres/6,453 ft). In winter (the northern hemisphere’s summer) the park is a haven for skiers, & in summer it’s a haven for hikers, offering some of the world’s best tramps, including the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, reputedly the best one-day walk in New Zealand, if not the world. The Crossing, which traverses the summit crater of Mount Tongariro, offers up some of the most stunning scenery on offer in the Tongariro National Park; it’s never less than spectacular & at its most memorable points sees hikers cross an active crater & past steaming vents & beautiful coloured lakes. I’ve just completed the tramp and here’s what I have to show for it. But first, some Tongariro Alpine Crossing logistics.
Put simply, the Crossing is a 19.4-kilometre, up-across-down walk between two points A & B, points which traverses Mount Tongariro while in the process taking trampers through some of the most amazing volcanic topography found anywhere on earth. You need what I would class as a standard level of fitness & stamina to complete route. The majority of the crossing is through raw volcanic terrain, with sharp-edged new volcanic rock or loose & shifting tephra underfoot. In areas it can be heavy going & at all times you’re fully exposed to elements, which can, as I found, change quickly – at these elevations it can get dangerous & it’s for this reason that the New Zealand government, in 2007, officially slotted the word ‘Alpine’ into the crossing’s official name (until then it was simply known as the ‘Tongariro Crossing’) to better reflect the terrain & to warn the many poorly equipped/informed trampers of potential hazards, mostly weather related (although the route does traverse the crater of an active volcano so fiery surprises, while rare, are not unheard of).
A-B or B-A?
Points A & B are two car parks situated 19.4 kilometres, and some 8 hours walking, apart – the Ketetahi car park (800 metres/2,624 ft) & the Mangatepopo car park (1,100 metres/3,608 ft). Trampers are typically dropped off at one point early in the morning and collected from the other later that afternoon – that’s the standard formula. The Crossing can be completed in either direction – A to B or B to A – but the majority of Tongariro trampers walk from Mangatepopo, on Mount Tongariro’s southern flank, to Ketetahi, on its northern flank, because the higher starting elevation at Mangatepopo means less uphill walking overall. I, however, walked from Ketetahi to Mangatepopo, subjecting myself to more uphill walking as a result. It is said that doing this adds typically another 1 hour to the estimated 8-hour tramp, although I clocked a time of less than 7 hours, 6 hours 45 minutes to be precise, even going the more taxing direction (& with more than ample stops en route for sustenance & to marvel at the vistas). I was happy with this, happy to complete the crossing at all & be treated to what I was treated to. But only because it didn’t look good from the outset. It didn’t look good at all.
Video || The Scramble to the Red Crater Summit
Video of a section of the final taxing scramble up to the Red Crater with views & commentary of the track just walked. Excuse my video skills. Needless to say I’m more comfortable with stills. Excuse my commentary ignorance too – I describe Red Crater itself as “some sort of a huge volcanic crater”. Umm.
Great write up of a wonderful hike. I did the hike in 2012 as well, from the opposite direction. I agree, it is possibly the best day hike I have done in half a century of hiking (possibly tied with summiting Half Dome in Yosemite) but that is good company. The hiking is so phenomenal I ended up staying in NZ for five months.
Thanks Philip. I’ve been to Yosemite but I guess I’ll have to put the Half Dome summit on my bucket list now!