Prepare To Hike The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Written by Freedom Strider

On March 25, 2019
Prepare To Hike The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Prepare To Hike The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

by Mar 25, 2019

“Ruapehu, the beautiful maid, was married to Taranaki. One day, while her husband was away hunting, she was wooed and won by Tongariro. When Taranaki returned at the end of the day he surprised the guilty pair. A titanic battle ensued in which Taranaki was defeated.”
https://teara.govt.nz/en/1966/ruapehu-mount/page-3

For those in love with walking and natural beauty, the Tongariro Alpine Trail is the perfect day hike through some of the most picturesque landscapes in New Zealand, and maybe even the world.

For this reason, we decided to complete the 19.4km (12.1 Mile) hike.

…..

We had already converted our car (called Bumi) into a camper and most importantly, our home. We had made our way south from Auckland, and here was our experience with the Tongariro Hike.

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Preparation

Gear and Packing

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Climbing part way up a mountain and trekking across it does require some forethought – surprisingly. Luckily, we had brought to New Zealand our hiking equipment, in anticipation of this hike among others.

The Tongariro hike is located quite out in the woods; the start point is around a 40-minute drive from the nearest town Turangi. It is a one-way crossing, so you start and end in different places.

There are plenty of shuttles allowing you to park your car at the end (in a secure car park), and then you are driven to the start and walk back to your car – it gives you an incentive, otherwise, you will be stranded out on the volcanic plateau overnight.

This is the cheapest way to do it, around $30 NZD per person. Local Maori families often own these companies (since they own the National Park) and so the money you pay often goes back into maintaining the national park.

You can also get shuttles to drop you off and pick you up from nearby towns like Turangi or Taupo, but these are more expensive. We used: https://www.tongariroexpeditions.com/

As we mentioned, our accommodation was our car and thus, we simply decided to park our car at the endpoint in a secure carpark, get driven to the start and walk back to it. This was amazing because we didn’t have to deal with hotels, transfers and waking up excessively early – it gave us the freedom and flexibility to just go ahead and do this.

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Gear and Packing

Gear and Packing

What should I take?
  • Walking Boots or shoes. Or at least walking trainers, but ankle support is essential for this walk…aka not flip flops.
  • Anything but jeans. Jeans are not suitable for this. Walking trousers are best, but anything flexible and non-restricting are good.
  • Layers. I don’t care if it is 30°C at the base, you will be cold if you don’t bring layers. Wind can easily drop the ‘real feel’ temperature by 10°C. Also, the weather can shift very quickly, so bring layers: Jumper, jacket, waterproof etc…
  • Food and Drink. It’s an 8-hour walk, you will be hungry and surprisingly, there are no shops or water refill stations (and most of the volcano streams aren’t drinkable).
  • A Rucksack. To put your extra layers and lunch inside of.
  • A fully charged phone. Usually, there are many people doing the hike but having a phone in case of emergency is always a good idea. Take a power bank if you have one. The Mountain Rescue number is 111; ask for Mountain Rescue, if you or someone gets into trouble.
  • Sun cream & sunglasses. Even during winter, if it is a cloudless day sunburn can still happen, and with snow on the ground, the glare could require sunglasses. If it’s summer, this is pretty self-explanatory.

New Zealand DoC website has a great page about preparing for the crossing linked here.

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Okay I’m Ready To Go

Gear and Packing

WAIT!

Before you go, check the weather! The Tongariro hike is a mountain pass /active volcano (technically it’s in the crater of a super volcano which could wipe out humanity if it explodes, but let’s just put that to one side). Make sure that you check the weather, wind speed and activeness of the volcano.

How does one do that?

Answer: The i-Site located in nearby Taupo has a chart inside documenting the weather conditions on the crossing and will have warnings if it deems it too dangerous or unwise to make the crossing. Also, the shuttles often don’t run when hiking the trail is dangerous – check their terms and conditions for their refund policies in such cases.

Check this before booking anything! The weather report has a 2-3 day advance accuracy.

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The Hike

Gear and Packing

WAKE UP EARLY!

Most shuttles will offer rides to get you to the start point by around 7-9am and considering it is an eight-hour walk, this is about right. Also, be aware that if you reach the end of the trail after 5pm, there is a high chance you will have to walk to the carpark where your vehicle is and that can be 1-3km extra, as the last shuttle buses leave around 5pm. 1-3km might not sound like much from the comfy chair you are resting in now (I know you are feeling invincible) but after 8-9 hours and 19.4km, it just might bother you.

That means waking up early and getting all your gear packed the night before. We did all this, parked in a nearby campsite and went to sleep early.

The next morning, we woke up at 5am, cooked a decent breakfast of sausage and eggs in our car (saving some for the walk), and got changed.

Before arriving at the meeting point for the shuttle, you have to do two things: Have a decent breakfast, and go to the toilet before leaving for the shuttle bus…trust me. There are only a few toilets along the route and you can guarantee each of them, including the one at the start, will have a massive queue. Also, peeing in the bush is a) a big no-no in the national park. b) There aren’t many high bushes to hide in from the river of people walking past you. And c) if you happen to find a cosy bush the chances are that the people on the mountain can still see you from above even if the path is out of sight.

Once you are at the start point, take a few minutes to get yourself set, checking you have everything, and off you go – get stuck in and create some beautiful scenic memories.

Describing the walk in words is not possible, so here video gallery for you to peruse.

Some EXTRA advice we would give you:
  • The walk will take a minimum of 8 hours. That gives an average speed of around 2.5km/hr, but with breaks, climbing and a queue of humans along the tough bits, it will take this long.
  • Do not litter – that includes food waste and human waste. It is quite a barren landscape so things do not decompose easily and the environment is very fragile. There are toilets every 2 hours or so along the route (yes, this is not enough for the number of people, so hope you have a strong bladder or just love queues). This is a sacred national park held by the local Maori people and they wish to keep it clean.
  • Charge all your batteries and memory cards for plenty of pictures.
  • Carry around 2L of a water per person; it is a long day, trust me, you will need it.
  • The final descent is deceptive; the zigzagging back down the hill will take three hours. Since it’s nothing but shrubs and stone, and you know the endpoint is within sight, it’s painful.

After the gruelling final stage, we just caught the last shuttle, which took us 700m down a dirt road to the carpark where we finally stumbled into our car.

This was the best feeling – not only did we complete the walk, but the instant gratification of being at home straight away was beautiful – we could get changed, cook dinner if we wanted, take a nap, anything we wanted. This is all because we classified Bumi, our car, as our home.

It is hard to describe until you experience it.

No waiting to stumble into a hotel room, no bumpy 40-minute bus ride back to our accommodation – straight into our car seats…and then straight to Burger King because we were hungry and did not want to cook.

This was our experience of Tongariro; one of the best hikes we have done to date.

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