Acclaimed as one of the best one day walks in New Zealand, the Tongariro Alpine crossing attracts many tourists. On a good-weather day there can be as many as 2 thousands people walking the trail, majority starting at the Mangatepopo Car Park on the west side.
Having heard about the stunning beauty of the area we wanted to experience some of it, but do it our way. We decided to combine some walks and cross the National Park from north to south, exploring the area as much as possible. As all the huts and campsites on the Northen Circuit were fully booked we had to change our plans, rearrange the route and wait for two nights before starting our walk. Although we didn’t like the delay, in the end it worked in our favour. We had some rest before serious hiking and the weather changed for better.
On Day 1, we started very early as we had 7 km walk to the starting point of the walk. It meant 4 am wake up, but also chance to admire beautiful sunrise over Mt Tongariro. Just after 7 am we got onto the path and slowly started the long and tiring ascend. The first part of the path was really nice walk through the forest on a well-defined path. There were many steep sections with wooden steps which were very exhausting. After 6 km of climbing we emerged from the forest and soon arrived at Ketetahi Shelter, where we stopped for coffee break. We met a girl from Netherland, who was walking long distance path Te Araroa. We shared coffee, biscuits and some stories from our walks. From the shelter, there are great views of lakes and also of the steaming vents at Te Maari craters.
We continued our walk up the mountain, and started to meet the people coming from the other end of the Crossing. It felt like we were going against the main flow; and the higher the more people. The weather was beautiful and with every turn we could see more and more of the famous landscape with Blue Lake and Mount Mt Ngauruho. Clear sky allowed for magnificent views and great visibility.
Just before the Emerald Lakes the track diverged, and we turned towards Oturere Hut, where we had our accommodation booked. Once we got of the Alpine Crossing we left all the people behind. Path to Oturere Hut was an amazing experience, the landscape completely different of anything we’ve seen so far. Volcanic rocks, steams coming of the vents on the Red Crater and sulphurs odour on top of it. It was still early when we got to the hut. We ate our lunch and went to the river where we enjoyed refreshing bath. We had some time for resting when the hut started to fill up with people. After Hut Talk we went to sleep as we aimed for very early start next day.
As agreed we got up at 4 am and quietly left the hut, packed our stuff outside and ate quick breakfast in the moon light. When we started our walk, the sun started to rise, and we had amazing views of the area and the volcanos in the morning light. We got back on the Alpine Crossing path and started ascending the Red Crater. The wind was picking up and it was very cold. The ascent was tricky, on loose gravel, but the views were very well worth it. We were the first one on the top on that day. The Red Crater looks great and Emerald Lakes are so incredible. We hadn’t stayed for long as we were getting cold. Just as we started descending we met first people doing the Crossing. Along the ridge, over the plateau and across the lava fields and soon we arrived at Soda Stream, where we had really nice and well-earned coffee break.
It was still early morning when we got to the Mangatepopo Hut, some people were only just leaving the hut. We had campsite booked at that site, however it was still early and the weather looked better with every minute, so we were keen to carry on walking. We had a chat with the hut ranger and decided to give up our space at the campsite and continue our walk. Further on we were following the Northern Circuit and had a pleasant walk through tussock grassland with stunning views of Mount Ruapehu from different angles. In the afternoon we got to the crossroad, where we met our friend from Netherland. Following her advice we decided to do short detour and visit Taranaki Falls. It turned out to be such a nice place that we decided to finish our walking day and stop for the night. We also took the opportunity for a swim in the cold and refreshing waters of the falls.
On Day 3, after an hour of walking on a windy, but sunny morning we arrived at Whakapapa Village. We stopped at Information Centre, to recharge our phones and swap our backcountry hut tickets for campsite tickets. From that point we joined the Round the Mountain Track that circles the Mount Ruapehu. The path led us through the bushy forest and then higher up until we emerged above bush line. We crossed the river and arrived at Whakapapaiti Hut, where we stopped for lunch. We continued our walk, going up and down the hills and through the valleys. In the evening we found a nice spot close to the river with beautiful view and stopped for the night.
Next morning we had some more hills to climb, and then we slowly started descending into the valley. In the early afternoon we left the Round the Mountain Track and turned south-west towards Horopito. The landscaped changed many times on that day, starting from rocky ground, through the muddy patches, tussocks and then to the forests. Lush green jungle to begin with, then dry forest followed by high bushy trees and very muddy path. Late in the afternoon we got onto gravel road and soon emerged from forests onto the farmlands. The road took us all the way to Horopito. There, we got onto the track called Old Coach Road. It is old road, which was used for transporting people between two endpoints of Main Trunk Railway Line, before it was completed. It is very well maintained and prepared to make the journey enjoyable and interesting. There were some educational boards at points of interest providing important facts about the railway line works. When it got late we found tiny space and fit our tent between the fern trees.
The path proved to be very good as advertised. We had chance to see some masterpiece of engineering work of late 19th century. We saw remains of old railway bridge, unique cobbled road, old quarry, abandoned tunnel and massive steel viaducts. One of the viaducts was open for crossing and exploring. Next to it stood a new railway viaduct, and we had a chance to compare the old with the new, it was interesting walk, and we were glad that we choose that path to get to the south. Through the bush, forest and later some meadows we got to the Ohakune town, where we finished our 5 days walk.
Tongariro National Park is well worth the visit. Walks in the area are superb and provide amazing experience as the area, being active volcanic zone, is completely different to anything else. We understand now why is so popular, however many people seemed to take it too lightly. They are challenging walks, and the changing weather can make it more difficult, but some people come unprepared without proper clothes or shoes and without water. We were very lucky to have good weather conditions while doing The Alpine Crossing, and we could fully appreciate the beauty of the area.