PHOTO: Emerald Lakes on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Tongariro National Park
Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest national park and a dual World Heritage Site. The Tongariro National Park is rich in both cultural identity and dramatic, awe-inspiring natural scenery. Unique landforms, including the volcanic peaks of Ngauruhoe, Tongariro and Ruapehu ensure the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is considered a world-renowned trek.
Many who complete the 19.4-kilometer journey will tell you the climbs can be steep and the weather unpredictable, though worth it in every aspect.
Prepare for the elements. Ensure transport is arranged to drop you at the beginning of the track and pick you up at the end of the day.
Pack and dress smart
Proper preparation for the Tongariro Crossing will make it much more comfortable. There are a few essentials that people should wear and bring along.
Be prepared for all temperatures on the walk. It may be warm at the starting point, but weather changes quickly at Tongariro National Park and temperatures are always slightly cooler at high altitudes. For this reason, it’s important to layer. wear a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, but pack pants, a long sleeve t-shirt, scarf, rain-proof hoodie and hat. You may not need all these items depending on what time of year you visit, but bring anything you could need.
Bring along a comfortable backpack with all the essentials, but pack light besides that. On top of clothing, you’ll need to bring the following:
• water-at least 2 liters
• food-some sort of lunch and a few light snacks
• a mobile phone- just in case something does happen
• a camera-you’ll be kicking yourself if you forget this,
• proper footwear-hiking boots are best, but at least sneakers
• sunscreen- there is no shade on this walk and seven hours is a long time to be out in the strong New Zealand sun
• and a map-the route is pretty easy to follow, but maps can be purchased at Whakapapa Visitor Centre.
This may feel like a lot to carry at the start of the day, but your bag will lighten up throughout the day.
People in or out of shape may struggle with breathing at various points on this walk. A large portion of the walk is on an incline. This challenge is made even harder by the fact that the air is thinner at higher altitudes. Oxygen deprivation is not an issue on the walk, but you may notice shortness of breath at certain heights a lot more often than you would at ground level. Do not feel bad about stopping. Go at your own pace and catch your breath whenever you need to.
Stick to the route
While the Tongariro Crossing is well-traveled and pathways have been cut out for most of the walk, it’s still possible and very dangerous to get lost. Due to the walk’s popularity, most days you’ll find you’re almost never alone. Thousands of people around the world walk the Tongariro Crossing each year, so on busy days just follow the crowd. On days with bad weather, following the route will be more difficult, so bring a map.
Think about getting back to your car
This walk starts and finishes at different points. Those who follow the track all the way through must plan transportation back to their car. Quite a few companies offer shuttles in Tongariro, which cost about $25 per person, per ride. People can also coordinate with other hikers and place one car at each point.
Another option is to complete half of the walk and turn around. For some, this takes away the principle of completing the Tongariro Crossing, but you’ll get to see all the best spots and doing the walk this way is just as long and physically demanding. Those starting at Mangatepopo should walk to the Blue Lake and return. From Ketetahi, people should walk to Mount Ngaurohoe and return.
Watch the weather and leave early
Weather has a huge impact on walking the Tongariro Crossing. The area can be very foggy at times, making it not even possible to see mountains when standing next to them. Some still walk under these conditions. You need to be honest with yourself about whether the walk is worth all the work if the weather is poor.
Your best bet is to wait for a clear day. It makes the walk a lot more enjoyable. Tongariro has its own weather forecast to check when planning a trip.
Once you pick out a day to walk Tongariro, plan to leave early. Since this walk is so long, it’s important to consider how much sunlight will be available on the day you plan to walk. There are no lights along the trail and lots of rocks, so you could easily fall and get hurt walking this route in the dark. In the summer months, people can easily get away with leaving at noon, but on most days it be ideal to leave by 9 or 10am.