The Tongariro Crossing is one of the premier bucket list things to do for visitors to NZ, and for many locals. No doubt, being described as “one of the best mountain day walks in the world” has helped. Be warned, the walk was attracts around 120,000 people a year, with a matching requirement for car park facilities and bus links at either end. On a nice summer’s day, you’ll probably be out there with 1,000s of others.
The walk is 19.4 kms and takes about 7 hours, starting from the end of Mangatepopo Road, accessed from State Highway 47, to the north of the Bruce Road. It ends at Ketetahi Road end, of State Highway 46. You need a car at either end, or to get a bus back to the start.
The track starts at just over 1,100 metres, above the treeline, then it’s a modest climb for 5 kms to Soda Springs. This is followed by a sharp 300 metre climb onto Tongariro’s South Crater, with Ngauruhoe towering to your right. Cross flat South Crater then take another sharp hike up to the rim of South Crater and then on to the summit of Tongariro at 1,960 metres. You will (hopefully) have exceptional views over the other two craters – North and Central, the Emerald Lakes and the Blue Lake, as well as Ngauruhoe.
From the rim it is almost all downhill – 1,200 metres of vertical to be exact – to the Ketetahi Road end. Walk down past the Red Crater and Emerald Lakes and then across Central Crater. From there, it is still over 7 kms back to the bus. . . At the bottom there is a stretch of forest as a break from the exposed volcanic rock and scree experience.
The main walking season runs from November to May. Outside of this period, the risk goes up with a high probability of snow or ice. It is still doable in winter, but you should seek out advice and arrange for a guide. Regardless when you do it, take the risks seriously. This is an exposed high mountain environment and the weather can change dramatically. Don’t try it in jandals (yes, it happens) and be prepared with clothing, food and water.
Thanks very much to the Soulsby Family for the pics, and who assure me it was one of their best walks ever!