- New zealand
One-Day Hiking Guide to the Tongariro Crossing Trail
We are back for another entry to New Zealand's solo traveler's journal. Last time, we explored the active thermal wonderland, Rotorua. For this time, grab your winter gears, because we are going on a hike!
Let's go on an adventure across snowy mountains and colorful lakes on one of the best day hike in New Zealand, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing including climbing Mt Ngauruhoe AKA Mt Doom from Lord of the Rings. You will see why it is considered the best day hike in the whole Kiwiland.Table of Contents
- New Zealand Travel Video
- Tongariro Crossing Trail Summary
- What to Pack for the Tongariro Crossing Hike
- Things to Know Before Hiking the Tongariro Crossing
- Getting to Lake Taupo from Rotorua
- Where to Stay in Lake Taupo
- Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing Trail
- Summiting Mt Ngauruhoe
- Continue through the Southern Crater to the Red Crater
- Hike to the Famous Emerald Lakes
- Hike from the Emerald Lakes to Ketetahi Bus Park
- Exploring Lake Taupo and Huka Falls
- Further Reading for Backpacking in New Zealand
New Zealand Travel Video
Tongariro Crossing Trail Summary
They don't call it the Alpine Crossing for nothing. The walk is 90% exposed to all kind of crazy weather and preparation are required. The Crossing itself can be done in many ways, depending on your fitness and time.
What to Pack for the Tongariro Crossing Hike
- Prepare enough water (I had 3 liters) and food for the whole day. Pack a lot of energy bars.
- It can be extremely cold and windy up there so 3 to 4 layers (shirt, fleece jacket, shell jacket, and rain jacket) are recommended.
- High ankle trekking shoes are recommended as this is a volcano and rocks and sands will get into your shoes.
Things to Know Before Hiking the Tongariro Crossing
- The crossing itself is quite simple with 3 - 4 steep climbs and it can be done in 6 - 8 hrs from start to end.
- Along the trail, you have the option to climb 2 mountains, Mt Ngauruhoe (hard) which will take an extra 3 hours, and Mt Tongariro (moderate) which will add 1 hour extra.
- If you are going with a shuttle service like I did, you will approach Mt Ngauruhoe first and if it's already passed 9:30 AM, attempting the summit is not recommended as you might miss the last bus at 4:30 PM.
- During October - November, the summit may still be covered in snow and it can get down to -12°C and strong wind.
- Watch out for falling rocks when you climb, I saw a rock flew down at a speed as fast as a bullet, ricocheting the icy surface. Do warn people below you if you saw one.
- Don't attempt the summit if you are unable to see the summit. If it's cloudy up there, It's probably snowing and you don't want to be up there. Besides, you won't see anything anyway.
- Please please be well equipped, as I saw many people didn't make it because they were wearing shorts! For more detail, visit the official guide by the government of New Zealand.
Getting to Lake Taupo from Rotorua
I arrived at Lake Taupo via the NakedBus, went straight to my hostel, the Taupo Urban Retreat and booked the shuttle service to take me to the Tongariro Crossing early in the morning the next day. The hostel itself was ok. They have a 5 NZD hot meal available every day (must order before 5PM) which is pretty cheap compared to eating out. The problem I had was the heat separation in the hostel. They were none! The common area was way too cold at night to actually socialize, the corridor and the toilet were freezing. Since I was there in October, it was not exactly ideal but you might have a better experience than me if you come during the summer instead.
Where to Stay in Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo: Taupo Urban Retreat: 26.00 NZD/night
Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing Trail
We were picked up at 5:30 AM and arrived at the start of the track 8 sharp. As everyone were stretching and procrastinating, I decided to start ahead right away because, one to keep my self warm and two, I had my mind set to climb Mt Ngauruhoe and time was of the essence.
The trail started off lean and easy. There was no point in getting cocky though since I had to preserve my energy for the big climb.
It was the best day I could ever ask for. It was absolutely clear that day!
This is Mt Ngauruhoe. I was so glad that the summit was finally cleared of clouds. I was even more excited to climb when I approached the mountain.
After 10 minutes, the trail started to be a little more rugged but still, it was a breeze to walk.
The kiwi really do know how to create a grand walking experience. I bet this area was way too fragile that they had to build a nice walkway for us to walk on.
Nothing beats the calmness of the mountains.
Here was the beginning of the first steep climb to the ridge before we arrive at the foot of Mt Ngauruhoe.
I told you it was steep. Some people told me that the first steep climb is the first test and if you are already tired at this point, you should not attempt the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe. Thank god, I was still ok.
Summiting Mt Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom)
I arrived at the foot of Mt Ngauruhoe by 9 AM and the summit looked good, so with no hesitation, I went for it. After an hour of climbing up, I turned around and saw the view. I knew right away, it was already worth it.
One hour passed, half way up the mountain and I had to stop for a break. Not a bad view at all.
After 2 hours of climbing straight up, I arrived at the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe, a 2,291 m high mountain that was used as a base of Mt Doom design in Lord of the Rings. I guess all the fire from the movie were all frozen, because it was so FREAKING cold up there. The temperature was at -12°C some said. The coldest I had ever hiked.
Most people stayed at the summit for only a few minutes. I decided to stay up there for half an hour to enjoy the reward of my discomfort and the euphoria of accomplishing something bigger than myself.
"Dang, this was only 4 days into my New Zealand trip!", I thought to myself.
The weather was so clear that day I could see from coast to coast!
This is was crater of Mt Ngauruhoe covered in snow. It was magnificent.
Top of the world! There is nothing like the euphoria you get from summiting a mountain!
Made new friends up there. Can you imagine? At the top of a freaking mountain, and I can still make new friends. That, my friend, is the magic of traveling.
Since I was there for far too long, I would have to literally run down in order to catch the last bus, since, excluding the mountain, we were only at 20% of the way.
So to speed things up, we slid down with our bottoms all the way down in 20 minutes. Yup, those were our ass prints, on the face of the mighty Mt Ngauruhoe.
Since we didn't have time to even rest and eat our lunch, we decided to continue walking while eating at the same time. It wasn't the best idea but we had no choice.
Continue through the Southern Crater to the Red Crater
The sun was shining bright, my body heated up so fast I had to take my winter gears off as I was down on the regular trail. Can you believe it was only an hour ago up at the summit that I was freezing my ass off?
And here we go, another steep climb.
I found an awesome place to hang my legs down the abyss again, this time at a ridge along the Tongariro Alpine Crossing trail.
Even though, the rest of the walk was a piece of cake, the view weren't getting any less interesting. Because of the raw volcanic terrain and the highly active volcanoes surrounding the area, you can feel the heat through your trekking shoes.
Hike to the Famous Emerald Lakes
The beautiful emerald lake. So much diversity for a one day hike!
Can't get enough of this crazy colored lake in New Zealand. I don't even want to ask how it happened naturally!
Hike from the Emerald Lakes to Ketetahi Bus Park
The smokes reminded me to tread carefully in a highly active volcanic terrain that could erupt at any moment.
After 9 hours of non stop climbing, walking and running, we arrived at the bus at 4 PM, 30 minutes earlier than the designated departure time. It was a proud moment for us three. :)
Me, Robert and Matteo were in the same hostel and we decided to celebrate our accomplishments by going out and treated ourselves with some burgers! I ordered an appropriately named burger from BurgerFuel called BioFuel, devoured in seconds and went straight to bed right after. It was the perfect ending to an epic day.
Exploring Lake Taupo and Huka Falls
The next day, I decided to take it slow because of obvious reasons, and went for a walk to the Huka Falls.
I was walking along the lake leading up to the Bungee jump place. It was an ordinary day, or so I thought.
As mentioned on Day 2 in the previous post about Rotorua, I met Melina whom I thought I would never meet again. And out of nowhere, as I approached the open field after climbing the side of a cliff, I saw a familiar face. We looked at each other and to my surprise, it was Melina! We both were so surprise, we couldn't stop talking about how random it was the whole day.
Melina introduced me to Tim and we went on and walk to the falls together, unplanned and unexpected. It was awesome! This is the kind of memory I would remember for the rest of my life.
We stopped for lunch at one of the natural hot spring along the way, and we discussed all the things. A good companion can really make ordinary day extraordinary!
We eventually arrived at the falls. Apparently you can also drive here, but I would much prefer walking, especially with a great company I had!
This was the Huka Falls, just a few hours walk from the town center.
We walked back and decided to meet up for a night out at the Irish bar in the city center before we departed our separate ways.
Sadly, Tim couldn't join us and so me and Melina went out that night, had a few beers and listened to the awesome kiwi band that was raving that night at the bar. It was a wonderful evening and a great ending for my time in Lake Taupo.
We said goodbye to each other that night and that is it for my 3 days trip at Lake Taupo. Next up, we will go down to Wellington, jump on a cruise across to the South Island and enjoy the scenery of the Queen Charlotte Sound so stay tuned.
Further Reading for Backpacking in New Zealand
I’ve spent 5 weeks backpacking in New Zealand and I have written a ton more about my journey traveling throughout New Zealand from the North Island to the South Island that you might help in your trip planning.
Here’s a selection of articles about New Zealand:
- Looking for a complete travel guide to spend one month in New Zealand on a budget? A Month In New Zealand On A Budget - The Perfect Backpacking Itinerary.
- New Zealand has a special place in my heart. It is one of the most memorable trips I have ever done and here are 10 things I love about New Zealand.
- If you are planning to start traveling in New Zealand from North to South, Rotorua is a great place to visit on your way South from Auckland. Here is a travel guide on things to do in Rotorua.
- Crossing from the North Island of New Zealand to the South is an experience in and of itself. See how to cross from the North Island to the South Island in New Zealand here.
- One of the first big city you will travel in the South Island is Nelson which has a laid-back vibe while Motueka, a sister town makes a great base to traveling to Abel Tasman National Park. Here’s a quick travel guide on things to do in Nelson and Motueka.
- One of the best Great Walk you can do is in the Abel Tasman National Park and you can do parts of it in one day. Here’s a complete guide on how to hike parts of the Abel Tasman Great Walk in one day.
- The West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand is not very popular among travelers, making it a great place to go off the beaten path. Here’s a travel guide on things to do, and where to go in West Port, New Zealand.
- Franz Josef or Fox Glacier, a question that has been asked for as long as travelers start traveling in New Zealand. It doesn’t really matter which one you pick as both are a great place to go ice climbing. Here’s a travel guide on how to go ice climbing on Franz Josef glacier with Ice Explorer.
- You must have a seen photo of a lone tree in a lake with beautiful mountains as a background somewhere. That’s in Wanaka, New Zealand and here’s travel guide on things to do in Wanaka in one day.
- Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world. If your body can endure it, you can find it in Queenstown. Here’s a 3 days itinerary on things to do in Queenstown.
- Queenstown is also one of the best places in the world to go skydiving. Here’s my experience skydiving with the NZONE in Queenstown.
- The Milford Sound is touristy, there’s no denying it and you are not wrong to be skeptical but I can assure you, it is worth the hype. Here’s a travel guide on which cruise to pick for the Milford Sound and how to get there.
- One of the best Great Walk in New Zealand you can do is the Routeburn Track. Here’s a complete 3 days itinerary and travel guide on how to trek the Routeburn Track.
- Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand, and the best way to see it is to hike the Hooker Valley trail. Here’s a travel guide on visiting Mt. Cook and hiking the Hooker Valley trail.
- Dunedin is a great place to end your trip in New Zealand. After all the adventure you have been through, here’s how to spend 5 days in Dunedin, taking it slow and seeing the city at your own leisure.
- Not convinced by my words about New Zealand? Come follow me and I’ll show you New Zealand in 70 photos.
- You can see all my New Zealand travel guides and related articles on my New Zealand Travel Guide page.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by Pete Rojwongsuriya, the founder of BucketListly Blog where we will follow his solo journey around the world as he experiences different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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