A Lazy Girl’s Guide to the Tongariro Crossing

The tongariro crossingThe Tongariro Crossing is one of the most popular and celebrated walks in New Zealand and has been given the title of the country’s best one day hike. The views of the volcanic landscape are breathtaking and draw thousands of people to the 19.4km track. But is it for everyone? As a fairly unfit person, that’s what I wanted to find out.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to exercise. I play a lot of sport and can sometimes be found at the gym (almost an equal number of times as I can be found at the takeaway next door) so I’d normally say that my fitness is that of an above average human, but the idea of walking up hills is a big no from me. I don’t know why, but I can happily run after a ball or on a treadmill for hours (ok, minutes), but put me on a hill and I really struggle.

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The Crossing was something I really wanted to do in New Zealand so I set out to find some blog posts about other people’s experiences to see if I could do it and could not find a negative word about the trek. I even found a lot of stuff about people doing it with their kids and grandparents All confident in my ability to walk that walk, I headed off, and this is what I found.

My Experience

The first struggle of the day was waking up at 5am. The shuttles from Taupo to the crossing usually leave around 5.30am. Yay. After a short bus nap, we were ready to walk! The first hour or so went pretty quickly. The barren landscape was strangely beautiful and the beginning of the track was pretty flat and easy. “I’m gonna ace this,” I was thinking to myself, standing in the shadow of Mt Doom (real name Mt Ngauruhoe). LOL. The first clue to what was coming was a sign asking you assess your physical fitness and to turn back if you don’t think you’re up to it. As a woman, tired from the flat walk, slumped over the sign, I thought that I was of course fit enough. I’m a 21 year old athlete.

Again, LOL.

The following hour was possibly the hardest hour of my life. Consistent, steep uphill paths and steps stretched ahead. 2 minute breaks, broken up by 30 seconds of walking became the norm. It was pretty much hell (hence the name, the Devil’s Staircase). The only positive though was the guilt free eating that occurred every few minutes. The view from the top was worth it though. Or at least, time has numbed the pain so it seems worth it. A huge volcanic crater waits for you, the perfect place to stop for a longer break for even more food.

Tongariro
The next step is to decide whether or not you want to climb Mt Doom. It takes around 2 extra hours, is incredibly steep and is made entirely from crumbling gravel. So for me it was a no. But my boyfriend went up while I sat at the bottom, you guessed it, eating. He raced up and down, which made me feel pretty bad about myself, but I appreciated not being made to wait for too long. During my snack break, I heard a tour guide tell her group that there were no more stairs, so we were pretty excited to plod on.

The guide did not lie. But she was not entirely truthful either as on the other side on the ridge I was sat on was another steep hill. No steps, no. Just a big steep hill. The path to the summit. After another hour of hell (maybe, I lost all sense of time), we arrived at the top. The summit of the Crossing. The iconic view. Over the other side of the summit were the Emerald Lakes. The reason most people visit Tongariro in the first place. They didn’t disappoint. It’s weird how quickly your mood can change from ‘this place is hell on Earth’ to ‘this is the most beautiful pace in the world, I love it here’.


We were maybe 4 hours in at this point. 4 hours spent wishing for a bit of down to go with all of the up. Well my wishes were granted. The road to the lakes was basically a vertical gravel slide. It was more like skiing than walking. People were hitting the deck wherever you looked, which would’ve been pretty funny if you weren’t incredibly aware of how easy it would be for that to be you.

Recommendation: Go down sideways. Most valuable advice I’ve ever been given.

Honestly, once you’re at the lakes, the hard part is finally over. The rest is about endurance. We took about 6.5 hours to finish the Crossing is you take off the Mt Doom time. The last 3 hours involve a winding path through fields and forest. Not particularly challenging, if you hadn’t already been walking for hours. It all blurred into one after a while. The last hour added exactly nothing to my experience. We spent the whole time thinking we were there, only to find another stretch of path leading deeper into the trees. So close but so far.


But hey, I did it! I made it to the end, quicker that average, and didn’t break any bones or die in the process. I think I’m gonna put that in the success column.

Can You Do the Crossing?

Well, can you walk 19.4km and be on your feet for 8hrs? Only you can really answer that. What I can tell you is, the amount of tourists that do the crossing, and the solely positive reviews I’ve seen, gave me the impression that it would be pretty easy. It isn’t.

THIS WALK IS HARD

I’m not trying to put you off, in fact, I think it’s a great challenge and well worth doing. I think it’s possible for anyone to complete but you have to be realistic. As I said, I’m no stranger to sport and exercise, but I really struggled. Don’t expect to have a nice time doing the trek if you don’t have an active background. If you’re of a lower fitness level, maybe do a little training beforehand. It’ll definitely make a difference and make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable. You can break as much as you like, so anyone can get there with a little will power!

Which Route?

The crossing joins Mangatepopo in the Ruapehu region to Ketetahi Hot Springs and can be walked in either direction. The most popular is from Mangatepopo to Keteahi. Mangatepopo sits at a higher altitude so this route involves less steep climbing. It also lets you climb Mt Doom closer to the start of the trek while you’re still feeling fresh.

One bonus of the Keteahi route is that you get the boring bush walk out of the way first, emerging from the greenery into the volcanic landscape. I think overall though, it’s better to go with the crowds. It’s so busy, the walk is basically like a trail of ants, and the paths are narrow in places. You don’t want to be walking against the flow.

Because it is a crossing and not a loop, you’ll have to arrange shuttles. Book Me sometimes has good deals if you book far enough in advance, but you can usually book through your hostel.

Mt Doom


Whether or not you should climb Mt Doom is a big question, mainly for younger climbers. Our shuttle driver asked who’d be going to the summit and most of the adults looked blankly while Mt Doom is a hot topic in hostel dorms. From the photos I’ve seen, the surrounding view is pretty similar to that of the crossing. The only bonus is the crater. A guide was telling me that it’s horrible to get up and even worse to get down. The only reason people seem to go up is because of the Lord of the Rings connection. For me, that’s not a good enough reason, but for many it is. It’s recommended that only extremely fit people attempt it so keep that in mind.

There is another optional mountain, Mt Tongariro, which is supposed to be a much easier walk and a nicer view. I would’ve loved to go up this but you realistically only get to do one, and Lord of the Rings won with the rest of the group.

What to Take

  • Water: There’s no fresh water up there so you need to take at least 1.5 litres per person.
  • Food: I did a lot of eating up there but remember, you have to carry everything. I took a small pizza and 3 sandwiches as well as a large bar of chocolate and didn’t eat it all. Pete, on the other hand, had read that you need an extra 2000 calories doing the trek so brought at least 9 sandwiches as well as other snacks. He did not need 9 sandwiches.
  • Layers: I’m pretty sure I was both the hottest and coldest I’ve ever been on this walk. Dress accordingly.
  • Sun Cream: You’re outside in New Zealand, therefore you need sun cream.
  • Walking Boots: Don’t be that idiot in Converse sliding down the hill on their arse.
  • Phone: 1. In case of emergency 2. We didn’t take a big camera because of the weight so our phones were incredibly useful. Also good for music in the last few, dull hours.

Have you done the Tongariro Crossing? Tell me about your experience below!

Katie x

 

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15 Comments

  1. April 1, 2017 / 3:53 am

    That was an awesome adventure! New Zealand is definitely on my list of places to visit.

    • katieackerley
      April 1, 2017 / 3:55 am

      It’s definitely worth the trip!

  2. April 1, 2017 / 5:44 am

    that sounds horrible and wonderful equally! we are planning to visit new zealand and after reading your post I know that we definitely won’t do this trek 🙂 luckily we are traveling with two kids and our 6 year old will make the perfect excuse to not admit that it will be me who is not fit ❤

    • katieackerley
      April 1, 2017 / 9:25 am

      Hahaha! Yeah it’d definitely be a challenge with kids! New Zealand is an amazing place though so you won’t be short of beautiful things to see!

  3. April 1, 2017 / 5:49 am

    I’m SO jealous!!
    I had a hike booked that was cancelled due to weather. I was so disappointed as I’m a huge LOTR fan.

    The photos are beautiful!

    • katieackerley
      April 1, 2017 / 9:23 am

      Thank you! We were so lucky with the weather.

  4. April 1, 2017 / 5:55 am

    Mount Doom looks like somewhere I’d like to be. What season is this? i’m loving that there is no one around in any of your photos, but that’s probably partly due to the fact that it’s quite a difficult HIKE! CHEERS!

    • katieackerley
      April 1, 2017 / 9:22 am

      It was the end of summer when we did it but it still ranged from freezing to boiling because of the changing altitude. There were actually loads of people but so much space to get good pics!

  5. Laia
    April 1, 2017 / 7:52 am

    It was very interesting to read your experience because it was the same for me. For days I hesitated if going or not, because I really wanted to do it but I never do any sport (aside from walking a lot) so 19km up and down seemed like too much for me.
    At the end it was hard, it was a challenge, but I did it (in about 7 hours, I think, and I didn’t go to Mt Doom either) and it was worth it.

    • katieackerley
      April 1, 2017 / 9:23 am

      So glad someone else felt the same as me!

  6. April 1, 2017 / 9:38 am

    what an amazing adventure you had there. your photos show how incredibly rewarding the climb was!

  7. April 1, 2017 / 9:57 am

    I just did it last week! You had a much sunnier day than I did. I thought it was a great hike and most of the views were amazing, but your pics show why it’s called one of the best day hikes in NZ! I’m pretty active so while the Devil’s Staircase was definitely tough, I didn’t think it was THAT bad. Have you done Mueller’s Hut at Mount Cook? I thought that was WAY harder! Thanks for sharing!

  8. April 1, 2017 / 10:05 am

    The crater lake looks beautiful enough without even climbing Mount Doom. You and your partner remind me of my partner and I, he’s super fit whilst I’m always eating!

  9. April 1, 2017 / 7:50 pm

    As a disaster prone hiker myself I loved reading this! I really appreciate your honesty about the difficulty of the hike. Somehow the only people who ever write about hikes seem to be ultrafit super hikers. I read up in the Inca Trail for months before we attempted it. Everyone from grandmothers to 10 year Olds were like “this is no big deal, anyone can do it!” I figured hey I hike every weekeend, it should be no problem. Holy f***king sh*t was I wrong. We literally had to turn back on the second day. Even 9 sandwiches wouldn’t have helped me ! Lol. So keep the honest hike reviews coming!

  10. April 1, 2017 / 10:00 pm

    Thank you for your honesty! Thinking of doing this walk soon so it’s good to know what I’m getting myself into 😁

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