The best one-day trek in all of New Zealand, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, is a challenging, but completely doable excursion for passionate hikers. Stunning views of the brilliantly green Emerald Lakes greet you around hour three, while Mt. Doom (The Lord of the Rings) is visible from minute one. Apparently, one can simply walk into Mordor. Go figure.
Following our time in Taupo, Grace, Haley and I drove an hour to the Tongariro Park’s carpark. There, we were bussed from the carpark to the start of the trail. I’d recommend purchasing your seat ahead of time. We did this at the Taupo Tourism Office, but it can also be booked online. Your morning starts early, be at the carpark by 7:15AM!, and it’s far less stressful to have all your ducks in a row. Best practice dictates that hikers will return within 5.5 to 8.5 hours.
On the bus, we were joined by hikers of all ages, from all different locations—Germany, Canada, Belgium, Australia. This was confidence inspiring as we were a teensy weensy bit nervous. Having read recent reports of the trail’s conditions, I saw that some people had been forced to crawl down portions of the trail due to high winds. Also, crampons and ice picks were involved. Yikes.
In the winter, it’s hard to estimate how the weather will be. Some days are sunny and perfect, with a light chill, and others are freezing and extremely windy. We lucked out with a sunny, perfect day! Although we were dressed in multiple layers at the beginning of the trek, we began to strip down as the sun rose.
I will say, I felt incredibly cool and super granola-y while I hiked. The views were exquisite, and I absolutely adored getting to share in the experience with my sister and best friend. Along with this, I was super proud of our bodies. The bodies that we so often declare ‘unfit,’ or ‘better’ minus five pounds and plus toned arms. Hiking is always a vehicle through which I truly appreciate my strength and capacity as a human being. It’s pretty miraculous that in spite of the many negative things I’ve thought about my body, my brain, myself, it all continues to be there for me, pulling through. That said, the trek is not that hard, especially if you are a big walker. There are only two particularly painful ascents.
We recommend spending the night nearby at the Chateau Tongariro. Yes, it’s kind of like The Shining in style, location and vibe, but it’s great to be near a nice bed and warm food. Depending on how long you take to hike the trail, you may be nearing sunset when you arrive back, so driving through the mountainous terrain as a foreigner may seem daunting. Room rates are super reasonable during off-peak months.
Before you go, don’t just take my advice. Read up on the trail, evaluate your fitness level and your ease in adjusting to altitude. Also, check the weather the night before and the day of. This will help dictate your gear. For the record, I wore two pairs of leggings, one pair of sweatpants, one long-sleeved tee, a fleece, a rain jacket, wool socks, wool gloves, a hat and a camelback. Water is not available on the trail!