A great summer activity that you could do in New Zealand is to be outdoors taking a hike, literally. There’s plenty of bush walks or tracks to explore if you drive a short distance out of town, but one of the more popular ones up at North Island is the Tongariro Crossing.
Out of the two occasions I’ve walked this trail, I’ve been extremely lucky both times to get cloudless, sunny weather that showcased just how beautiful the surrounding scenery the walk has to offer.
The Tongariro National Park is the oldest national park in the country and this track is one of the Nine Great Walks of New Zealand. Altogether, the walk is slightly under 20 kilometres in distance, and the estimated time to finish the trail is between 6-8 hours, depending on your walking speed.
Because it is a full day’s walk, I would recommend staying a night before at the national park to be able to start your adventure early the next day; whether you’d prefer to stay another night depends on how sore your legs are after, I suppose.
Here’s the links to the accommodations that I’ve stayed at on both occasions and the differences between them:
The Park Hotel
Comfortable and high standard motel rooms for couples or bigger groups.
Includes breakfasts, return transport to the crossing and packed lunch for your hike.
The Crossing Backpackers
Budget dorms and bunk beds for backpackers or single travellers.
Communal kitchen, toilets and lounge area.
Includes return transport to the crossing.
Even in good weather, it starts out with quite a chill in the morning, so be equipped with warm clothing and a good pair of shoes. I wouldn’t consider this walk to be very difficult; it is quite a distance to conquer within a day, but definitely feasible for those who are moderately fit and active. You’d notice a good number of children who are there for hiking expeditions and even senior citizens who plough their way along. I won’t even mention those who choose to run the entire journey!
It’s a walk that gives you a nice warm up as you start your first hour walking through relatively flat terrains from the Mangatepopo Carpark to Soda Springs, which to me was a pleasant introduction. The next part of the trail is more challenging – an hour’s worth of climbing up a pathway of stairs to reach the Red Crater. I still remember how unfit I was the first time I went, having to stop multiple times along the way before my wheeze got the better of me.
The upside of continuing your journey is, you would be able to marvel at the sight of Mount Ngauruhoe, one of the three mountain summits that makes the backbone of the Tongariro Crossing. If you’re into the Lord of The Rings trilogy, this active volcano is actually Mount Doom and that the national park’s terrain was used to film most of Frodo and Sam’s journey into Mordor. You can also choose to summit the volcano which is an additional 3 hours return journey on top of completing the trail.
Just as you think that’s all the scenery there is to offer, you would be standing at the highest summit of the track and looking down at the iconic Emerald Lakes; an absolutely breath-taking view from the distance. The journey downwards to reach the lakes is all scree, which is why proper footwear is quite important; it is very difficult for an accident-prone person like myself to not fall and embarrass myself, multiple times.
You would be glad to know that the last 5 kilometres of the walk is a gradual 3-hour descent towards Ketetahi Carpark, the finishing point. This part of the walk gives you a good view of the surrounding national park, and if you’re there on a fine day, you’d see Lake Taupo in the distance.