Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Howards Mountain Lodge At Tongariro
Based about 20-30 minutes from the Tongariro Alpine Crossing trailhead is Howard’s Mountain Lodge. Through them I was able to book a package deal including 2 nights stay, breakfast before our hike, a sack lunch and water for the hike and shuttle service to and from the hike site. The trail ends at a different location than it starts and it is quite a ways away so a shuttle service is definitely the easiest and most convenient option.
There are several accommodation options that offer this same service in the area. I normally don’t recommend tour cervices at all because it is not my preference. In this case, I would definitely recommend taking advantage of a tour in this scenario.
We ate a simple breakfast (including hard boiled eggs, Happy Easter!) at 7:30am before boarding the shuttle at 8:00am. Once we arrived at the trail head the shuttle driver provided some safety information to us. The weather was forecasted to be rainy and windy and definitely not ideal for his hike so we were given the option to turn around at the 1-hour mark and he would be there to pick us up. Otherwise he would be at the end of the trail at either 3:30 or 5:00pm. We were also told to not do any of the side hikes and to try to make it over as quickly as possible.
The hike is long and can be pretty grueling in good weather so be sure to come prepared and listen to the locals who will have the best info. There were A LOT of people turning around at the 1 hour mark which was a good thing because things really did get rough out there.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is supposed to be one of the most beautiful day hikes in New Zealand and perhaps the world depending on who you talk to. The crossing is a trail that doesn’t actually go to the summit of Mount Tongariro. You can go to the summit from the top of the trail if you desire. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing trail takes around 6-8 hours and is quite strenuous. It is advised that you pack a first aid kit, waterproof clothing and plenty of layers as the weather on the volcano can change abruptly. The local hotels also track tourists so they can come rescue you if you don’t come back in the evening.
It was disappointing to wake up and see how foggy and poor the weather was because the views are part of what makes the hike so appealing. However, this was our planned activity for the day and we were determined to make it happen. There are not a lot of other options in the area so if you do have to cancel I would recommend moving on to your next location if possible or waiting to do the hike the next day if your itinerary allows.
Getting To The Summit but not the “Summit”
The hike starts out fairly flat for the whole first hour. You are literally walking along perfect, flat walking trails. It is definitely not indicative of the rest of the hike which is unfortunate for those that maybe should have bailed at the 1 hour mark as our driver instructed. You then start to go up-hill quite abruptly for the next 75 minutes. Keep in mind that we actually kept a very quick pace and finished first in our group by far so everyone else was going up hill for much longer than this. The weather also began to deteriorate quickly and the wind picked up to the point of nearly blowing us over a couple of times.
Reaching the top should have been something to celebrate but the wind and rain were so severe that we spent only enough time to add additional layers. We couldn’t have even taken a picture at the top if we wanted to because it was so incredibly windy and we were getting pelted in the face with rain. The fog was also so thick that you couldn’t see anything, a big disappointment. From here you will have the choice to summit Mount Tongariro to the left (1 more hour of up hill hiking and another hour back down) or to skip the summit and continue on the Alpine Crossing Trail. Because the weather was so terrible and we knew the view would be non-existent we decided to skip the summit which turned out the be the correct choice.
Interested in learning more about New Zealand? Check out my other New Zealand Travel Tips & Tricks
“I’ve Got Good News and Bad News” – Mother Nature
The way down from this terribly windy and rainy summit is to literally slide down a rocky, sandy, slippery, steep path. There is no getting your feet set at all you literally had to just dig your heels in with every step and try your best not to fall. In reality, after having climbed up for so long it is a great feeling just to finally be going downhill.
At the bottom of the slippery shale we were finally rewarded for our troubles with the absolutely breathtaking Emerald Lakes. AJ even got a couple photos with slivers of blue sky! The Emerald Lakes are 2 bright opaque blue round lakes that are so beautiful. I had seen photos before and they were a huge part of why I wanted to do the hike. There was also Blue Lake in the distance that we could not get as close to. We only admired the lakes for a short time before heading further down. We desperately wanted to get to warmer, dryer weather.
When The End Is The Worst Part
The trip down for the next 2 hours isn’t bad at all. The walk is fairly easy and if the day is clear you will be rewarded with a beautiful view! There is a small hut where you can rest, sit and eat which feels great. The sign at the hut says you are 45 minutes from the exit, great news!
Unfortunately it might be the longest 45 minutes of your life and also much closer to an hour. The last hour is BRUTAL to put it lightly. Part of the problem is that you are just ready to be done. The only thing left to look forward to is warmth and dry clothes. The steep climb to the summit is also rough but at least you have a goal. At the end it just feels like you are just walking and getting nowhere. It also started to rain much harder and although we were in a more forested part we got really wet.
Miraculously we did make it to the end after 4 hours and 53 minutes of wet, cold hiking. On the downside it was 1:40pm and our shuttle would not be departing until 3:30. Luckily our bus driver showed up early so we could wait on the bus out of the rain and cold. I actually got the coldest during this nearly 2 hour waiting period. I was no longer moving and just sitting in my damp clothes and I got cold very fast. Note to self: bring an extra dry shirt if the weather looks rainy!
We were the first in our group to complete the hike with the next pair about 30 minutes behind us. No one else from the group got to the bus until about 3:15pm. The drive back to the hotel took about 45 minutes. It took me all of 5 seconds to hop in the hot shower. Despite the weather it was a successful day. We still got to see the glorious Emerald Lakes and got a great view on our way down. And don’t forget about the bragging rights we have! We can say that we successfully completed the hike in less than 5 hours!
It ended up being a good thing that we stuck it out and did the hike despite the weather. We found out during checkout the next morning that the summit got snow overnight! All of the hikes that day had been canceled so choose your day carefully so you don’t miss out!