Tongariro National Park
North Island, New Zealand
A Brief Moment of Sun on Mount DoomThere's no other day hike in all of New Zealand that is as diverse as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The terrain is so unique, the location was used to portray "Mt Doom" in the Lord of the Rings films. The nearly 20 kilometer trail winds into high altitude through the dormant crater of a volcano and down the steep slope of another. As the path winds back down into the forest, it passes by three emerald lakes, made green thanks to minerals and chemicals present in volcanic environments. Our hike occurred on a day of variable weather. The morning began with sun, but moments of thick cloud cover would obscure the trail enough that the path was barely visible only meters in front of our toes. As we approached the Emerald lakes, the clouds were the thickest we'd seen. But just as quickly as they arrived, they parted in time for us to glimpse the vibrant green pools that lay before us. A memorable moment of clarity and kismet atop a mysterious mountain.
AFAR Local Expert
about 5 years ago
This huge, single-day hike is in the running for the "Best Day Hike in the World" contest. If you're spending time in Taupo on the North Island of New Zealand and you love a challenging hike with unbelievable topography, be sure to give yourself a few days (in hopes of catching a full day of good weather) to tackle the crossing. It's a Middle Earth–esque lunar landscape. I've never seen anything like it anywhere else in the world. This hike is a beautiful day in the pristine playground known as New Zealand.
about 5 years ago
This outcropping is as scary as it doesn't look in this photo
about 5 years ago
An Epic Day Hike in New Zealand
In good conditions, the Tongariro Crossing can take anywhere from about 5 hours if you’re really hoofing it, to 8 hours if you meander and stop to breathe on the tricky ascents and descents. Budget more time if you want to summit additional peaks – though if you’re anything like me, you’d rather eat your own foot than add another ascent.
about 5 years ago
Thinking about attempting the 19.4 km Tongariro Crossing on your next trip to New Zealand? Access to the Tongariro Crossing is free, but you’ll need to have a shuttle to drop you at one end and pick you up from the other side. Shuttles start at $20 and often you’ll need to pay the driver in cash. In good conditions, the hike can take anywhere from about 5 hours if you’re really hoofing it, to 8 hours if you meander and stop to breathe on the tricky ascents in the first third of the trip. Budget even more time if you’re attempting to reach the additional peaks. I’d take my next vacation in Iraq before I tried hiking this trek in the winter, but braver folks have done it. With three active volcanoes in the area, Tongariro’s terrain ranges from sold lava flows to loose minerals and rocks called tephra. From the top of Red Crater down to Emerald Lakes, the soil was loose and filled with volcanic rocks of varying sizes, and combined with an incredibly steep grade, the best I could do was to bend my knees and enjoy the ride!
about 5 years ago
Tips for Trekking Tongariro in New Zealand
There is nowhere on the Tongariro Crossing trek to refill water bottles, so take at least two liters if you’re hiking the main trail, and even more if you’re planning to summit Mount Ngauruhoe or Mount Tongariro. You will need it, even on cool days. Bring high-energy snacks like trail mix and cereal bars, a few pieces of fruit, and a sandwich or two. I always find I bring way more food than I need, but if you have too much you can always share with the new friends you’ll meet on the trek. Since New Zealand is situated under a big rip in the ozone layer, even easily tanned folks need constant reapplications of sunscreen. There is almost no shade on the Tongariro Crossing, so you can expect to spend 6-8 hours in the beating sun if it’s a clear day. If you have any issues at all with your ankles, knees, back – whatever – be sure to take along plenty of your medication of choice. And bring bandages for unexpected blisters which almost certainly will find their way onto your toes.
over 4 years ago
Mountains to Sea
Take a thrilling ride through two of the North Island’s national parks, following historic and diverse trails. The emerald lakes and volcanic peaks of Tongariro National Park inspired the setting of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings films, and the park’s otherworldly extremes and Maori spiritual significance have given it dual World Heritage status for both its cultural and natural importance. In Whanganui National Park, follow the Bridge to Nowhere into lush indigenous forest, coast over viaducts along the Old Coach Road, and cross wood, timber, and swing bridges. Skim the whitewater rapids of the Whanganui River (once called the Rhine of New Zealand) on a jet-boat ride to the final stage, ending at the North Mole where river meets ocean. For an unusual overnight, trade your helmet for a cowboy hat at the Mellonsfolly Ranch where you’ll find an Old West atmosphere in a thousand acres of native New Zealand forest which be explored on mountain bike trails. Discover more about this trail.
over 2 years ago
Into the Volcano: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Often billed as one of the best one day walks in the world, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing rewards hikers that take up the challenge with otherworldly landscapes and stunning views. The route takes in the jumbled rocks of old lava flows, steaming volcanic vents, lunar desert and jewel-coloured crater lakes. Just shy of 20km, with the short sidetrack to the summit of Tongariro (1,978m), the hike takes 6-8hours. The scorched cinder cone of Mount Ngauruhoe (recognisable as Middle Earth's Mount Doom) dominates the view across the National Park to Mount Ruahepu, and can be climbed as a side trip, however this will add another 2 hours trekking time. On a fine day you can see the perfect snow-capped peak of Mount Taranaki off to the south west. The hike requires a moderate fitness, good footwear, and to be prepared for spending several hours outdoors in a remote area. It's worth giving yourself a few days in the area to get the best weather conditions for the crossing. Bus transport to the ends of the route can be arranged from several nearby locations, including Okahune, Tamaranui and National Park Village.
about 2 years ago
Simply Walking into Mordor
The 17 km return trail from Whakapapa village to Tama Lakes is an excellent warm-up for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, and an interesting hike in its own right, crossing ancient lava flows and icy mountain streams. The lakes fill craters left by volcanic explosions on Tama saddle, between Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom), with outstanding panoramic views across the National Park. The hike to Upper Tama Lake takes 5-6 hours return, although care should be taken in high winds as the final stretch of the route over the Tama saddle is very exposed and the ground is loose underfoot. The stunning Taranaki Falls tumble over the edge of a lava flow along the route, making rainbows in the afternoon sun. A shorter loop walk from Whakapapa to the waterfall, through birdsong-filled native bush, takes around 2 hours.