The Tongariro Crossing – An 18km hike across snow and ice

Do we? Don’t we? Was the question for days before we decided, at $160 NZD it wasn’t the cheapest activity and considering it was just a guided walk and equipment I was paying for, was it worth it? Having finished the walk, I now wonder why we even questioned it.

AMAZING, AMAZING, AMAZING!

We were up before light and picked up at 6am by our guides for the day. We then had an hour drive to the mountains in which time we hoped to sleep a little more… but oh no. Our guides took this time to kit us up with boots, warm pants, rain jacket, crampons, bags and gloves. By the time we arrived at the start the sun was rising and despite feeling a little nervous we were ready for this. The track starts off fairly easy a wide, slightly uphill walk but after that the easiness disappears.

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The track becomes very steeps and windy with rocks and uneven surfaces to climb over with every step. We made it to soda springs in the first hour and then prepared ourselves for the next leg named the devils staircase. It certainly lived up to its name! We had barely climbed any distance and we were all stripping off layers of clothing. After much effort and struggles from a few people we made it to the top and were rewarded with some views of the first crater as well as the sun hitting us. The day was beautifully clear and we could even see Mt. Taranaki on the West Coast which I thought was incredible. By this point we had climbed from 1150m at the car park to 1660m of the south crater and we had barely travelled many km’s at all! Once on the crater we were shown how to dig our ice pick in if we were sliding down the side of the volcano – I couldn’t get the technique and was made to do it double the amount of times! By this point I was convinced I was going to injure myself, my camera or worse die! Our guide had described our next climb as the most dangerous part and the bit he dreads. We would be walking right on the edge next to a very steep drop. I could not master the ice pick technique to stop me from sliding and started to wonder what I had gotten myself in for. After attaching our crampons on – clip-ons to the soles of our shoes with spikes in them – we set off across the icy crater. We were pushed for time all along this section as there are certain check points which have to be hit by certain times otherwise you have to turn back instead of making the crossing.

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It was beautiful. So white and clear blue skies, I had never been experienced anything like this before – I had never skied or been up a mountain in the snow so the whole experience was magical. We then started the climb to the red crater, the bit I was dreading. As I watched the people in front of us disappearing in to the distance at such a steep height I wondered how on earth I was going to make it. Somehow I did, I didn’t slip, I didn’t fall over and nor did anyone else for that matter. Once we arrived at the top I was very thankful but began to wonder why I even worried in the first place. Greeted with fabulous 360 degree views of where we had just hiked as well as views of the other side of the track. We make our way on to the red crater for even better views including the snowy emerald and blue lakes. We sat down on the red crater for lunch, only to find it hot under our bum from the volcanic activity which was happening below the surface.

At the top of the red crater - feeling exhausted - snowy Emerald Lakes behind

At the top of the red crater – feeling exhausted – snowy Emerald Lakes behind

The normal track then passes down by the emerald lakes however due to the wintery conditions we took a different path down to the left side. The part of the path however wasn’t walking, we all removed our crampons, got on our bums and slid! It took a good few minutes and in this time you gained a good amount of speed meaning a fair few crashes at the end. It was so much fun to be able to go down on our bums let alone the fact it was safer than walking. We crossed the central crater and at this point we headed in to a cloud – until then the weather had been beautiful. The cloud didn’t affect our visability in the mountains although it did affect our view to the ground below us. Starting the decent meant we were back to walking along the edge of very steep drops however it didn’t seem as scary as the first time. I of course fell over and landed flat on my bum, luckily I didn’t lose my balance and fall down the drop too. We slowly made our way down Mt Tongariro taking in Te Mari – the crater that erupted in August 2012 and November 2012. There was still steam rising up from the crater vents and you could see large craters and holes in the landscape caused by the eruption. At the Ketetahi Hut there was severe damage from the eruption and the rooms have been left exactly so for inspection. The hut is located 1.5 km from the volcano crater giving you an idea of how vast this eruption was.

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After reaching the hut it certainly felt like a sense of achievement we had crossed the mountain without any incidents and we only had an hour and half left to walk… little did we realise in that time we would walk 6km one third of our total walk. The last stretch went on for forever especially after we hit the rainforest. I’m not sure if it was the lack of light or the same continuous views but we started to go stir crazy to the point we convinced ourselves we were lost. Which is impossible given there was one straight path! Eventually the path came to an end and we breathed a sigh of relief when the bus for our ride back greeted us.

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The Tongariro Crossing is one of the most famous day walks in New Zealand and voted in the top ten best one day walks – I can see why. Previously I had only seen images of the track in summer but now I can’t see how it could be any better than it was on our perfectly sunny, winter’s day covered in dazzling snow. The views are amazing and it felt incredible to really push myself and achieve something really outside of my comfort zone.

Our guides Danny and Dave were awesome and I’d highly recommend a trips with ‘Tongariro Expeditions’ company based in Taupo with transport included.

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