The Best Day Hike in New Zealand

I confess, I am at least a month behind in posting my myriad adventures in the beautiful land of all things Kiwi.  The twofold reasons are 1) I have been busy traveling and doing wild stuff and 2) sporadic connectivity.

I will continue to have many stories to tell for some time.  However, three days ago I went on such an amazing tramp (hike) that it begs to go to the top of the must publish list.  So without further ado, here is my tale of the




The Tongariro Crossing is not something to be taken lightly.  In 2006 two poorly equipped hikers died on the trail after a sudden weather change.  The following year, the Department of Conservation (DOC) added the word ‘Alpine’ to the famous name to better reflect the altitude, volcanic terrain and constant elemental exposure one experiences.

7:30 a.m. Leaving Mangatepopo Carpark

Nonetheless, many attempt what is described as the best day hike in New Zealand every year and sadly many are unprepared.  The night before I carefully checked my equipment list and made sure I had three liters of water as well as the required clothing and safety gear.  This is one of the few tramps in NZ where there is no drinking water available.

I also monitored the weather reports and was pleased to see that a high pressure ridge was expected to hold over the area for a minimum of two days.  Nonetheless, with no visible sun yet, the morning air was bracingly frigid.

This is not snow; that will come later.


They are actually tiny plants.

The crossing is 19.5 km.  Adding two short side trips, my tramp was about 22 km.  The first several ‘kays’ (Kiwi for kilometer) are gradually rising along a well marked track with the occasional boulder hopping and stream fording.  The dawn twilight adds to an otherworldly look.

Small waterfall about one kay out

Sunlight hitting top of Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom in LOTR films)

Basalt (cooled magma) from earlier eruption

This is a popular track and even off peak season there were around 50 trampers when I first started.  However, I soon found my own pace as we spread out and for much of the tramp I had solitude.

Also of note, none of these photos have color correction.  This tramp covers raw volcanic terrain with three active volcanoes as well as fumaroles.  The colors are primarily caused by erupted minerals and metals as well as sulfur dioxide deposits around the fumaroles.

The sun cleared the ridge and over the next hour or so I shed layer after layer.  As I crossed the first caldera, I was impressed by the walkway that had been constructed to protect this fragile landscape.  What a job that must have been to haul all those supplies up and then construct.

One of several very long elevated wooden walkways

At this point I took my first short side trip to Soda Springs, just over 1 km round trip.


Soda Springs

Unique Flora

Until now, the tramp had been fairly easy.  From Soda Springs the track rises sharply for the next 5km.  This signpost says it all.

DOC is serious!

Can you see the trampers?

Legs, butt and lungs burning at times, frequent stops to slow heart rate, but all worth it.  Reached a saddle and looked back with appreciation at where I had come.

And Where I was Heading

A snack but no time to celebrate because…you guessed it…more climbing.


Yep, that’s snow and ice.

Another stage of climbing, blessedly shorter brought me to an area known as Red Crater.

The colors and views from this point are amazing (see additional photos).  I spend a fair amount of time here just taking it in as best my heart and eyes could.  And then, I began a descent to Emerald Lakes.

Emerald Lakes and Sulfur Dioxide Fumeroles

After another break, as I watched trampers head down the track to the left of the lakes, I noticed a narrow footpath along a ridge circling to the right and going close to the fumaroles.  Of course that was the route I chose and was immediately alone circling the three Emerald Lakes.

After my steam facial I arrived at the bottom and most colorful Emerald Lake.

Well, I could have hung out here for hours; however, I was maybe 60% through the track and it was not getting any earlier.  Another short climb brought me to Blue Lake.

And from there, it was downhill for almost 9 km and three hours to Ketetahi Carpark.

The 1,000 meter three hour descent.

There were two other opportunities for side trips that I did not take, a two hour return trip to the peak of Mt. Tongariro and a three hour return trip to the top of Mt. Doom.  I correctly calculated that I would not have time for either of these and make the final 5:00 shuttle back to the lodge and Jucy.

As it was, I arrived at the carpark at 4:45 pm just enough time to stretch some really tight muscles before the shuttle took off.  I arrived at the lodge just in time to catch this sunset.

I do not want to discourage anyone from doing this tramp.  It was one of the best hikes of my life and I will remember it in vivid detail for many years.  But be realistic and do your prep.  Even being prepared and reasonably fit, I was exhausted at the end and pretty much did nothing for 24 hours after except sleep, eat, stretch and take some long hot showers.

Tongariro National Park, including the Tongariro Alpine Crossing has the unusual distinction of being a dual World Heritage Site.  It is acknowledged for both its natural and its cultural significance.  The land was a gift to New Zealand from the Iwi tribe who saw the act as the only way to preserve an area of spiritual significance.  In 1887 it became New Zealand’s first national park and the fourth national park in the world.

It is a place deserving of great respect.  Come prepared.  Leave no trace.  And truly enjoy.  Here are some additional photographs from this  amazing day.  Cheers!






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8 Responses to The Best Day Hike in New Zealand

  1. Judie May 10, 2012 at 6:58 am #

    Another amazing tramp!!! Loved ALL the photos posted here and on SmugMug~
    Thanks again for the tour!
    ~Much love to you~

    • Philip May 10, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

      Thanks Judie. Truly unforgettable!

  2. Stephanie - The Travel Chica May 11, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    I like the warning sign. I could have used one of those on my Cabo Froward trek in Patagonia 🙂

    • Philip May 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

      Would you have heeded the sign had there been one? I doubt it!

  3. Caroline Söderberg November 23, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    Thats so cool Philip! Really inspiring. Amazing views and great pics.

    • Philip November 24, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

      Thanks Caroline. You and Therese would have loved this one. I hope you are doing well. Looks like you are both still traveling!!!

  4. Dave February 4, 2014 at 8:13 pm #

    Nice to see a different recap of this amazing walk. Good stuff Philip. I did the Crossing in 2012, going in the opposite direction to you (& most others). If you’re in any was curious you can read about it here: Safe continued travels!
    Dave recently posted..Gangnam, Seoul – iPhotography

    • Philip February 4, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

      Thanks Dave. I have been hiking all my life and this was one of my best days ever! I will definitely check out your posting. Happy trails to you.

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