Hiking the Tongariro crossing in winter.
While hiking the Tongariro Crossing the wind was brutal, the visibility was low and the cold was penetrating after any amount of time sitting still. After the first few hours of hiking I waited for as long as possible in the wind and cold for the weather to clear to get a photo from the summit but unfortunately for me the clouds did not break. I had seen perfect photos from just two days earlier but luck was not on my side this time. The cold broke me, my fingers were aching and I was swinging my arms around like an idiot to try and get any kind of warmth back into them but it didn’t seem to matter. Eventually you cleared up a little to give me a tiny glimpse of what might have been but alas you broke me and I started down the mountain.
Once the clouds actually cleared a little the views were amazing!
Personally I really dislike crowds, so as a result I try to do a lot of my travelling in the offseason, which are normally the winter months for most things. This always comes with advantages and disadvantages.
The first advantage for me and the one that normally drives me the most is the fact that most mountains looks so much more amazing when they are covered in snow. The disadvantage to winter hiking can also be the amount of snow, making it harder to hike, the visibility and the cold. But if you can nail the perfect day it is so worth it! The other main advantage for me is the distinct lack of people! I have seen photos of the Tongaririo Crossing in summer and it is so crowded it actually looks like there is a trail of ants heading down the mountain. Where as we had times when we could not see anyone besides just us.
The hike back down past the cabin.
The Tongariro Crossing is basically broken up in to 8 different stages. I read a lot of reviews saying that the hike was terribly hard and people wanted to kill themselves a few times and so on and so on and I was worried that it was going to be extremely difficult but it was actually a pretty easy 20 kilometres. It does have challenging sections and you really want the right gear like hiking boots and warm clothing but if you have this and a basic level of fitness you will be fine. You will also be fine if you don’t have these things and are not that fit. I saw pretty clearly out of shape people doing it in converse and a hoodie with jeans. They made it and it was all good but I can only imagine it was a far less pleasurable experience than it should have been.
The Tongariro Crossing broken down
Most people start from the Pukeonake side because it has a higher elevation and therefore is less of a climb. We did this.
The 8 sections and rough times for the hike go like this.
- 1. Mangatpopo to Soda Springs is an easy walk and it takes about an hour.
- 2. Soda Springs to South Crater also takes about an hour but is probably the hardest section you will have to cover.
- 3. South Crater to base of Red Crater is an easy 15 minute walk.
- 4. Red Crater Ridge is the next hardest ascent and takes about 30 minutes. Red Crater is also the highest point on the main track standing at 1886 m and it is almost all downhill from there.
- 5. Red Crater Summit to Emerald Lakes is all down hill and not difficult and takes about 15 minutes.
- 6. Emerald Lakes to Blue Lake is also easy and takes 20 mintues.
- 7. Blue Lake to Ketetahi Shelter is an easy decent and takes about an hour.
- 8. Ketetahi Shelter to Ketetahi Car Park takes two hours but is an easy down hill the entire way.
Emerald Lake living up to its name.
From start to finish it took us 7 and a half hours and this was spending at least an hour and a half waiting around and taking photos and eating. But they say to allow about 8 hours which I think we would have taken if the weather had have been slightly nicer.
If the weather had have been nicer we probably would have spent most of our time at the Red Crater Summit. It is the main viewpoint and there is natural underground heating as the crater is active and there are hot spots to sit on. On a clear day you can apparently see coast to coast views but unfortunately we did not get that.
What to do if you’re driving your own car.
We had our own car and the hike is only one way so the day before we went into the tourist information centre in Taupo and booked a shuttle from the Ketetahi car park to Pukeonake. We used Tongariro Expeditions. The transport for the Tongariro Crossing from Ketetahi to Pukeonake cost $30 per person. It picked us up at 730am and we had started hiking by 8.
The other option you have if you do not want to pay for the shuttle which a few people didn’t is to park at Ketetahi and walk up to the summit and then return the same way back down. I think the views from this direction are a little more spectacular and there is a bit more to see.
Either way you need to decide on something because we ended up picking up a 5 people that had not thought about their transport and could not get back to where they had parked their cars. As we were shuttling these people back we passed several others walking in the dark that we could not fit in our car.
I plan on doing this hike again, one because it was amazing and two because I didn’t quite get the view I was after. But either way it should be high on your list of things to do in the North Island.
This is supposed to be actual Mordor from Lord of the Rings.
Sometimes the walking conditions were not perfect.