Tongariro (1,967m) & Tongariro Crossing, NZ

November 9, 2007 / just a hike

After climbing Ngauruhoe and hiking more than half of the Tongariro Crossing in really bad weather the day before, we awake to blue skies... Eric feels too tired - or laxy - and doesn't want to go anywhere. The weather is just to good to pass though. This is my chance to hike the Crossing the whole way. Eric has agreed to pick me up at the other end (Ketetahi carpark) at the end of the day.

The Tongariro Crossing is often described as the best one-day hike in New Zealand. Because of all the publicity, it is incrediblly crowded, but it does wind through rather scenic volcanic landscapes. A worthwhile hike if you can time it right, get good weather, and manage to ignore the maddening mobs of people. The trail starts at the Mangatepopo carpark (1,150m) and ends 18.5 km later at the Ketetahi trailhead (700m). The total elevation gain is about 750m. A side trip to the summit of Tongariro adds an extra 100m of gain.

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Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu from the Mangatepopo traihead.
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The trail wanders in the Mangatepopo valley with great views of Ngauruhoe...
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...and Taranaki in the background.
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The trail is poled all the way.
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Mobs hiking up the steep section leading to the Ngauruhoe saddle.

The trail wanders into the Mangatepopo valley before climbing steeply to the Ngauruhoe saddle. Since we climbed Ngauruhoe just yesterday and I started rather late (9:30AM), I don't repeat it again (expect to take an extra two hours if you choose to do so), and instead continue on the flats across the South Crater. There is another steep section as the trail climbs to the Red Crater.

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On the way to Tongariro, looking back at Ngauruhoe.
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Desolate volcanic landscape.
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Tongariro's gentle ridge.
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View of Blue Lake from high on the ridge to Tongariro.
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Hiker crossing the snow slopes just below the summit ridge.

Just before reaching the Red Crater, I take the well marked trail toward Tongariro and hike the trail to the summit (allow about 1.5hr for the roundtrip to the summit from the main trail). The trail is mainly snow-free except for the last section of the ridge. When I reach the summit, clouds are starting to form, but I still get nice views of Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu.

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Summit shot with Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu in the background.
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Hiking back toward the Mangatepopo track.
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The Red Crater, the high point of the Tongariro Crossing.
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Dropping down to the Emerald Lakes, one of the most scenic sections of the Crossing.
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Sign below the Emerald Lakes.

I then make my way back to main trail, pass the Red Crater and drop down to the Emerald Lakes. This section of the Crossing is the most scenic. The Red Crater is the high point of the Tongariro Crossing and from there, it is pretty much all downhill, except for a short uphill section just before Blue Lake.

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Near Blue Lake, looking back toward the Red Crater.
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The trail winds down the Ketetahi valley.
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Everybody and their grandmother hikes this trail.
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Hikers resting at the Ketetahi hut.
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Inside the hut.

From Blue lake, it's about another 2 hours down to the carpark. The trail winds down the Ketetahi valley and eventually reaches the Ketetahi hut, where I stop for a quick break (along with another 50 people!). Drinking water is available at the hut.

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Views from the trail just below the Ketetahi hut.
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Typical mob on the trail.
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Fumes from the Ketetahi hot springs.
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The last portion of the trail is in the bush.
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Hikers waiting to be picked up at the Ketetahi trailhead.

From the hut to the carpark, the trail first crosses large tussock slopes with wide open views, then finishes in the woods. The last section of the trail is extremely crowded and I have a hard time passing slower hikers. I make it to the Ketetahi carpark just after 4PM. Easily a hundred people are waiting to be picked up by some outfitter or other. Eric is already there with the camper, waiting for me.

  Transport to and from trailhead:
Bus transport: Several outfitters can drop you off at the Mangatepopo trailhead early in the day and pick-you up at the Ketetahi carpark in the evening. Most depart from Turangi or Taupo and arrive at the trailhead around 7AM in the morning. The visitor center in Turangi can give you a list or arrange a booking for you. If I remember right, they charge something like $30NZD per person.
Using your own vehicle: The Tongariro Holiday Park (info@thp.co.nz, www.thp.co.nz) will drive you to the Mangatepopo trailhead in your own vehicle, return it to their property, store it while you're hiking, and come pick you up again at the Ketetahi hut in the evening. They charge about $30NZD for their services.