Amazing Tongariro Crossing, NZ’s best day hike

Hiking Tongariro Crossing was an amazing experience. The trail covers various terrains, hikers will trek in between two live volcanoes.

And of course we are talking about MORDOR and Mount Doom from LOTR!

It takes a while to sink in, you have seen the pictures in blogs and Instagram, and now Tongariro Crossing is right infront of you.

The day before, I had arrived in National Park (drove from Taranaki and Forgotten Highway). You know Tongariro is special when you can see Mount Doom (real name is Mount Ngauruhoe) and Mount Ruapehu (snow cap) around every corner!

As a warm up, I did both Gollum Pool (Yes, The Gollum from LOTR, also known as Tawhai Falls) and Taranaki Falls , but I will blog about these trips later.

Famous Volcanoes in Tongariro National Park

Before you start, do your homework :

-The start and end point is different for Tongariro Alpine Crossing
-Do not drive as carpark has 4 hours restriction, instead book a return transfer service (coach)

Most hikers start from Mangatepopo, Soda Spring, Red Crater, Emerald Lakes, and end at Ketetahi  carpark

Image from kitchen of “Plateau Lodge”

-There are toilets every hour (or so), bring own toilet paper

-Although some claimed Tongariro Crossing is suitable for all fitness, it is relatively tough. Imagine 7 to 9 hours of walking and climbing with a backpack. (It will be worse with incremental weather and in Winter).

-Wear proper shoe, Tongariro is mountain hiking. You need the grip and ankle protection

-Rain is very common, DOC video indicates 200 days of rainfall per year!

*It was Summer but temperature was still a cool 5 to 15 degrees. I got 3 layers top, and 2 layers bottom

-Research this DOC (Department of Conservation) video (link)
(At 3 minutes 56 seconds, Devil’s Staircase !)

Be Prepared (this blog post is only a short summary, read more about layering, nutrition, first aid kit, and hiking safety tips etc)

1)Mangatepopo Road End (Trailhead
GPS -39.144511, 175.580958)

Back to Tongariro Crossing. Trampers will most likely arrived by coaches. As mentioned earlier, the start and end point is different, and Mangatepopo  carpark has a 4 hours restriction (this carpark is also 1000m above sea level).

You can book the return transfer service through your accomodation or vendors, pricing starting from NZD $40. First coach can be 0530 from your resort.

The signboards provide a Final reminder about the climate and conditions ahead.

You should know how to layer up (example base polyester layer ) before attempting long cold trails. Otherwise internal perspiration might risk hypothermia. (I got to know that for every 10kmh Wind speed, we need to subtract 2 degrees!)

It is Summer, but temperature can still drop to 5 degrees at the alpine ridges (Use METservice app)

Take note of Tongariro Crossing milestones
-It is all uphill after Soda Springs(4km)
-Red crater is the highest point
-After Emerald (and Blue) lakes, you still have 9 or 10km of downhill trail
-The last few kilometers are downhill, take care of your knees

Tongariro Crossing Terrain

You have research and seen all the epic adventures online. Now go and own the 19.4km adventure 🙂

*Do take note the photos might not be in sequence.

Tips. You can hike alone or with a group. Just tag along someone around your own fitness.  Conversations make time pass faster and delay fatigue.

I had hike during summer, and there must be at least 500 trampers (hikers) along the trail!

Follow the well marked paths and boardwalk. If you hike during Summer, the extra hours of daylight will allow you more time to complete the course (and photos)

Just follow the folks infront, it is very hard to get lost during Summer.

Tongariro Crossing
Tongariro Crossing

During harsh weather (or winter), look out for the orange triangle markers.

If in doubt, always head in the direction of Tongariro Alpine Crossing or Ketetahi Carpark (unless you are making an U-turn).

As you hike, look left and right at the scrubs and volcanic rocks. Love the plots of flower beds, I can imagine an explosion of flowers (and colours) along the mountain slopes in Spring.

The horizon looks interesting too as you see the mist and cloud rolling over the ridges.

Along the trail, we will walk between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe. (Fyi, there are three volcanoes in Tongariro National Park, the 3rd one is Mount Ruapehu)

Tongariro Crossing makes us humans appear so small among the volcanoes!  Truly an awesome experience.

Photo below is South Crater, the path between both volcanoes. It does look like moon walk climate.

Uphills downhills, rocks and different terrain.

Interesting volcano rocks and ashes, flowers still bloom in this hostile environment.

2)Soda Spring

It took me an hour to reach Soda Spring (from the start point).

At about the 4km marker (Soda Spring), a Blue sign ask you to assess your readiness. If you are already struggling at this stage, the slopes ahead will only get tougher.

By the way, you should take a side track to visit Soda Spring. I thought this was a detour and skip. This is the mini waterfall which you can expect.

Devil’s Staircase is next. No one is counting the steps, but you will be climbing 400m + to reach the ridge. I regret not doing enough stairs training back home!

I was panting all the way up and must have stopped at least 10 times! There are no shelters from the elements and the gusty wind kept snapping at you.

Take note you are climbing between 1500 to 2000m, do rest frequently to catch your breath.

Reminder. Unless you are super fit, you do not need to lug your heavy DSLR and tripod through Mordor.

As a gauge, it took me 3 hours plus to reach Red Crater from Mangatepopo Hut. (Do google for DOC Huts if you plan to stay overnight in the outdoors, or read my Pinnacles Hut experience).

Climate is a cold 5 to 10 degrees, yet I was still perspiring. Very often, I was so happy to reach the top, only to see another peak ahead haha.

As you walk along the valleys, you can see a stream of hikers going up the volcano trails ahead. Once you leave the valleys, you are exposed to the elements.

I remembered this section as it was near to Red Crater, and I WAS SHRIVELING from the Cold! I got three top layers, yet I felt cold.

As I got tired from the climb, I kept finding shelters behind the rocks.

Some plateau feels like the middle of a desert, others look like craters on a moon. The surrounding is so unreal.

3)Red Crater

It took me 2hr 20minutes from Soda Spring to Red Crater. Infact, the most difficult section for most hikers would be between 4km to 8km.

We know Red Crater is the highest point of Tongariro Crossing. Yet I did not realised I had arrived,  I was just happy to overcome another peak.

Many others were taking photos of the track we had covered “below or behind”. Photo below is mesmerising as it felt like we just crawled out of the volcano crater.

Harsh climate

Beautiful ridge and scenery. You can see nearby mountain ranges from the peak. On a clear day, we are supposed to see Mount Taranaki 200km to the West.

Then Red Crater just appear infront of me. YES, I have conquered the hardest part of Tongariro Crossing.

Continue 5 minutes on the ridge and WOW! We will see Blue Lake before the Emerald Lakes.

4)Emerald Lakes (GPS “lookout”
-39.134331, 175.652704 )

These are three glacier lakes next to Red Crater. The water sparkled under the sun. Green, Blue in different tones, the lakes are the highlights of Tongariro Crossing.

Here I am, in the middle of Tongariro Crossing, a live volcano.
And three beautiful lakes welcome the trampers.

DOC (Department of Conservation) indicates that these water bodies are sacred to the Maori.Please do not disturb the water.

Top-left : Trail leads to Blue Lake

To get a close up look, everyone need to “glide or slip” down the slopes haha. It is mostly volcano ash and I fell on my bum twice. My walking sticks and hiking boots could not defy gravity.

I would not recommend you to run down as some rocks are sharp and you might fall and cut yourself badly.

Once you are downstairs, you can giggle at the balancing trampers as they negotiate a path downhill.

The sulphur smell is strong around this area. The rock crevices and vents are emitting pungent volcanic fumes. You can place your hand near the vents to feel the warmth.

If lava should spew out, we better run for our lives (is it possible to escape?)

Emerald Lakes is easily the most photogenic spots for selfies along Tongariro Crossing. I must have spent 30 minutes absorbing the panoramic view.

Some folks will take their lunch at Emerald Lakes.

Photo above, I am not exaggerating when I mentioned Summer hikers can swell up to 500!

You can still get photo-bombed at 1800m, 19.4km is not so grueling after all hee hee.

5a)Checkpoint (Signboard)

You will come across a Signboard (directional) marker after the Lakes.

Congrats, you have conquered 9 or 10km of Tongariro Crossing. The worst (and coldest) part is behind you.

There are more down-slopes then up-slopes infront (yes, we still have a few up-slopes).

BUT there are still 10km (2.5 hours) ahead of us. Remember the return bus timing? This is the junction where you estimate whether you can catch your preferred bus-shuttle timing

Tips. Walking 1km on flat road is very different from the rough Alpine terrain. Very often, I underestimated the amount of time (and efforts!) needed to track across Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

We would have covered 4 or 5 hours already to reach this point, most would show signs of fatigue after the “Lakes adrenaline” wore off.

I needed a short break again. Gentle reminder, please always keep yourself well hydrated.

TIPS. You can actually browse the “hotspots” or 360 degrees view along Tongariro Crossing from Google Map‘s street view. Try to spot Sam and Frodo’s Mount Doom covered in SNOW!

6)Blue Lake (GPS -39.123961, 175.660667)

Follow the trail behind Emerald lakes to reach Blue Lake. It took me about 20 minute to walk from Emerald Lakes to Blue Lake.

At the peak, look back and witness the trampers cutting across the valley.

Below photo is one of my favourite, it captured two volcanoes top-right. Mount Tongariro infront and Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom) behind.

(You can actually take a side road to hike up Mount Doom too, return trip would be 3 or 4 hours.)

Blue lake is the largest on Mount Tongariro and it does resemble a swimming pool! If only this lake is not sacred or acidic, I would not mind taking a dip.

Tips. Toilets are readily available along the trail, every 1 or 2 hours. Fyi, outdoor toilets in New Zealand (or campsites) are “long drops”. Just a pit at the bottom, bring your own toilet paper.

Imagine, hiking to the ridge, and you suddenly see a queue! I do wonder who (and how) the waste are cleared though. 

In New Zealand, hikers do not have a habit of peeing next to trails as Kiwis do not want to introduce human traces to nature.

Following on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing trail, we will now head towards another lake (Is this Lake Rotoaira?)

But I love the alpine views of mountain, slopes and lake in the background. New Zealand is such a pretty country, blessed with so much nature.

Endless zig-zag down the slope! But I would still prefer these over the uphill steps. These final trails cannot be rushed, follow the road-sign for a good time effort estimation. (example 30minutes for 2km walk)

As an estimate, you will pass by a hut about 1 to 1.5hours from Blue Lake.

Scenic Tongariro Crossing
Scenic Tongariro Crossing

7)Keketaha Hut (or shelter)

Google told me this hut is closed after volcano activities threw some huge rocks onto the hut! (GPS -39.107961, 175.653026 ). Fortunately, no one was hurt.

Bush trail for the last kilometres. We are walking on paths carved out from the side of the mountain.

There would be a forest walk before the end point. Do pop by Ketetahi waterfall if time permits.

8)Ketetahi Carpark (-39.073402, 175.663963)

Finally, the end point after 7 hours! You can hike Tongariro Crossing from this end too, but it is much easier from Mangatepopo.

Tips. When you book your transfer, remember the bus company name and “return” schedules. Tired trampers waiting for their buses.

Tongariro Crossing bus pickup
Tongariro Crossing bus pickup

9)Plateau Lodge (GPS -39.171711, 175.399902)

Hot Spa waiting for me at my budget accommodation 🙂
I book this resort through Booking.com , 4 to a room (bunks) and daily rate NZD $25.

There are many accommodations at National Park (Village), this location is just 20 30 minutes away from Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Remember to greet fellow hikers, we are all hiking to enjoy the nature and company. The memories from Mordor will stay with me for a long time 🙂

Additional points:

*My Tongariro Alpine Crossing Video (YouTube link)

** Tongariro Alpine Crossing photos on our Fanpage

Tongariro Crossing photos
Tongariro Crossing photos

** You can see some splendid Spring snow-cap landscapes from Erika’s blog (another blog here url)

-I book my trip through My Kiwi Adventure for NZD $40

-Tongariro is one of the best hikes for me, check out Mount Bromo and Kawah Ijen too (Indonesia) too Blog link.

-There are more trekking routes around Tongariro, click for BackpackersGuide NZ

-More hiking tips at DOC website (Department of Conservation)
-Checkout some useful hiking videos from NZ Mountain safety Council too

-Lunch was Kit Kat, apples, banana and easy snacks (I would be too tired to have a proper meal)

-You may get more GPS from our NZ Itinerary (eg GPS for Gollums Pool
Taranaki falls)

-Follow my Instagram #SengkangBabiesNZ for more photos

 

ps..
-do visit our Tongariro Alpine Crossing blog post too (my best hike in NZ!) -Our NZ road trip itinerary
-Hike Pinnacles Hut  (Coromandel) for the best Sunset and Sunrise on the last day. Read Pinnacles blog

 

One night stay at Pinnacles Hut Coromandel

The hike up to the Pinnacles Hut (Coromandel, different from the pinnacles in Perth) was filled with anticipation and excitement. I have seen Instagram photos of the famous Sunrise and Sunrise, and I hope the weather was kind to me 🙂

First, I need to scale 2.5hours to Pinnacles Hut, followed by another 50 minutes hike up to the Pinnacles (GPS -37.047568, 175.715745)

 

The Pinnacles can be scaled as a day trip, but I would strongly recommend one night stay at Pinnacles Hut. You can then enjoy either Sunset, Sunrise or both! Kiwis refer to hiking as tramping 🙂

 

On the way to Pinnacles Hut (Coromandel Forest Park), Thames would be the last town before your hike, I enjoyed my Hawaiian burger at Bayon Expresso. I heard there is another cafe selling famous kiwi burgers (Mad Kiwi Burger).

Stock up on your water and nutrition needs.

You will pass by Department of Conservation – Kauaeranga Visitor Centre . Have a toilet break and grab some maps, check out the temperature at the Pinnacles Hut.

There are some pictures of early logging days. If you are lucky, you might bump into kiwis during the hike (maybe 1 in 10,000 will see this rare birds).

After the visitor center, there is another 8km of gravel road to drive in. Go slow as the road could be slippery, contains pot holes and some blind spot corners.

There is a carpark at The Pinnacles trail head (Google for Kauaeranga Valley Road End). The carpark can be full during weekends, many hikers in New Zealand!

Tip : Keep your belongings out of sight, as we do not wish to tempt anyone.

Sign indicated a 3 hours hike up to the Pinnacles Hut. Along the route, you will see more signboards ahead. Research told me to avoid “Billy goat” as it can be muddy.

Many New Zealand nature parks require us to clean our boots before and after. The dirt on our boots might kill off native New Zealand kauri trees.

The early part of the trail is flat, meandering along the riverbed.

You will walk across many swing bridges along the way (should be 7 or 8 ) .

The first 90 minutes is tough.
Uphill was tiring and breathless, and a lot of cobblestone pavement (uneven).

With my full backpack (maybe 10 to 12kg), I took three water breaks along the way. The best decision was to leave my tripod and DSLR in the car :p

This was a tough decision, as I had wanted to practice some star trail. But the equipment will bogged me down.

The 2nd half of the trail is significantly easier, more downhills.

Do take note some of the downhill steps are steep and might hurt your knees. Go slow.

Another common sign would be “Flood Detour“. During rainy days, the streaming water might be challenging to cross, we can use the swing bridge as alternate route.

During dry weather, just step over the rocks and cross the stream.


*Do remember to bring enough water for hydration and apply thick layers of suntan lotion. Nothing like a crunchy juicy apple to keep me refresh 🙂

While we are resting, listen to the quietness, or occasional birds crooning.

Kiwis are very proud of their flora and fauna, hikers should not leave any rubbish along the trail. Even after we leave Pinnacles Hut, we are supposed to bring all our rubbish down 🙂

 

Follow the Orange signs and stay on trail

There is one spot which has has a landslide sign. Do not linger or take photos :p

This is a weird junction. Both directions are 1 hour to the Pinnacles Hut.

Cobblestones and more uphills, I wonder how the early generation struggled to lift the heavy logs and equipment!

During rainy days, cobblestones might be slippery and trails muddy.

Beautiful moss-covered corridors. I had climb this trail during summer, and the warm weather (25 degrees!) was a bit tough.

Enjoy the beautiful scenery and forested pathway. You will bump across fellow hikers, all are friendly and cheer each other on with “Good Day!”

Once you see this fallen log, you are 20 to 30 minutes away. Take a selfie and Soldier on!

I took 2 hr 20 minutes to reach the hut, 40 minutes faster than advertised 🙂
Most will complete with 2.5 hours.

Saw some fit folks trail run up the slopes too.

If you are aiming for sunset, please plan your timing accordingly and give allowance for rest and Hut “checkin”.

Hikers would normally checkin to Pinnacles Hut, leave the heavy bag behind, and hike (climb) light for another 50 minutes to The Pinnacles.

Trampers get to enjoy two more hours of sunlight during Summer.

My first New Zealand Hut! But is this a childcare centre? So many kids greeted me at the entrance.

I was amused how the kiddos survive the torturous hike haha. Three families were there to celebrate a birthday wow 🙂

*Do take note that you must book The Pinnacles Hut before your hike. This popular Hut (sleeps 80) can be packed during Summer. Just go to DOC website, choose The Pinnacles (Coromandel region) and pay NZD $15.

House rules:
-no littering
-take care of the bunk and equipment
-no food in bunk (only in kitchen area)
-no open fire

Do take note that Huts only have mattress. Hikers are supposed to bring your own sleeping bag (liners optional). No need to layer up (maybe max 2 layers) before you sleep, otherwise you will perspire inside the sleeping bag.

Pinnacles Hut look like a chalet.

Well equipped kitchen! We heard from the warden that Pinnacles Hut is one of the best hut (in terms of equipment and general condition).

Pinnacles Hut
Pinnacles Hut

Additional tips :

-Bring slipper along, shoes and boots are not allowed inside the building

-Toilets are available. Called Long Drop, because the poo will drop into a pit (do not drop your iPhone) . The smell is bearable, and toilet paper is available. However, you are recommended to bring your own toilet paper to other huts  (just in case).

-If you are a light sleeper, bring a ear plug. Snore symphony echoes throughout the bunk.

-Most will sleep by 10pm
-There is no illumination and power plug inside the bunk

– Get a headlight. For night toilet visit, and when you are hiking for sunset and sunrise.

-Shower facility is available but I am not sure whether there are warm water

My hiking stuffs

The following photos will show the wonderful Sunset and Sunrise at the Pinnacles.

If you are going for Sunrise climb, do reach the peaks 30 minutes before. (there are many steps!). The orange hue before the Sunrise is amazing.

Although the estimated climb is 50 minutes, one can complete in 30 to 40 minutes during the day. For sunrise, cater extra time to hike during pitch black, maybe go in a group.

First 10 minutes are easy, then steps and ladders !  But the panoramic views from the top are worth the efforts.

Catch your breath every few steps, the vertical steps can be pretty tiring.

Innovative ladders and stairs are bored into rocks. Certain sections might make you wonder to turn left or right, always look for the ladders.

Do not climb over the boulders, as a slip or strong gust of wind might blow you over. It is windy up there, with little shelter.

Waiting for sunrise or  sunset, why not do both 🙂

Look at the tiny humans coming down the ladder.
This Pinnacles Hike is doable and a Must, since you have already hike up to Pinnacles Hut, make that extra effort to catch the Sunrise.

Sunrise at 7am (check the timings).

But I find the pre-Sunrise orange hue more enticing and beautiful. Do arrive 20 to 30 minutes before Sunrise.

The morning temperature might be 10 degrees around Summer.
Look closely at the clouds covering the valleys.

One of my favourite photo, the photographer’s silhouette, the orange horizon, and the moon. 

The Pinnacles Sunrise Coromandel

Jagged hill and range from Coromandel Peninsula. 

Sunrise at Pinnacles Hut wraped up my New Zealand adventure 🙂
Bidding The Pinnacles Hut Goodbye!

I took 1 hour 45 minutes to reach the carpark, go easy on the knees.

I might recommend that you take a dip at Hoffmans pool too (Google map link,  GPS -37.107391, 175.635341). Just take note the water is icy!

Skinny dip is optional, but liberating :p
(this pool is isolated and easily missed on the return trip)

On hindsight, I missed my Bak Kwa (pork jerky) at the top! It would be so comforting to snack on my favourite “energy booster”. Too bad my Bak Kwa was confiscated at airport custom.

Chat with the international visitors, I met folks from Sweden, Germany, France and even Chile! (Very few Asians though).

Video from our Facebook : There is some snippets of Sunset and Sunrise at the Pinnacles

Research and more research.

1)DOC (Department of Conservation) maintains the parks, mountains and huts in New Zealand. Check out their website for Dos and Don’t.

Pinnacles Hut was my first New Zealand Hut and I love the experience and community friendliness.

*Do take note that you will need to buy the Hut tickets (NZD 15) at I-site venues before you hike. And Pinnacles Hut need online reservation beforehand. (get your maps at i-sites too)

DOC Link
DOC Staying in a Hut

2) Backpackers delight and tips. I am not officially a backpacker, but the tips were very useful for my reference. Food, Stay, Attractions, Hikes and culture.

BackpackerGuide NZ link

3)Pouakai Hut at Taranaki (Egmont) was supposed to be my first hut. But I failed to submit the trail (too late and dark).

Otherwise, the Taranaki tarn (or reflection tarn) will be a splendid pond to reflect Mount Taranaki! This Mountain is featured in Tom Cruise’s Last Samurai movie (and Mount Taranaki is also known as Japan’s Fuji).

4) Follow my Instagram #SengkangBabiesNZ for some of the photos

5) If in doubt, just Google. I was searching for the best recommended cafe and eatery in town, and most cafes do not disappoint. Friendly staff, delicious pies and meals. Do read our Google Map Hacks blog post (Tokyo)

There are countless hiking and cycling trails in New Zealand. Love the adventurous itinerary, keep the country clean.

ps..
-do visit our Tongariro Alpine Crossing blog post too (my best hike in NZ!) -Our NZ road trip itinerary

*More New Zealand Photos on our Fanpage album (link)