The first big walk I did in New Zealand, years before I properly got into tramping (hiking), the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is deservedly regarded as one of the greatest one day walks in the world.
As the name of the track suggests it’s an alpine crossing, and should only be attempted in winter or bad weather by those well equipped and experienced. There is no water or food available on the track and the weather can (and often does) change quickly. There is little shelter and your are walking through an active volcanic area.
It’s quite amazing how poorly prepared most people are for what is a reasonable tough 19.4km walk. I’ve seen people on the track in t-shirt and shorts, wearing jandels (flip flops), without any water or food. Every year people get caught out, make sure you’re not one of them.
Most people walk from the Mangatepopo road end to the Ketetahi road end as there is less ascent required, and this is the order shuttle buses from local accommodation will drop you off in the morning and pick you up from in the afternoon.
From the Mangatepopo road end you’ll soon come across the Mangatepopo Hut, part of the Northern Circuit Great Walk.
The South Crater is one of my favourite parts of the walk, particularly on this trip when the atmospheric if vision reducing mist cleared as I crossed the crater.Which was perfectly time to see the three most famous parts of the walk – Mount Ngauruhoe, the Red Crater, and the Emerald Lakes.
Despite walking past it three times now (doing the crossing, and the Northern Circuit twice) I’ve yet to scramble up Mount Ngauruhoe (near impossible to pronounce unless you have heard it spoken). From speaking to others and seeing photos the views are more of the same and it’s a hard ascent and descent, but for many it’s a highlight of the walk.
You then head across more diverse landscape, and pass by some interestingly coloured streams (not suitable for drinking from!) before heading down through some typical New Zealand bush to the Ketetahi road end.
The track is very popular so expect to share the track with up to thousands of people during peak periods (over holidays and weekends). For those looking to escape the crowds and spend more time in this amazing place there is the fabulous Northern Circuit Great Walk, a 43km 3-4 day loop circuit from Whakapapa.For those with more experience and time it is hard to beat the Round the Mountain track, a hard 66km, 4-6 days loop circuit from Whakapapa.