Since Banff in Canada we have been a bit sceptical about doing other hikes as we just didn’t think anything would ever match the beauty of the Lake Louise and 6 glacier trail. However, New Zealand has the Tongariro crossing, a 19.6 km hike that has often been named the best day hike in the world. We had to find out if these claims were true!
It was an early start due to the sheer length of this walk, it’s expected to take in the region of 8.5 hours so we set off around 9am. Unlike most hikes it doesn’t follow a loop, so your end point is actually 19.4 km away from where you started and therefore we had to use one of the shuttle bus services to get us back to our car. The operators really milk it and charged a whopping £30 for a 15 minute shuttle but unfortunately it’s the only way back, unless of course you fancy walking back.
For the first hour or so I didn’t think much of the scenery, it was pretty but it was just mountains and hills (what we’ve seen a lot of already whilst driving around New Zealand). We were both thinking this is nowhere near as good as what Banff offered, but carried on climbing up the steep terrain to see what was in store for us over the verge.
As soon as we reached the top it all changed and we were greeted with a huge crater-like landscape and could see the famous Mount Ngauruhoe to our left (AKA Mount Doom in Lord of the rings). I think it was the colours that were most impressive, after seeing nothing but greenery for 2 hours, this mass of yellow dessert like ground looked beautiful against the black of the volcanic mountain. Towards the top of the volcano there were colourful patches of red and orange and we could even see the more adventurous hikers making their way to the summit. The climb to the summit would have been an extra 3 hour hike for us but apparently if you haven’t got the right footwear and experience, it’s best avoided due to the steepness.
Next came another steep climb to the next and final verge. The hike is basically steep climbing for the first 2-3 hours followed by some flat terrain before you make your way down the other side. What we saw after the 2nd verge was even better and the point at which I surrendered to the fact that Banff had dropped into 2nd place. The landscape up there was amazing, there was huge red craters from previous volcanic eruptions, hot steam bellowing from parts of the ground and my favourite, 4 bright blue lakes which I assume by the smell of sulphur were natural springs. The photos below will do it more justice.
We stopped for a while at the top enjoying the view (and our peanut butter and jam sandwiches) before making the descent down. On the way down you get a lovely view of Lake Taupo in the distance as you walk the never ending zig zagging path to the bottom. You also get a great view of one of the mountains in the distance with huge clouds of steam flowing out of the top.
The last 2km’s were a struggle, my knees were really starting to ache so it was a welcome sight when a gap in the trees started to appear and we realised we were at the end. It was then we noticed we weren’t actually at the car park we left the car at. It seemed most people here were waiting for their shuttle back to their spa hotel (lucky them, I could do with a spa right now!) but for us it was another 1km walk to our car park, great!
All in all though, it’s a great walk and highly recommended. It’s been one of our highlights of New Zealand and has certainly offered the best views by far. Just be aware you won’t be able to move the next morning 🙂