This took place in Mid-March, close to 2 months ago.
Tongariro is touted as one of, if not the best, day hike in New Zealand. Some even say it is one of the best single day walks in the world. I have not seen many places in this world but Tongariro, lanscape and terrain wise, was stunning. The entire track is approiximately 20km and takes virtually an entire day. Let’s start at the beginning.
John and I took the 5:30am bus from Taupo to the trail head, which was about 90 minutes away. We packed snacks, water, lunch and a camera. We were told that the weather conditions could be highly variable, going from sunny and warm to windy and cold quickly, so we both also brought jackets. Unfortunately, they simply added unnecessary bulk. It was chilly in the beginning but once you got moving it was completely fine. Once the sun came up as well, it was hot.
The first part of the trail was entirely flat, but crowded.
Because all the hikers are bused in, everyone starts at the same time. There were small wood bridges, the trail was clearly marked and well maintained. Too well maintained if you ask me.
After 45 minutes or so starts a steep ascent. Steps. So many steps. This ascent lasts about an hour. It was tough but not terrible. I think all the hiking I had been doing was helpful. The views were lovely. During this part of track did the crowd start to thin out a bit.
At the top of the ascent is the first trail split. You can elect to climb Mt. Doom, or you can continue on the trail. Climbing Mt. Doom adds about 2.5-3hrs to an already long hike. We elected to skip the summitt.
The next part of the trail was steep. Super steep. With no clearly marked trail. The terrain was awful. Think beach sand mixed with rocks about 8-10 inches in diameter, while climbing at a 50-60% grade. I was shocked that this was part of the trail. It did not seem like something an average hiker should be doing. I consider myself a reasonably experienced hiker and fitness wise above average, even so, I thought it sucked. A lot. I thought it was dangerous as well. Anyway, about 3/4 of the way up (maybe 1.5-2 hrs later) we see people coming down. Uhhh… what? Why are they coming down? Tongariro is a point to point track, there is no backtracking or repeating parts of the track. Where are we?
Since we realized we would have to hike down this terrible trail, we turned around.
The descent sucked just as much as the ascent, though it did take significantly less time. Since it was incredibly steep and the sand was so fine that your feet sunk 4 inches into it with every step, you just had to slide down the mountain. Think about going down a really steep sand dune, that’s basically what it was like, with really large sharp rocks thrown in. There were many tiny cuts all over my hands from this part.
Also, since you are sliding every step, you are pushing the dirt/ sand down the mountain. It’s erosion at its finest. I don’t understand how they still let people climb this section. Eventually there won’t be a mountain anymore. Back to the befuddling question of- where the heck are we?
Well…somehow…and it still boggles my mind how this happened, we climbed Mt. Doom by accident. It sounds utterly ridiculous and it is baffling that two reasonably intelligent people made this mistake, but there we go.
Once we finally got back on the real track, the one we intended to take from the beginning, things got a lot better. The next part was flat. Very flat. Though we were pissed that we climbed Mt. Doom, we laughed about it as we walked across the plain.
After the plain was another steep ascent, but this was the final ascent and it only lasted about 20 minutes. About halfway up were huge rocks/ boulders that I decided to climb (note- no one else thought this was good idea).
I thought it was fun.
From there we entered a Thermal Zone and there were caution and danger signs all around, plus the smell of sulfur.
Mmmmm. First up- blue lakes.
Sulfur Clouds/ Active Thermal Area
The final part of the trail was a trail through the woods, what us New Englanders would imagine typical hiking to be like. At that point, we were so close to the end, but that last bit felt like it took forever. It could have been 25 minutes, it could have been 90 minutes. I have no idea how long it took, only that around every bend we were hoping to see a parking lot and it never came.
Finally, finally, we made it to the end, 9 hours and maybe 25-27km later. We were sweaty, smelly and sunburned. My feet were so tired and I got a beast of a blister on my heel.
I highly recommend Tongariro with the exception of Mt. Doom. Typically, even when hikes are strenuous, once you finish you are happy you did it. You see the view from the top or you get to the destination and you think “Yeah. That was totally worth it.” Not so for Mt. Doom. I do not think it was worth it at all and if I ever do Tongariro again, which I would, I would skip Mt. Doom. If my hiking companions wanted to give it a go, I’d wait at the bottom for them.
Overall though, a highly enjoyable hike. Was it the best hike I’ve ever done? Not sure, but its definitely up there.