Fondest memory: From the Ketetahi hut you still have approximately two hours to go before you reach the end of the Crossing and the pick up point. For a while you are on a track which zig zags down the mountainside through tall grasses, then the last part of the track takes you through an area of native bush. If you are lucky enough to be doing the Crossing on a fair weather day, this wooded section of the walk offers some welcome shade from the afternoon sun. The track follows the course of a busy, bubbling stream and all around you are lush green trees and ferns ~ a real contrast from the almost barren volcanic landscape previously.
One thing I definitely hadn't expected to find on the Tongariro Crossing was public toilet facilities! But I guess with so many people now doing the crossing it is important the environment is properly protected. There are basic and environmentally friendly toilet facilities at two points along the walk. The first one is just before the first ascent at the Mangatepopo end, the one pictured here is at the Ketatahi Hut, about two hours before you reach the end of the walk. There is a third at the end of the walk at the Ketetahi carpark. As I said they are basic but relatively clean and airy and very welcome.
Incidentally, the hut here provides those walkers incorporating the Tongariro Crossing into a longer hike, such as the three-day 'round the mountain' walk with some basic accommodation.
A lot of the walk takes you across alpine areas filled with tiny alpine plants. With so much grandeur and dramatic landscape to see it would be easy to miss out on some of the tiny blossoms close to your feet.
Take time to have a look at them. We were there during the early part of March (late summer) and we saw many tiny white blossoms, some with delicate lines of pale pink and blue on the petals. It's incredible to think that anything grows at all in this environment but these little plants and some grasses were growing in abundance.
Watch out for them on the early part of the walk and again after you descend from the last great crater and walk down through meadows of tussock grasses.
Remember, this is a volcanic landscape that you are walking in. In fact the three mountains that make up the Tongariro Group - Tongariro, Ngaurahoe and Rhuapehu - are all still classed as active. Ngauruhoe is technically the active vent now for Tongariro.
As you look around, some of the molten lava formations seem to hold strange shapes. I loved this one - to me it looked like a huge reptile, maybe a fiery dragon - appropriate maybe for what was once a fiery mountain.
The Emerald Lakes were my favourite part of the day. They are explosion craters that are now filled with sulphurous, mineral laden water which is what gives them their incredible colour.
You first see the lakes after climbing up a ridge away from Red Crater and the descent down to them looks very steep. In actual fact the descent IS very steep but the track is thick ash and loose scoria, so as you dig your feet into it you feel surprisingly secure. I don't much like heights with sheer drops, but once I got going, I was fine on this path, and anyway, the views are just delicious!
Remember, dig your feet in with the heels flat, that way you get a better grip with your boots.
Red Crater is a magnificent sight with some incredible colours ~ rich reds, deep browns, soft grey and even white. This is a deep, wide crater, and you can see a huge rupture in the side of the crater, presumably from some long distant explosion. If you look out beyond the crater you can see the faint line of the Desert Road in the distance, or you can take a side track and complete the short walk to Tongariro's actual summit (6,487ft / 1,978m).
Beware, this is also where the wind can be blowing its strongest!
As we made the first part of the day's climb, we turned and realised that far in the distance the snow capped peak of Mount Taranaki (Mount Egmont) was clearly visible through the top of the cloud layer (unfortunately you can't make it out in this photo, but it is there!). I realised then that we hadn't even done a great deal of climbing and yet already we were pretty high up!
By this stage, a number of other walkers had caught us up, and passed us as we stopped to admire the view. That was when I realised that so many people were intent on doing the Crossing but missing out on some of the less obvious sights. So please, do stop, look around you and out to the distance, because there are some amazing views to be had.
Fondest memory: The Department of Conservation have put new board walks along parts of the Crossing. At first I wondered about these...it struck me as looking very out of place in such a 'raw' environment. Then I realised that the numbers of people doing the crossing nowadays are placing that environment very much at risk. These board walks protect the fragile alpine areas by keeping those tramping feet away from delicate leaves and tiny flowers. So do please keep to the board walks and pathways.
By starting early not only do you miss the majority of other walkers starting out but you get to greet the dawn and see your surroundings come to life with the light. You may be lucky and see a beautiful painted sunrise, with streaks of rosy pink across a new blue sky.
An early start also means that you have more of the day to complete the trek in. There are so many outstanding photo opportunities that it's nice to be able to take your time. And hey, what's the rush?
The Turangi Visitors Centre (i-Site) is one of two places you can purchase hut tickets if you are planning to stay in a DOC hut in Tongariro National Park. It is also a good place to go for information on the weather on the mountain.
Other than those specific things, they can help with accommodation and activity advice in the area. We found them most helpful!
There are computers with Internet access on site for a fee also.
Phone:+64 7 386 8999
Fondest memory: The Ketetahi Springs are, regretably, out of bounds, as they are on private land and a Department of Conservation sign clearly informs you that you are required to keep to the marked track. You do, however, pass right by them and you can watch clouds of steam billow out from the fissure in the hillside and see more rich red colours and slate greys in the rocks around the spring.
If you are planning to do any of the walks or hikes in the region then you should pay a trip to the Whakapapa Visitors Centre. It is located directly behind the Grand Chateau in Whakapapa.
The centres hours are:
Summer: 8am to 6pm in the summer (October – March)
Winter: 8am to 5pm in the winter (April – September).
You can buy hut tickets here, get weather and ski reports, buy film, maps etc. There are also displays and shows on the volcanic region.