Completing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with Team California
Doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing has been on the New Zealand bucket list since I got to the North Island. And to be honest when I really think about it I am not sure why I was so pumped on doing it. I am a beach person, and really like doing the hikes that end up on a beach or have views of the coast or ocean. The Alpine crossing is a full day hike that starts in a desert like terrain, then takes you up to Mount Ngauruhoe, (or to Lord of the Rings Fans, Mount Doom) then down again through some sulfur lakes ending up on the lake Taupo side of the mountain range. I like volcanoes, but doing hikes through the desert isn’t usually my jam. Honestly looking back on it, I think it was the prospect of completing the thing, kinda of like completing a marathon, I just wanted to be proud of myself for doing a all day semi difficult hike.
Luckily, my good friends Holly and Ryan came to visit Tyler and I over the holidays, and they love to hike back in San Francisco. Ryan really wanted to explore more of the Tongariro National Park, he did a month long motorcycle tour through New Zealand last year and didn’t have time to stop last trip. So on Monday morning we all woke up at 5:00 am to drive out to the National park to hopefully catch a shuttle to the crossing start. Unfortunately Tyler had to work that day so he wasn’t able to go, but after telling him about our day I think he was ok not getting to go.
After 3 hours of driving, we pulled up to the ISite outside Turangi and booked the last shuttle to the start of the Alpine Crossing. You park at a large car park at the end of the crossing, then get shuttled to the beginning so you can do the crossing at your own pace and end up at your car.
When we got dropped off at the beginning of the trek, we were amazed how many people were there. It was the week between Christmas and New Years, so yes it was probably the busiest week to do the crossing, but I could not believe the range of people who were attempting to do this hike. There were older couples, backpackers, small children with their families, tourist buses, and what looked like serious hikers with all their gear. Some people did not look ready to hike 20 km, I even saw some girls wearing sun dresses with their hiking boots….WTF? I am sure that in the off season the crossing gets really quiet and is a different experience, but that day there had to be over 1000 people attempting the crossing. Our first hour, when we were back to back because there were so many people, Ryan made a snide Donner Party reference that made me crack up (sorry too soon I know).
I am not going to go minute by minute through our hike, but overall there are some parts that are absolutely beautiful, and some parts that are really boring and made me question why I was there that day. The first 10 kilometers I think is the best part, as you have Mount Ngauruhoe as your backdrop and amazing surrounding views of the desert, the contrasting colors were really pretty. It is also the most challenging part as you are hiking up hill most of the way. At the end of the first 11 km, you also get to the very top incline where you have a beautiful view of the sulfur pools below.
But after the sulfur pools? You do 11 km of boring switch back trails downhill. At one point Ryan commented that all he needed was a bit of snow and a pair of skis and he could cut 2 hours of walking to ten minutes as the switchbacks seemed so tedious. After the first couple hours of beautiful views, it was a bit anticlimactic having to make your way down for the rest of the hike.
My biggest advice to people that would like to do this hike? If you don’t care about the bragging rights to say you completed the whole crossing, turn around after you get to the top lookout over the sulfur pools. You will save yourself 10 km of what I think is skip-able switchbacks on the other side of the range and a $30.00 shuttle ticket. There is a pretty view of Lake Taupo in the background at the back end of the hike but honestly there are probably easier ways to get a similar view without 10 km of hiking. In fact all my pictures and Holly and Ryan’s pictures are of the first 10 km, we did not take a single picture of the backside of the mountain. I am sure there are avid hikers who will totally disagree, but this is surfseayouandme, not hikealldayeveryday so different strokes for different folks.
All in all I was happy that I got the chance to do the hike, and having friends from home with me made it that much better. Team California ended up completing the 19.4 km trek in 5 1/2 hours, and after drove 5 minutes to Lake Turangi to soak our feet off a dock as they were seriously aching.