People have legitimately asked me where they can find hobbits in New Zealand. I did, legitimately, tell the first one to fuck off.
So let’s talk about The Tongariro Crossing. The Crossing is a very popular day hike in New Zealand which I’m sure Claudia wants to write all about but as I’ve done it twice and I’m a raging Kiwi, I think I get priority (suck it!). It is 19.4km of volcanic terrain in the middle of the North Island in the Tongariro National Park (often referred to as just “National Park”) between the Mangatepopo carpark and the Ketetahi carpark, just to the South of Lake Taupō. It is becoming increasingly popular with the rise in tourism due to Lord Of The Fucking Rings, and as the first half is basically Mordor and one of the mountains which you pass between, Mt Ngauruhoe, is more commonly known as Mt Doom (mostly because Europeans don’t want to try to pronounce the proper name, I’m sure) it is a must see for any fans of the franchise.
Firstly, if you do encounter any “hobbits” on this hike, what you’re actually looking at is a vertically challenged dickhead with no shoes and hairy feet. Hobbits are fucking fictional. Drill that into your fucking little brains. Rant partially over.
My first piece of real advice is to make sure that when you do this hike you have appropriate footwear. I know you want to channel your inner Frodo and whine and complain that you can’t go on, but you must go on, but you can’t go on, but you must because it’s your DESTINY for 19km in your bare feet, but this is a serious hike and you will absolutely wreck your feet if you wear anything less substantial than a sneaker. I would recommend a sturdy pair of hiking boots, particularly if you feel like scrambling up Ngauruhoe, but if you want to prove me wrong, by all means show that you’re as a tough as a pathetically annoying fictional character, and send me a before and after photo, preferably from the hospital as they stitch you back together. On a side note, my brother has been dared to complete it in a pair of jandals (flip-flops) which I very much want to see…
Secondly, and I cannot emphasise this enough, but start the hike from Mangatepopo, not Ketetahi. There’s a bit of a story here; the first time I went to do this hike my parents had kindly offered to drop me off at the start and pick me up from the other side, and so they asked me to direct them to where they should abandon me in the wilderness. I looked up the trail heads online and, for whatever reason (definitely idiocy), never found a site that specified which was the start and which was the end. What I didn’t realise was that there was a substantial altitude difference between the two car parks and I was in fact going to be completing the hike backwards. I started to get suspicious something was wrong as I noticed there were absolutely no people and that I seemed to be taking longer than the signs suggested (as usually I’m a fair bit quicker than the signs recommend) but what really threw me was that my hiking notes (note; bring a map!) had detailed a section called “the devils staircase”, and if you can possibly imagine climbing up the big descent that is usually at the end, you might understand why I had thought that it was called “the devils staircase” in comparison to the actual devil’s staircase which is a pathetic little ascent at the other end of the hike. The whole walk took a tedious two hours longer than expected (no thanks to my slow friend), and I had no cellphone reception to tell my poor parents patiently waiting for me at the other end what was going on. My heart really sank when I realised I had to climb up to the red crater viewpoint as before I thought it was the optional scramble up Ngauruhoe (although absolutely worth it). When I finally got to the end and saw my parents I understood why Frodo looked so relieved at the end of the movie.
The second benefit to doing it the correct way is that when you get to the Red Crater Viewpoint, everything unfolds at once instead of a gradual reveal of the spectacular landscape. Providing it’s clear enough, you will be left breathless. That said, my Auntie Susan has quite rightfully described the Red Crater as looking “rather womanly”.
Looks a bit crusty to me. Anyway, moving swiftly on…
I’m going to tell you the story of the second time I visited the National Park, which, if you have access to a car, is the best way to see it in my opinion. I amazingly found myself with a free weekend in October 2015 between two jobs and decided it was time to temporarily settle my lust for mountains. I borrowed Dad’s car and drove to a DOC campsite just south of the Mangatepopo carpark (if you do stay here, please pay the minimal $6 fee and don’t be a dick) and slept, rather uncomfortably, inside the car. Somebody else camping there accidentally set off their car alarm at four in the fucking morning, and, taking an exuberant look to the clear night skies, I decided I couldn’t sleep anymore, and came to the conclusion that I might as well just start the hike anyway. So I drove about fifteen minutes to the beginning of the hike in the dark and parked up the car.
It took a moment (ten retarded minutes) to find the actual beginning in the complete darkness, but after fifteen minutes of hiking I was convinced I was going the right way. The sky started to change colour.
As it was somewhere between 5 and 6 in the morning, despite the fact it was a public holiday weekend, there was absolutely nobody but me. Considering how busy this walk can get, I was pretty impressed with myself. I passed the Soda Springs and looked behind me to see if the path was lighting up. What I saw was the sunrise falling from behind the horizon onto the snow capped peak of Taranaki. I, like an idiot, physically gasped.
The rest of the walk up to the Red Crater Viewpoint was as beautiful as ever but somewhat uneventful. I quickly scrambled up to the Tongariro summit across some rather dangerous frozen snowfields I’m sure my father would appreciate me not describing in vivid detail, and had a look around. I waddled back down to the lookout and ate my breakfast of muesli bars and apples and took a bunch of photos. I then turned around to walk back towards the Ngauruhoe trailhead which is when I saw my first actual person, just after 7am.
At this point I guess all the tour busses were starting to drop off people and so the walk started to fill up quite quickly and lose just a touch of its magic. I met somebody who said he was going to summit Tongariro, Nguaruhoe and then Ruapehu all in one day, which to me seemed like suicide, so I said it was nice to have briefly met him and I never heard of his fate again. The sign at the foot of Ngauruhoe stated it should be a two hour trip to the summit. It actually took me about ninety minutes with about a twenty minute break just before the top to enjoy a beer I’d carried with me at what should have been a rather un-alcoholic hour.
While I did get to the top in a fairly decent time, I will mention that it was one of the most painful ninety minutes of my life, physically and emotionally; for every two steps up, it’s one back down again. When I got to the top I looked into the eyes of the nearest hiker and breathlessly uttered “it’s done”. I don’t think they understood the reference… I met a group of people at the top who were all bleeding from the ascent, but we sat and had a pleasant conversation and admired the view. One of them decided to throw a plastic ring into the crater, which I thought was ridiculous, but whatever. When it was time to go down, I decided it was too difficult to walk down the snow cap so instead I slid down on my ass. I accumulated fifteen high fives from upwards hikers in the process.
I’m just sorry I didn’t manage to film it.
As I didn’t want to have to hitchhike back to the carpark I decided to skip the second part of the hike and head back to the car. I was enjoying a pint and a pizza by lunchtime in Whakapapa and camping by sunset at the side of Lake Taupō.
If the sky is clear and you are as antisocial as I claim to be then honestly, start as early as you possibly can. Take a torch to properly illuminate the rocks you could be tripping over on the way, a camera, sunscreen, waterproofs, warm clothing, decent boots, food and plenty of water. There are plenty of tours that leave from Taupō who will drop you off at one end and pick you up from the other, but if you have the option, find a way to get there before they start to avoid the hordes of backpackers and enjoy a bit of serenity. Yes that involves getting up early, and I can already hear your groans of protest, but fuck it you’ll thank me afterwards.
Also, as a public service announcement, I should probably add that it’s worth checking the volcanic activity online before you leave. There are signs all over the first half of the walk which state where the safe places to go when (not if) one of the volcanoes goes off. Also, if you thoroughly believe that there is some good left in this world and it’s worth fighting for, please obey the national park rules; this place deserves protection. It should take about 7 hours to complete, or three endless fucking movies, give or take.
– Tom @ indieroad