One of the goals during our one year of travel in New Zealand was to do atleast one of the Great Walks that this country is famous for. We went to Mt Ruapehu for our first skiing experience (which was epic) and during that trip we stopped at the information centre at National Park and got information from the helpful staff on the hikes we could do with the kids. We decided to go with the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, claimed to be the greatest day hike in New Zealand and made even more famous by being the setting for Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is located in New Zealand’s oldest national park and is a dual World Heritage Site. It crosses the volcanic centre of New Zealand’s North Island, between the summits of Mount Tongariro (1967m) and Mount Ngauruhoe (2287m). The walk is 19.4km long and is a one way journey which starts at around 1100 metres and peaks at around 1880 metres. There is the option to climb to the top of both Tongariro and Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom) during the hike. Prior to this hike, the kids had only done 10-12k hikes, but we felt confident that with a little bit of training, they could do the Tongariro Crossing. What made the trip even better was that friends of ours decided to join with their 8 year old daughter, which was perfect as the kids would keep each other going!
We did the research on accommodation, transport for the hike and how best to prepare for doing it with children. Most of the lodges we had looked up arranged transport to the beginning of the hike and then pick up again at the end. It costs $30 per person. Some of the lodges had packages where they gave packed lunch, early breakfast and transport both ways. You could also book your shuttle through the National Park’s village centre or use your own transport – although you would have to have someone pick you up from the other side.
The day started really early at 530am. We wanted to take the 6:30am shuttle so that we had the maximum amount of time to finish the hike. The last shuttle picked you up at 4:30. That gave us 8 hours to do the hike with the kids. We read that it takes an average adult 6 hours to finish. I broke down the 20k hike according to how they describe it on the Tongariro Crossing website.
Car Park to Soda Springs
It was really foggy at the beginning of the hike and quite cold. There were hoards of people at the start and since it was mostly a narrow boardwalk the first hour or so, we kept having to stop and let all the faster walking groups pass our group with three kids.
Soda Springs to South Crater
This section of the track, known as the Devil’s Staircase, was very steep – climbing from 1400 to 1600 metres above sea level. We found this quite hard and it didn’t help that it was still so foggy and we couldn’t really see much of the landscape around us. The kids didn’t seem to mind and Shahaar kept going off track and climbing up the rocks and making his own way through the pass. The springs were nice, but after that it was just an hour of solid climbing.
South Crater to Red Crater
This is the point where it finally started to get better, the fog lifted sun slowly came out and everything changed. Lovely walk through the flat plains with stunning views of Mount Doom. The climb was steep again but the landscape was so unique, vast desert, unique rock formations and lovely colours all around.
Red Crater to Blue Lake
And the best was yet to come! First the red crater which looked like it was from another planet and then finally the emerald lakes…we have seen so many pictures of it and none of it does justice to when you finally see it for yourselves after the log hard climb to reach the top 🙂
And then both our phone cameras just died 🙁 Which was a real shame as the scenery changed twice again the remaining 3 hours of the hike. The walk down the mountain was quite gradual, with meandering paths and stunning views over Mount Pihanga and Lake Rotoaira across to Lake Taupo. The last 3k went through forests and waterfalls but at that point we just wanted to be done so didn’t really get to experience the beauty of the place. We called it the never-ending forest, that last 3k felt too long, our bodies and especially feet were tired, toes were hurting and we had to hurry to make the last shuttle back to our motel.
We finally reached the end at 4:25, five minutes before the last bus parted. We fell asleep promptly! Super proud of the kids for completing this hike, was a great experience, I would totally recommend this to others.
Make sure to read all the requirements and equipment you need for the hike, mainly good hiking shoes, 3 litres of water each, sunblock, raincoat, layers. More information here. We had walking sticks as well but our friends didn’t and managed fine without them. We hadn’t really trained as such, we did two long hikes, 10k each, before we did this hike and that’s about it. So there you go, we are now ready for bigger adventures as Shahaar says he is ready to take on the 60k hike where we carry our own gear and hike over 4 days! Don’t know if I am ready for that yet, but who knows..maybe when we are travelling in Australia in 2 months time 🙂