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Tongariro Crossing – the hike to Mt Doom

Tongariro Crossing – the hike to Mt Doom

By on Mar 15, 2015 in New Zealand, Northern Island, Places |

Our trip to New Zealand is almost done. While we have a few things left on our New Zealand bucket list (there’s always more to do here) – there is one thing we decided we had to get done – the Tongariro Crossing.   This 19.4 km hike (close to 13 miles) is a popular hike in New Zealand especially since Mt Ngauruhoe (one of the active volcanoes in the national park) had an integral part in the Lord of the Rings movies – dress it up with some CGI lava and you have Mt. Doom.  Haven’t seen Lord of the Rings yet?!  *Sigh* Will hasn’t either.  That’s right.  We were able to watch two of the movies in Wellington and found the last movie that we watched in the campervan -it was kismet when we found out Jucy had free dvds and a dvd player in the van and the last Lord of the Rings movie was available.  Sadly-the movie froze before Mt. Doom came on the screen.  Somehow Will has not seen the volcano’s role in the movie.  *This is me – still shaking my head.*

The Tongariro Crossing is known to be one of the best day hikes in the world.  *Warning* With the Lord of the Rings popularity – it has become even busier.  Unless you’re going in winter, be prepared to meet people traffic jams on the Tongariro Highway – the term people use for the start of the hike when the path narrows and you’re basically walking in a line of people.  Almost everyone we have talked to in New Zealand (at least on the North Island) have either done the hike or talked about wanting to do the hike.  The terrain is varied with steep inclines, extreme temperature changes, volcanoes, brightly colored lakes – need we say more?  We were in!

We did a little research – figured out how to pronounce it (I can only say it like the video),  found a place to stay in Taupo (hello again, beautiful lake town), and crossed our fingers for good weather.  If the weather is bad – there is no walk.  With only one day to get ‘er done, we were praying to the weather gods.

Good news:  The weather was perfect.

Bad news:  We chose a Saturday because of a working holiday.  Hello Tongariro Highway – it at least makes for excellent people watching and a game of “what language are they speaking?”

So the journey began (insert The Greatest Adventure music here – so bad, yet so great- courtesy of the cartoon version of The Hobbit 1977 and my inner geekdom).

Tips for the crossing:

Figure out transportation

  • The start of the Tongariro Crossing is about 45 minutes from Taupo (a big lake city where we decided to stay).  Taupo is beautiful.  We stayed there for a night at the beginning of our trip.  While we were there, we got to enjoy sunny walks around the lake.  New Zealand’s iron man competition was also being held the same weekend we walked the crossing.  We missed the adult version, but saw part of the IronKids Competition on our way out of town.
    • There is transport that will pick you up from Taupo – but they can pack a big fee. It also means waking up even earlier for the hike.
  • There’s also an option of driving and parking at the beginning of the hike – setting a pick up time to meet you at the end of the hike to bus you back to your car at the beginning.  OR you can park at the end – get dropped off at the beginning of the hike and end at your car.   A little wait in the morning sounded like the better option for us.  We had no idea how long it would take (we took bets), so we opted for parking our car at the end of the hike and being bussed to the starting point.
    • Parking at the end worked great for us.  We didn’t have to worry about how fast or slow we were going.  At the end, people were running by- seriously running, bags flying – trying to get to the parking lot in time to catch their bus.
    • We also arrived at the end of the crossing while people were still able to park there.  The parking lot is super small and we were directed to park on the side of the road.  By the time we left, the road was filled, bumper to bumper with cars.  There’s an overflow parking lot a little down the main road, but there’s a fee for parking there (some transport sites let you park there for free), but it also means having to walk further when you’re really tired and want to throw your shoes off. As this is the land of the Hobbits – everyone throws their shoes off.  Bare feet are welcome

This is not Gilligan’s Island and a 3 Hour Tour – This is a 6 -8 hour journey.   

  • 19.4 kms is no joke.  It takes a long time.  It took us about 6 1/2 hours – we couldn’t remember how fast we thought we would make it down the hill, so we don’t know who won the bet – long hikes make you forget.  What was I saying?
  • It’s a beautiful hike worth taking your time and enjoying the views – which are as Will says “Majestic as Fuck!”
  • Packing enough food and water is key.
    • We may have taken this too seriously and packed way too much food.  But better to be safe than sorry.  We left some water in the car too when we got back.  We also left some flip flops to change in to. Best Decision. Ever.
  • Sunscreen folks.  Coming from Denver, we know how easily the sun sneaks up on you.  It’s no different here.  Add in cloudless skies with the sun beating down – even reapplying our sunscreen a few times, we got some really funny tan lines.
  • Layers – warm and cold.
    • There are extreme weather changes on the hike.  At the beginning, it’s nice enough.  Brisk morning air makes you walk a little quicker (as much s the Tongariro Highway allows).  Then the altitude changes and the wind whips through you. It gets freaking cold!  There are still some spots that have snow.  We have discovered the amazingness (totally a word) that is Merino wool *it’s like magic* plus had some layers to throw on. Once we got down to the lakes, the temps got really warm.  Granted it was summer, but it’s always good to prepare for all types of weather
      • Watching other people was kind of hilarious.  There were people who only had shorts and t-shirts and some people who had full on winter gear.  Some people did the hike in jeans and button down shirts.  It is a sea of diverse hikers – ample people watching.  Just make sure you’re prepared for the weather so you can fully appreciate the moment.

 Check the weather

  • Similar to Fourteeners, bad weather can be dangerous for hikers on the Tongariro Crossing.  We had one day to make this hike happen.  Luckily, we had a bluebird day.  Woot!  Woot!


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There was a crowd of people around the map, but we snapped a quick picture. The profile in the top left corner shows the different altitude gains – basically – up you go.

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The beginning of the hike starts off in grassy hills. Mt. Doom…I mean Mt Ngauruhoe doesn’t look too far away. Sun shining, it was a beautiful morning.

Tongariro highway

The Tongariro Highway – the hike has become so popular, even starting early in the morning didn’t stop us from running into a traffic jam of people in the beginning of the hike. The path is a narrow boardwalk-like deck leading us through some grassy vegetation to the lava rocks. This is the flatest portion of the hike. Some people cut through the marshy lands to try and find a spot further up in line where there was some space. But someone in line quickly told them to be more respectful – in the nicest way possible as Kiwis do. A lot of people stepped to the side to take photos or to wait for people. Since the path is narrow – it doesn’t help the Tongariro Highway. We made friends with the people around us and it clears up at the last bathroom for about 14kms.

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You can see the Tongariro Highway – a little less packed once we started going up. In the distance, Mt. Taranaki’s peak is peeking out above the clouds. Since we hiked Mt. Taranaki the weekend before, it was exciting to see it again.


Walking past Mt. Doom

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You can hike Mt. Doom, but it adds another 3 hours to the already 6-9 hour hike. It’s also straight up. We opted for enjoying the 6 1/2 hour hike, but tried to find people veering off.


The view from Red Crater – the highest point of the hike (since we didn’t summit the volcanoes). It was a beautiful sight. There may have been some perverted jokes as well. Necessary on a long hike where the red crater looks a bit like female anatomy.


The other side of the Red Crater. It gives a good view of Mt. Doom plus an idea of the people on this trip. Some people were decked out in full winter garb while other only had t-shirts and shorts on. People watching at its finest.

2 lakes

The other view from the top of Red Crater. The way down from Red Crater is full of slipping and sliding down lose rock and dirt. At the bottom, we sat on a rock and poured the dirt and rock collection from our shoes. Then we got a better look at the bright colored water.


The water is really that color – like someone did something weird to the color saturation on the tv,


The view from the top of red crater. Blue lake is in the distance. After climbing up for so long, we enjoyed the view before heading back down. Not the best panoramic, but you get the point


Emerald Lakes – these three bodies of water are actually water-filled explosion craters. The bright water is due to sulpher. Sulpher smoke streams up from the ground. It doesn’t smell great, but it ‘s absolutely breathtaking.


Most of the emerald lakes were swarming with people. But the third one was a little further away. There were a couple of people around, but we got to get closer. Even with the bright color, the water was so clear!


Blue lake. By the time we got down to the lake, there were so many people. We watched one couple have an entire photo session – including jumps and so many poses. They would have won a pose off. While the people watching was entertaining, we were in awe of the views. We talked to a guy taking photographs that lives in Tuapo. He said he tries to do the Tongariro Crossing and take photos whenever there is a nice day. We talked about Colorado and some of the beautiful landscape. It made us want to make sure we do a better job of enjoying Colorado’s mountains when we get back.


The view from Blue Lake


The way down. After hanging out by the lakes – the hike feels done. But it’s not. There’s another 2 hours or so of hiking. On the way back, we saw sulphur smoke billowing from the side of the mountain like a factory. Lake Taupo is in the background.

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After an exhausting hike – we made it the parking lot, passing by grounds of people hanging out on the grass waiting for their rides. Happily throwing on our flip flops, we drove back to Taupo. On the way, we passed Mt. Doom.

The next day, we packed up.  Our last New Zealand destination – Ohope beach.  But before we left for the beach – we enjoyed some time at Lake Taupo


We spotted this guy – fly fishing on the lake. Behind him, there were seagulls, black swans, and shags. Shags look a little like penguins with their black and white color. Not a bad day to be by the lake.