Mangatepopo Road, Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu, Mangatepopo Hut, Soda Springs, Devils Staircase, South Crater, Red Crater Junction, Tongariro Crossing, Mt Tongariro, Blue Lake, Emerald Lakes, Red Crater, Central Crater, Lake Rotoaira, Lake Taupo, Te Maari, Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Head to carpark at the end of Mangatepopo Road, off SH 47.
You will need to get here fairly early to get a park , or you could also catch a shuttle if you are staying somewhere.
You can see, pretty much straight away, the popularity of this track. There sheer volume of people keen to have a crack at this Iconic track is quite something and is also one of the reasons we put off doing it for so long. That being said, it is still well worth doing for the spectacular sites and magnificent colours to behold.
Before we even start the views are brilliant, being a fairly clear morning & the dominant peaks of Ngauruhoe & Ruapehu loom over us. We join the throngs of people and make our way up a valley. Walking with a multitude of people all in the same direction, brings to mind being on a school trip.
We start off on a fairly flat walkway and the growth on either side of the valley is mostly shrubs n stuff with a few alpine flowers about too. It doesn’t take long for valley walls on either side rise up. Shortly, we pass the side track on our left, leading to the Mangatepopo Hut. It’s not long after here that the track runs alongside a stream and then starts to head upwards. With the inclines the track narrows in places causing the odd bottleneck as there are quite a few people out here that are visibly not that fit. On the plus side the inclines make nice wee waterfalls & when the pace slows you can look about at the awesome scenery & take the occasional pic.
Close to an hour from starting out the valley opens out again we reach Soda Springs & also a couple of portaloos (definitely not enough looking by the queues) . It’s just around the corner from here is the part of the track known as the Devils Staircase. From here we leave any remaining growth behind and make our way up volcanic rock. The incline isn’t all that bad, but in saying that, you can see a few people suffering and there is significant congestion on this part too. Again, time to look about some more and you can see where the lava flow has been frozen in time -and you can really imagine what it might of looked like when it was erupting.
After around 45 minutes or so, we pass the track on the right to Ngauruhoe and then we reach the South Crater. At the this point we’re up in cloud level, so the surrounding mist gives it a pretty cool eerie vibe. This crater is also quite spacious so it feels like the crowds thin out a bit. From here there’s another steepish climb and we start to encounter some cool rock formations too.
After nearly 2 ¼ from starting out, we reach the Red Crater Junction. Straight ahead the Tongariro Crossing continues and to our left is the track to Mt Tongariro Summit. We head left & upwards and the crowds simply disappear. It seems most people have just come to do the crossing. The quiet is wonderful we start to get some pretty cool views too as the Blue Lake, Emerald Lakes come into view and of course, the whole world below & beyond. There are also some really cool & bizarre rock formations about too. We make out way up the rocky track and about 40 minutes later we reach some fairly big boulders which is where the track ends & we realise we’ve reached the Summit. There’s no Trig or anything, but there’s a spectacular view about. Due to high clouds and a pretty decent breeze the views were changing around us. This was the perfect spot for a nice Cuppa. After soaking in our surroundings we make our way back down. This takes less than half an hour before we reach the Red Crater junction again.
Now we go & check out the Red Crater to the right of the track. The vibrant red as well as the other volcanic shades of this crater are awesome. You can literally see where the lava would have spewed out the side. We then follow the track up a bit & then it’s down plenty of scree -which is a bit of fun running down. At the bottom of the scree are the 3 Emerald lakes. The piercing emerald colour of these lakes seems so out of this world. There is quite a strong Sulphur smell about too. We then head across part of the flat Central Crater, & then it’s up to a nice view vantage point just above the Blue Lake. Also, if you look back from the direction we came from your get a marvellous view of the Red Crater and the looming Mt Ngauruhoe behind it.
Here after about 45 minutes from the Red Crater Junction, we sit on some kind of tussocky grassy stuff over looking the Blue Lake & tuck into our well deserved Cheese & Salad Sarnies washed down by another cuppa. Refuelled, we the follow the track and now with views of the Blue lake on our right & down at the North Crater on our left. The track inclines a bit before it flattens out and then we make our way down & past the Eruption warning light station and then a pass, where we come out at the top of a valley. Here we have the beginnings of some mighty fine views down the valley and out beyond Lake Rotoaira and Lake Taupo beyond that. The meandering track heads downwards on board walk which zig zags down the side of the mountain.
As we head downwards and come out the valley, the views of the lakes and northward are revealed further. Also to the right you can see the steam rising high, out from Te Maari (which erupted recently). About an hour from The Blue Lake we pass the Ketetahi Hut (& more queues for the loos for the ladies). From here the surrounding growth reaches up on either side of the track. After a while we’re in the cooling mossy bush. Even though the volcanic colours were spectacular, it was nice to be surrounded by green again and amongst the birdsong. There were still a few bottlenecks here where we just about came to a standstill, but there were a few places we’re you could overtake some of the wary trekkers. We passed the a couple of streams and a few warning signs of the Lahar Zone. After just over another hour or so we reach the carpark at the end of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing road.
Total Tramp Time with Summit was 6 ½ hours. The crossing on its own was 5 ¼ hours.
Level of Difficulty
Easy to Moderate
5.25 Hours - just the crossing (Summer 2014)
6.5 Hours - Crossing + Summit (Summer 2014)