This trail is both a Great Walk and part of the Te Araroa Trail.
Our original plan was to do a multi day hike in Tongariro National Park, such as the Around The Mountain Trek (probably the easiest for us to plan, since it didn’t require reserving huts on the popular Great Walk portion) or the Northern Circuit (the huts on this trek were booked out far in advance), but the weather looked like complete crap (winds up to 100km/hr and rain), and hiking in this extremely exposed alpine area is not to be taken lightly. Plus, the whole point of coming to do the Tongariro Crossing was to see the famous volcanoes and their beautiful lakes and craters.
Finally there was ONE day of mostly good weather. We were still traveling with Martin and Greg, and we spent the night in Whakapapa. The information center there was quite helpful, and encouraged us not to go out in poor weather. They gave us suggestions for a couple of day hikes that we could do during poor weather while we waited another day.
We checked out several waterfalls all of which were beautiful. It didn’t rain much, but the fog became dense at times, and I’m sure it would have been miserable on the crossing.
To do the Tongariro Crossing, most people book a shuttle that brings them to the parking lot where the hike begins, and then picks them up at the other end. This is because there is a time limit of 4 hours for vehicles to be parked at the car park, and they will ticket or tow your car away if you don’t comply.
Although we didn’t have a car to worry about, we also doubted that we would be able to hitchhike to the car park since most people payed for a shuttle. We didn’t fancy paying $30-$50, and we saw on the map that there was a trail connecting Whakapapa to the beginning of the alpine crossing called Mangatepopo Track. We inquired at the information center at Whakapapa about this trail. The lady there told us that this trail was the most poorly maintained trail in the park. She advised us to get a shuttle instead.
“It’s not worth your time- you won’t see much and it’s very muddy and poorly maintained.”
I don’t know why we even bothered asking, because hiking 10km of “poorly maintained” and “muddy” trail wasn’t about to stop us.
In the morning, John and I decided to get a head start on Greg and Martin, assuming that we would be slower and they would catch up. We headed out at around 6:30AM.
The Mangatepopo track – “the most poorly maintained trail in the park” – was probably one of the best trails we’ve hiked on so far. There were a few muddy patches here and there, and some serious erosion, but otherwise it was practically a sidewalk. If this was the most poorly maintained trail in the park, the rest of the trails must be practically paved.
As we approached the Tongariro Crossing, we saw the masses of people. There was a line of people, like ants walking up the trail, sometimes 2 at a time. I soon had “the ants go marching” stuck in my head.
As we merged with the Tongariro Crossing, I realized that we would have a hard time finding Martin and Greg. There were so many people that finding them would be a game of “Where’s Waldo?”
We filled up our water bottles at the first hut, and then started climbing up with Mount Ngauruhoe on our right towering above us.
The track climbed up maybe almost 1000 meters in total, but it was well graded, and of course we were in fairly good shape, so we kept passing people as we climbed.
We reached the top of Red Crater, which was aptly named since we were standing on the edge of a giant Red Crater.
From there, there was a steep scree slide down towards a few beautiful bright blue lakes. We spent some time having lunch while admiring the lakes.
People were everywhere, and at this point I figured we would never find Greg and Martin, and I had no idea if they somehow passed us while we weren’t paying attention.
The trail climbed another small volcano with great views before heading slowly downhill towards the other car park.
The downhill was slow and boring, and John had recently come down with a cold, and was feeling like crap. Each time we came to a spot with a place to sit down, he would curl up in a ball wanting to sleep.
We were only a few minutes away from the car park on a bench right on the trail, John laying down groaning when I saw Martin coming down the trail towards us. Greg was not far behind, and we finished the last leg of the trail together.
We were lucky and got a ride within minutes of getting to the car park, and found a place that we could all spend the night in some very cheap cabins on a farm for sustainable living. Here, John was able to spend a whole day in bed trying to get over his cold.