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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tongariro Alpine Crossing @ New Zealand (Photos)

Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the "must visit" tramping tracks in New Zealand, is a great one day tramp destination. In that 6 to 8 hours of a rather comfortable journey, trampers will experience all sorts of volcanic terrains with a bit of native forest at the end.

Early start at 7:45am!

As you can find lots of photographs and descriptions about Tongariro Alpine Crossing online, let's talk about the logistics or planning details that you should be aware of.

Accommodation
Being a dual status World Heritage site acknowledged for its natural and cultural significance, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is practically in the middle of no where! The closest major towns are Taupo (at its North) and Palmerston North (at its South) that are around two hours drive away. As most visitors would start early in the morning and aim to finish at mid afternoon, they tend to stay in a small town called National Park. The other choices include Turangi and Ohakune which are slightly further away.

The dining, supermarket, petrol/gas, pub choices in these small towns are very limited (some have none). Please plan ahead and do your grocery shopping beforehand. The wonder of these small towns are their close proximity with the tracks. National Park has decent and affordable accommodations available. You may consider to arrive at National Park at around 6 to 8pm, cook a simple dinner at the backpackers, do some quiet reading or just have an early night.

Transportation
Most of the motels and backpackers in town are related to the local tour bus companies. There are several bus companies to choose from. They will take everyone to the beginning of the track in the morning; and pick up everyone at the end in the afternoon. Since the track is not a loop (ie. the start and finish points are two completely different destinations), you are advised to leave your vehicles at your accommodations. It pays to book things in advanced, although last minute booking are possible.

The Weather
The best time to go to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is during the New Zealand Summer months (December to March). However, the weather in the region is unpredictable. The local accommodation and bus companies will advise you whether it is suitable to walk on the tracks on that day. As most of these companies have ethics, they will simply not take you there if the weather forecast is not good enough.

We were walking "in" the clouds.

Gears and Equipment
As suggested by its name, it is an Alpine Crossing without cafes, fast food store nor shops of any kind. You must bring your own food and fresh water (important). If you are not a frequent tramper, it pays to take a walking stick with you (just in case you need it). And finally and most importantly: even if the weather looks nice when you began; even if it is in the middle of New Zealand summer; bring enough warm clothing with you and put it in a backpack.

Depends on the day and the weather, in the same month, some trampers might be able to wear shorts and pants throughout the whole walk; but some trampers might require thermal jacket! Be prepared for poor weather!

Emerald Lakes

Our Journey
We went to Tongariro in March. The bus dropped us at the starting point at 7:45am. Although everyone on the bus doesn't know each other, once we walked in the same direction (it's a one way track, with some sidewalks) and stayed as a group of 100 to 200. (You will see a long queue of trampers throughout the day as most of the tracks are open areas. There are no cellphone coverage, so it is a good idea to stay with the group.)


The weather was nice when we started at 8am, the first third of the track was a series of steep uphill walks. The second third was rather flat and rocky but easy to walk on terrains. That's when we were near one of the peaks and the weather went from nice to extremely poor. 

Just like everybody else, we stopped at the Emerald lakes, had our packed lunch, and spent the rest of the afternoon walking mostly downhill. When we arrived at the other end, it was around 2:30pm. We are active people but we are not regular trampers. We have seen and experienced so much. That's why we are recommending this track to you now! Enjoy New Zealand.

This is New Zealand!