Hiking the Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand
New Zealand attracts millions of tourists every year to their beautiful beaches, delicious wines, exotic wildlife, and Maori culture. But what initially drew me to the country where I ended up living for a year, was the connections to the Lord of the Rings.
New Zealand is famously home to Hobbiton, easily the most-visited tourist destination in the country. But many people miss what I found to be the best Lord of the Rings location in the country: the Tongariro Crossing.
One of the 9 Great Walks in New Zealand, the Tongariro Crossing isn’t just a beautiful hike. It’s also home to Mount Doom, the location where Frodo throws the One Ring into the volcano to destroy it (**spoilers!!**).
Whether you’re a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan like I am, a hiker, or just someone looking to build an epic bucket list, the Tongariro Crossing hike should definitely be on your must-do list.
What is the Tongariro Crossing?
The Tongariro Crossing isn’t just a hike, it’s a marathon adventure through a volcanic national park. This unique area is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Cultural Site for its significance to the New Zealand Maori.
The Tongariro Crossing is one of many hikes through the volcanic fields. This 19.4km hike is the most popular and can be completed in a single day. You can add on additional trails to reach small villages along the way, which will turn your hike into a multi-day journey.
The hike takes an average of 4-6 hours to complete. It took me about 5 hours to complete the hike, including many stops for food, photos, and wishing I’d remembered my inhaler.
This is not a hike for the faint of heart!
While many people do this trek daily, you need to be prepared for an uphill climb. This involves holding onto chains nailed into a mountain as you scale your way up steep steps that have begun to erode. And on the way down, you’ll be skidding down gravel before you hit a smooth trail that meanders through the countryside.
The Tongariro Crossing and Lord of the Rings
Tongariro was chosen as the spot for Mount Doom. You won’t be submitting Mount Doom itself, but you’ll get an amazing view of the dormant volcano.
When you reach the summit of Mount Tongariro, you’ll understand why this was the chosen spot for the climax of the Lord of the Rings. If you’re familiar with the film or book, this is where Frodo puts on the ring and is confronted by Sam, Gollum, and finally Sauron himself.
It’s an eerie and beautiful place that will leave you feeling like you are in Middle Earth – without any orcs chasing you, of course.
Where is the Tongariro Crossing hike?
The hike is located on the North Island of New Zealand, about 2.5 hours drive south of Auckland. However, it’s just a 30-minute drive from the small town of Taupo, which is where most people begin their journey.
It’s best to take a bus from Taupo to the Tongariro Crossing, as the trail isn’t a loop. You’ll end up 19.4km away from where you started, and after that full day, you won’t want to have to walk back to get your car!
An Honest Experience Hiking the Tongariro Crossing
I hiked the Tongariro Crossing on my 3rd day of a cross-country road trip through New Zealand. I had just recovered from the adrenaline rush of skydiving over New Zealand’s North Island the day before and was ready to raise my heartbeat with both feet on the ground.
The hike began early in the morning when it was still pitch-black outside. As we arrived on the morning bus, the sun was just started to peak over the volcanic mountains.
They seemed a world away from the desolate volcanic desert we began our hike at. Stepping over slats of a boardwalk, I doubted the majesty of the walk.
After a few kilometres, the climb began.
I was lucky I had proper hiking boots on, with solid grip. Others in sneakers were slipping as they trudged up the stone steps and wooden rails carved into the face of the mountain.
The hike isn’t silent or peaceful. It’s full of heavy breathing, the trudging of footsteps fighting for purchase, and chatty backpackers who somehow have the energy to hike 20km after partying the night before (myself included). I felt like an orc, following the flow of people up the mountain with seemingly no end in sight.
About 1/3 of the way through the hike, you reach the summit. On a clear day, it offers one of the best views in New Zealand. You can get a picture-perfect view of Mount Doom, with its snow-capped peak even at the start of the kiwi summer. But you have to pick your days carefully. New Zealand is notorious for having bad weather and fog that completely obscures your view. A moment after I got a photo of the dormant volcano, we were enveloped in a cloud of fog that didn’t dissipate for 45 minutes.
The last 2/3rds of the hike were stunning, but not nearly as fascinating for me. My Lord of the Rings fantasy was over and I was back on our earth. We continued to pass out of this world beauty though. From the Emerald Lakes, filled with sparkling green water from the volcanic soil, to lush fields of flowers I’d never seen, I was torn between appreciating the moment and snapping pictures of it all for later.
At the end of the hike, I remember sitting down and feeling like my legs were wet noodles. It was hard to get the energy to even get back on the bus.
Communally, we all slipped into slumber as the bus rolled us back to Taupo. It was like we needed to hold onto the dream of the volcanic national park just a little bit longer.
Tips for Hiking the Tongariro Crossing
- Wear hiking boots. You’ll need the traction!
- Bring at least 2L of water. There’s nowhere to get food or water on the hike. I also ate more than twice as much food as I expected to need. You’ll eat more than you think.
- Wear sunscreen, even before the sun rises. You’re very exposed and will easily burn on the hike.
- Take plenty of breaks. It’s not about completing the hike as fast as possible. It’s about enjoying the journey and taking in the surroundings. Plus, the bus takes 6 hours to return, so you’ll just end up sitting in a parking lot waiting for it.
- Pre-book your bus tickets, especially in summer.
- Do not hike the Tongariro Crossing in winter. You’ll be facing slick, icy mountains and lots of snow. Plus, it’ll be freezing!
- Most tours of New Zealand will include an optional stop to do the crossing. I recommend taking the day to do the hike, even if it means a day less in Rotorua or Wellington.
- Don’t stop walking after the hike. Most people tense up because they sleep the rest of the day. Take a cat nap, then head out. I did and I was the only one who wasn’t crying on the bus in the morning.
- It’s free to hike the Tongariro Crossing. Only the bus or parking would cost you money.
- This hike isn’t so hard that beginners couldn’t manage. In fact, they do it every day. But you’ll need to stretch or enjoy the free hot pools in Taupo after.
- Be respectful. Use the designated toilets. Don’t stray from the trail. Take respectful photos. This is sacred ground for the Maori that they allow visitors to enjoy.
No matter if you’re a fan of the Lord of the Rings, or just love epic hikes with stunning scenery, Hiking the Tongariro Crossing should definitely be on your New Zealand bucket list.
About the Author
Nina Clapperton is a solo female travel blogger. She lives as a slow-mad, moving to a new country every year. Currently, she’s based in Canada with her golden retriever puppy. She founded Nina Out and About to empower women to explore the world on their own terms, without fear. She shares tips and tricks to overcome travel anxiety and to live abroad solo.
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