A behind the scenes look at going guided on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Looking back, doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with friends a few years ago really did kick start my passion for hiking, or tramping as they call it here in Aotearoa. It’s as if the otherworldly moonscapes and landscapes I experienced on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing opened my eyes to a natural world I’d never imagined before. Breath-taking, awe-inspiring, transformative even. It’s fuelled a wanderlust in me to be out there exploring as much as possible. So much so that I decided to take on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing again, this time going guided. Here’s my story.

Check-in and safety briefing at Adrift HQ

Bright-eyed and eager, most people arrive early to check-in at Adrift HQ in National Park Village. There’s free street parking and a dairy (aka a small convenience shop) in sight for any last minute snacks for the day. Being the last of the group to arrive, I meet the five other people booked to do the crossing- an Italian couple on their honeymoon, a retired English couple from Devon, a Dutch guy traveling solo, plus our guide Wayne. Everyone is friendly and looks ready for the day.

The team at Adrift Tongariro provide a warm welcome and jump into a health and safety briefing. What happens if you’re slower than the rest of the group? Are there toilet stops along the way? Is everyone aware of the risks involved in entering an active volcano zone? Then we proceed with a gear, clothing, and footwear check. Like a ski hire shop, Adrift Tongariro HQ have an impressive selection of gear on-site for hire including hiking boots, rain jackets and rain pants, warm fleece layers, backpacks, and even sunglasses. Those who ordered pre-packed lunch receive their bag of goodies which includes a wrap, fresh fruit, muesli bar, a caramel slice, packet of chips and the iconic Kiwi jet plane sweets. Most have BYO water bottles or water bladders. Final checks completed, it’s time to hop in the van.

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Adrift Tongariro HQ

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Stewart Barclay, owner and operators of Adrift Tongariro

National Park Village to the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing at Mangatepopo Car Park

Quiet excitement fills the van as our group heads to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing start at Mangatepopo Car Park. It’s just a quick 20 minute drive from National Park Village so it’s really an ideal spot to base yourself the night before or after the crossing. Once we arrive, Wayne gives us a quick update on what the track is like for the next couple hours, and we begin. There’s a natural camaraderie as the group commences and everyone finds their own pace, rapt in their own thoughts anticipating the day ahead. Fresh faced in the beautiful morning light, there is a reverence in the air, in the rhythm we find individually yet together as a whole.

The sights, the serenity, and the spectacularness of it all

Nothing prepares you for the scale of what you will face, the vast untamed terrain sprawling before you. Even though it's my second time doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, my senses felt new to it all. Our guide shares a couple of local stories and points of interest without sounding like he’s reading from a script. It adds a depth to the landscapes we see, geological and historical insight we would have otherwise never realised, making the moment that much more memorable.

What lies beneath our feet, how did the otherworldly moonscapes come to be, and is this place actually for real? It’s a mind boggling, jaw dropping kind of day but with the added comfort and confidence of having your own guide for safety and peace of mind so you can truly soak up the splendour of NZ’s oldest national park. No wonder it’s classed as a UNESCO Dual World Heritage Site of cultural and natural significance – every step we take into the ever-changing and vibrant terrain affirms just how much Tongariro National Park is a true natural treasure.

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Soda Springs to Blue Lake

It's a relatively easy walk from the start of the track to Soda Springs before you begin your ascent to South Crater along Devil’s Staircase. Our group takes it nice and steady as we follow our guide’s footsteps, surely he knows the easiest way up. We traverse ancient lava flow and go from one orange marker pole to the next, stopping to catch our breath, snapping some photos, looking at how far we’ve come and the impressive wonderland as far as the eye can see.

When we arrive at the Red Crater, a living breathing landscape of scoria and steam vents, it’s a humbling moment to behold. Luckily the weather was on our side and there was no wind to battle at these heights with exposed ridges. We took our time descending to the Emerald and Blue Lakes absolutely awestruck by their dazzling glory.

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Finishing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

It would take a novel for me to try and capture all the sights and sentiments of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. How the volcanic landscapes transformed from brown to orange, red, and black in a space of a few hours. And how by the time you reached the bush line, towards the final hours on the track, you realise just how fitting it is to be immersed in lush native forest. Like a healing haven, its soft forest floor a welcome to tired feet with shade and shelter from above.

We didn’t rush, we didn’t go too slow, but we all could feel that it had been an 8-hour day. Body was a happy tired, with the mind and senses rejuvenated in a way that can only be experienced from frolicking in nature’s playground all day.

Doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing guided was a much richer, immersive experience than going unguided. There’s a sense of comfort, camaraderie and connection that emerges knowing you are with a highly trained guide and local expert while traversing such a rugged environment. Going guided also means there is accountability from when you start and finish the crossing so it’s an important safety measure.

From our group, I learned that newlyweds in Italy are granted marriage leave, gained a few hiking tips and tricks from the retired English couple, and learned about goat farming in Germany.

Our van was one of the last ones left at the Ketetahi Car Park. We all climbed happily aboard and shared the highlights of our day with Robyn who was glad to see all of us back safe, sound and smiling.

In the short drive back to National Park Village, we celebrated our time together, discussed the best ways to top off the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and wished each other well for whatever adventures lie ahead.

Keen to book your guided Tongariro Alpine Crossing? Learn more about this bucket list experience here!

Posted by on 23 November 2022