Traipsing on the Tongariro

Walked 19.4 kms in about 9 hours. I survived, but one toenail didn’t. Here’s what happened.

The British Dictionary defines Traipse (/treɪps/) as:


1. (intransitive) to walk heavily or tiredly


2. a long or tiring walk; trudge

and that’s exactly what I did on and what it was on the last Sunday of January when I (together with the Grizzly Bear, sisterhood and a few other folk) completed the Tongariro Crossing.

The Bear and I have been planning this trip for practically a year (read my previous posts, all our mini-walks / tramps in the past were in preparation for this) but for some reason, never managed to do it, but early this year, we decided to bite the bullet and just go. So we went.
19.4 kilometres of fun

We decided that we’ll do the walk on Sunday (even though it would most likely be shot full of other people) so we drove up to Ohakune (that would be our base) on Saturday morning and lazed around at the Lodge  (and stocked up on carbs) we booked for the weekend. The next day, we left the lodge at about 7:30 am so we could beat the crowd (we didn’t) and after dropping off one car at the Ketetahi Carpark (end point) and the other vehicle returning to the Mangatepopo Carpark (starting point), we headed off to conquer the mountain.

For those who do not know, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of New Zealand’s most famous and most beautiful day hikes. The full distance of the track is roughly 19.4 kms (although honestly, during the last bit, it felt like it was more like 194 kms) and is split into 6 sections. The next few paragraphs will just show a few photos I’ve taken (or taken by my sister) and perhaps a bit of what I experienced. You can get more information on those 6 sections by clicking on this link.

Section 1: Mangatepopo Carpark to Soda Springs

That’s my sister and her hubby

The first section’s from the Carpark to an area called Soda Springs. The terrain is fairly flat and the walk’s relatively easy. I had a 50-litre pack with about 10kgs of weight on my back (practicing for a multi-day tramp) so it was quite challenging. I sweated like anything and was glad when we got to Soda Springs. We stopped for a bit to use the last toilet facilities and munch on oat bars.

Section 2: Soda Springs to South Crater

A little higher up now … looking back from somewhere on the Devil’s Staircase

Section 2 is home to the dreaded “Devil’s Staircase” a series of steps and inclined planes that all trampers need to traverse to get to the next area. There are no shortcuts so you really have to “bust it”. I really need to work on going uphill because I had to pause to take deep breaths and take large gulps of water in this area. I think it took me about an hour to get to the top (of course, Grizzly Bear was already there, drinking a cold bottle of beer). We stopped for lunch and then, went on our merry way.

Section 3: South Crater to Red Crater

Bon's South Crater Pic
View of the South Crater from somewhere near the Red Crater (photo taken by my sister)

After our meal, we crossed the South Crater (pictured above) which is probably the easiest section of all. It’s flat! Flatter than the Mangatepopo Section. But shorter …huhuhu … we soon had to go up an exposed ridge to get to the Red Crater. I think this was the area that was quite rocky and quite slippery. There was even a small section where you had to grab on to a thick chain so you can hoist yourself over a few rocks! I also had to literally go down on my hands and knees and crawl up a few times because I felt that, if I didn’t do that, I’d fall off the mountain and they’d have to call S&R to find me.

Section 4: Red Crater to Blue Lake

That’s me and the Grizzly Bear. I think I was showing him where I think i would die.

See that nice picture above, that’s nowhere near the end of the walk. Notice that steep incline just above our heads? I didn’t realise that we’d be going down that to get to the Blue Lake. So … yes, we had to go up a few metres more (my thighs were already cramping and killing me at that time) and when we got to the top, we all had to go down a very steep slope. What made it more interesting was that we had to walk on loose scoria. Oh My Goodness! I felt like I would topple over! It was fun though. Once you got the hang of it, you descended quite quickly, however, since my legs were still cramping up on me, and there were about a million and half people around, so I was worried I would bump into someone (or someone would bump into me). I managed to get to the Blue Lake, but not without sliding on my bum a couple of times. Had a cup of hot cocoa when I got to the base. The Grizzly Bear had the kettle going.

 Section 5: Blue Lake to Ketetahi Hut

See that little brown rectangle somewhere on the left side of the photo? That’s Ketetahi Hut.

There was another short climb and then the landscape changed. Suddenly, the big rocks vanished and were replaced by rolling hills and lots of grass. The track became more defined as it went zigzagging downhill. My goodness. I felt like this section wasn’t ever EVER going to end. I took the photo above because I was excited to see the Ketetahi Hut AND the Ketetahi Carpark (it’s that little sliver of silver at the top 1/3 of the image). My excitement was short-lived though. The walk to  Ketetahi Hut took ages! The view was lovely but man – I felt like I was walking forever!

Section 6: Ketetahi Hut to Ketetahi Carpark

Ketetahi Hut
Homeward bound! Photo taken by my sister.

I was exhausted at this point – I just didn’t have the energy to take any more photos (I only took about 5 during the entire trip – it’s so not like me).  All I wanted to do was get to the carpark and go home. I thought this last bit would be a walk in the park because, at least it’s all downhill from here, right? So Wrong! The hard rubber matting they have put on the tracks to prevent slipping were difficult to walk on. My feet were so painful I wanted to just walk barefoot.

We stopped for a quick break at the 16km mark, and then walked through native bush for the next 3.4 kms. Well, they said it’s 3.4kms but my god, it felt like it would never ever end. I had to just keep walking and walking and walking – hoping that the carpark would be just around the next corner. After walking for what seemed like a million hours, we turned a corner and voila … it’s the carpark! I made it. I couldn’t walk straight, my back hurt, I was sweating in places I didn’t know could sweat, but I did it. I conquered the Tongariro Crossing.

So What’s Next?

I haven’t been on any tramps since then. My toenail is still black (waiting for it to fall off – I hope not) but the aches and pains are gone and I’m kinda wanting to go out again. The Grizzly Bear’s mum wants to do the Crossing too so, perhaps we’ll have a go again sometime in December. I hope my fitness levels would be better by then too.

I shall leave you with this photo of the scoria covered slope that lies between the Red Crater and the Blue Lake. See those little black dots? Those are people. Yes, that’s how steep and high that slope was!

Looking up towards the Red Crater from the Blue Lake

Additional Reading:

  1. Department of Conservation
  2. Tongariro Alpine Crossing
  3. Will Your Body Stand the Tongariro Crossing Test (a blog)

Author: Viv Phillips

That's not exactly a flattering image. Eh! Anyway, when I'm not taking photos, I do acrylic painting or write about my adventures (and misadventures) in this wonderful journey called life. :)

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