There are specific portions of my time in New Zealand I hold above all the rest, which can only be described as “moments everyone should experience once in their lifetime.” Those moments include such things as skydiving, visiting Hobbiton, attending Sevens night, and going to Art Deco weekend in Napier. Now, added to that list, is the Tongariro Crossing, which I had the pleasure of completing two Mondays ago.
For those of you who don’t know, the Tongariro Crossing is a nineteen kilometer / twelve mile hike across a lot of mountain ranges, and it’s absolutely one of the best things I’ve ever done.
First and foremost, let’s get the most important part of my time at the Tongariro Crossing out of the way: pictures!
While doing the Crossing I look over 500 photographs. Since uploading and looking through those pictures, I was able to cut my intake in half, since a lot of pictures were repetitive or came out a touch blurry. Nevertheless, these photos do a fabulous job answering the question of why a person would want to spend a day walking 19.4 km / 12 miles. Take a look at all the epicness that is Tongariro.
Beautiful, right? To quote myself from when I was doing the Crossing: “That is some Middle Earth shit right there.”
Okay, pretty pictures aside (for the most part), I tried to think of how I wanted to write this entry. I could have done a play-by-play, like I normally do, but honestly that would’ve been pretty dull. I did the Crossing by myself and, with the exception of one or two events during the day, none of it was really exciting enough to make a story of.
So I figured I’d impart some knowledge I took away from my journey and share it all with you. So here are ten things I personally learned and would recommend to anyone looking to do the Tongariro Crossing!
1. Dress appropriately
Don’t kid yourself, this is a proper hike. You’re gonna need hiking boots. I saw several people attempting to do the Crossing in chucks and did not envy them. You scale mountains and, at one point, have to make your way carefully down the side of a steep area (more on that later). Plus you’re hiking all goddamn day. Just invest in those nice hiking shoes. Trust me, you wont regret it.
As for what else to wear, weather plays a huge factor. I checked the forecast the night before, so I was well prepared. Since we arrived at the Crossing around 7:45am, I made sure to wear layers. Layers are your friends, people. I wore a light hoodie and my jacket at the start of the day, and as the day became hotter I was able to make my way down to just my tank top. I am glad I ended up sticking with jeans instead of shorts, even though it did get hotter later in the day. Also, I’d recommend sunglasses and sunscreen.
(What I wore is obviously weather oriented. If you’re going during a colder time of year, please dress differently.)
2. Go by yourself
As I was doing the Crossing, something occurred to me. Something absolutely wonderful.
I like myself.
Now, I’ve always liked myself, to a certain degree, but growing up as a somewhat weird kid with terrible social skills made me, shall we say, not my own biggest fan at times. However, since coming to New Zealand I realize how much I’ve fallen in love with myself. I spent a good portion of the Crossing listing off the things I like about myself in my head. In the past I’d do the same things about my negative qualities. This is a step in a good direction, if you ask me.
The point I’m trying to make is that I don’t think I could’ve done the Tongariro Crossing on my own five years ago. Not because I would’ve been physically incapable, but because I couldn’t have stood to be by myself for that long. It took me seven hours to complete the Crossing. That’s a lot of alone time, and I was perfectly fine with it. I liked getting lost in my thoughts and stopping to admire the views. It was a lovely way to spend time with myself.
All that being said, I do thoroughly recommend doing the Crossing on your own. You don’t have to worry about either slowing down or trying to keep up with anyone else. You can take breaks whenever you like, don’t have to find conversation topics for the entire day, and just have some good old fashioned me time.
That being said…
3. Bring a friend
Okay, how much better would the above photo look if I had someone standing there with me? Let’s be honest, it’d look a whole lot better.
I’m not saying that I regret not bringing someone with me, because I totally don’t, but I do see the perks of bringing someone with you. For starters, your photographs are a whole lot less lonely (not to mention it’s nice having someone there to take pictures of you instead of asking strangers). And, yeah, okay, having a friend to geek out with over Mount Doom and admire the Emerald Lakes would’ve been nice (made me miss you even more, Kathleen).
The guide made a big deal about having a Crossing buddy, in case someone gets hurt or needs assistance. I totally get this. There are a lot of ledges, boulders, and active volcanoes. A buddy is not a bad idea. However, I found that there were always enough people around that, were I to get hurt, someone would be there to help me out. There was one time when I didn’t see anyone for almost an hour, but that portion of the Crossing was a nice, easy path downhill, and if I had managed to hurt myself doing that path then I would’ve been an idiot.
4. Pace yourself
This was something that I’m surprised I did pretty well. Sort of on accident, to be fair, but still.
Our bus driver made a big deal about getting to the pick up location on time, cause apparently people who took too long and missed the bus back was a common occurrence. This instilled in me a need to not be late, because I would be damned if I had to pay the $100 fee to get picked up after the bus had already left.
I wouldn’t say that I “booked” it at the start. I just kept pace and took hardly any breaks. I told myself that I wanted to get to the Emerald Lakes by noon at the latest, so I could take a quick break and then continue onward. Yeah, well, in keeping stride I made it to the Emerald Lakes by 10:30am. This threw me. I wasn’t expecting to get there so quickly, since everyone made the Lakes out to be so far away. This ended up being a good thing. Since I pushed myself a little hard at the beginning, I was able to then take my time the rest of the day. I sat down multiple times, not because I needed to but because I wanted to enjoy the views, and I was able to saunter my way through the rest of the hike.
5. Know what you’re getting into
Here’s the deal: the Crossing is not an easy hike. That’s for certain. However, everyone made it out to be this impossible feat that they barely just made it through. I had one girl in my hostel room go on about how she was so thankful she did the Crossing, but she never wanted to do it ever again. So, going to Tongariro, I was expecting a hike that would leave me dead by the end of the day.
That’s not what I got. When I got back on the bus at the 4pm pick up time, sure, I was a bit tired (more from getting up at 6:30am than anything else), but otherwise I felt great. I know for a fact I want to do Tongariro again, and I sort of think everyone made it out to be harder than it actually was. To be fair, I didn’t do the Summit climb, and I’m also in pretty good shape, so those might factor into these circumstances.
Not to say there weren’t difficult parts of the Crossing. There are two particular moments that stick out for me personally. The first was this one uphill bit where the footing was basically just loose rocks and it was steep as all get out. I remember wanting so badly to sit down and rest, but I kept pushing myself all the way to the top because I knew if I stopped I’d never want to start up again. The second was a downhill bit that was incredibly steep. Much like the uphill one, the footing was all loose rocks, and it went on for ages. I ended up falling twice, scraping my wrist and arm in the process. Those two parts were the only major portions of the Crossing that really tested me physically though.
6. Drive yourself
No, I don’t mean “drive yourself to go even harder and stronger!”
I mean drive yourself. Literally.
See that photo of me above? That’s me standing in front of Mount Ngauruhoe or, as you know it better, MOUNT FUCKING DOOM.
Part of the Crossing includes a Summit hike, which you can choose to either do or skip. It’s an extra three hours, where you scale to the top of Mount Ngauruhoe, feel like a bad ass hobbit, then make your way down and continue on the path. I would’ve loved nothing more than to climb to the top of Mount Doom and shout some Lord of the Rings references to all the other hikers. The reason I didn’t? Time.
As already stated, I was pretty preoccupied with the thought of not missing my bus. Knowing I’d have to hurry even faster if I wanted to do the Summit, I skipped it. This ended up being a good decision as my friend, Jade, said this is probably why I found the entire thing enjoyable and not very difficult. When I come back to New Zealand someday I’m going to make sure to travel to the Crossing via car. That way I can make my own time on the trails and not have to worry about being late for some stupid bus. Maybe I’ll even bring someone with me to carry me up Mount Ngauruhoe, because everyone needs their own Samwise Gamgee, right?
7. Bring a camera
How else will Facebook understand the extraordinarily beautiful feat you just accomplished??
8. Pack wisely
This one kind of goes hand-in-hand with dressing appropriately. I think I did a really good job packing. I saw some people carrying humungous backpacks, and some people with tiny satchels. Unless you have someone else carrying your stuff, or are planning to do an awesome picnic at some point on the trail (as I saw some people do!), then I wouldn’t recommend either of these things.
I did a nice job balancing out the not over/under packing. I kept my little green backpack filled with: clothing layers, camera, extra camera lens, lunch/snacks, cellphones, passport, water bottle, and flashlight. The only thing I didn’t use was the flashlight (which is probably a good thing). I almost began to think that my extra lens wasn’t necessary either, but then the one I was using on my camera decided not to work. So all around win on my part.
Basically you’re walking all day, a lot of which is uphill and downhill, so you definitely don’t want to weigh yourself down with too much crap. That being said, you want to make sure you’ve got everything necessary for whatever comes your way.
9. Food, food, food
Keeping up energy is super important, so make sure to pack enough to eat! I brought three snack bars, an orange, an energy drink, and a sandwich, and I ended up eating all of them during my day. Just make sure you space out when you eat your food, so you don’t run out before the end.
I’d also recommend a big breakfast. This is definitely not a task you want to face on an empty stomach!
10. Appreciate every second
Dude. Dude. DUDE.
If you’re doing the Tongariro Crossing, enjoy yourself! It’s a beautiful hike, and you’re a bad ass for scaling every mountain and tackling each turn. Do you know how many people in you know personally have done this Crossing? Unless you’re a New Zealand native, probably not many. I can think of one person off the top of my head back in the States who has done the Crossing, and that’s it. This is an amazing, awesome adventure that not everyone gets to experience.
So enjoy yourself! Take it all in! Trust me, it’s a terrific experience like no other.