We arrived to Auckland around midday. It took a lot longer to pick up our Britz rental van than we expected and a lot longer than it took in Queenstown (for more on our experience in Queenstown click here). We headed straight out of Auckland to Tongariro National Park to freedom camp for the night. I had already coordinated with my cousin, who is Samoan and was born and raised in New Zealand, to meet up and hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing the next morning. I hadn’t seen my cousin in several years and Ryan had only met him once. We were just as excited to catch up (or “talk-story” as locals would say in Hawaiʻi) as we were to see “Mount Doom” and the other stunning sights of the crossing.

Get an Early start

I am not a morning person. So, it should be obvious that I was excited when I tell you that we parked at the Ketetahi car-park and took the 7am shuttle. We were not alone. When I first told my cousin we were interested in the Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike, he let us know that he was “keen to go” because he had never done this hike. To Kiwi’s this is a very touristy hike and it’s very crowded. We wanted to avoid the crowds as much as possible so we went early on a weekday morning.

Shuttle from Ketatahi to Mangatepopo car park (the easy direction due to less elevation gain)

It was still dark when we boarded the shuttle. We were driving to the starting point with the rising sun out the window. When we got to the Mangatepopo car park to start the 19.4km (just over 12 mile) Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike it was still relatively dark and the mist and clouds that rolled in made it even darker. The hike started off fine. We were trucking along at a good pace and as the line of other hikers wasn’t too congested yet.

Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with a Gorilla

My cousin is 250 lbs of muscle, he exercises daily and LOVES messing with people (so we dubbed him Gorilla)*. Gorilla was passing people left and right and we were right along with him. Until the uphill began. Gorilla could use those muscles to powerhouse up the side of the mountain. I however, sorely deficient in muscles, could not.

Unfortunately, I burned my fuel so fast trying to rush up the mountain that I was getting weak and light headed. Although I am used to hiking often, I am not used to hiking fast and while climbing up the side of a mountain. Of course, Gorilla was egging me on from ahead “Come on Hawaiʻi” and “Let’s go Hawaiʻi”. Finally, Gorilla could see the look of exhaustion on my face so he turbo boosted me uphill for a while until I could have a snack and catch my second wind.

*Side story, Ryan wrote me a book, a children’s book to be exact, complete with drawings. It was the best present I have ever received. The characters represent us and in the story he is (appropriately) the Silly Monkey and I am the Beautiful Elephant. In recognition of this my cousin kept calling Ryan Monkey and that’s when Gorilla emerged.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing Summit

The mountains were shrouded in mist and the higher we climbed the windier it got. I had regained strength and momentum in my legs. Now I just had to keep them from being blown off the mountain peak! The wind lashed at us and the mist dampened everything but our spirits. Then the sun started rewarding us for our efforts and we started getting peek-a-views of the crater, the multi-colored lakes, and the steam vents.

Tongariro Lakes

It was dazzling gazing upon the green lake when the sunlight graced it. The turquoise was also tremendous.

The downhill, while protected from the wind, was challenging in a more fun way. The path is very loose dirt and rocks, so BOOTS are best for this hike and the best technique for the descent is dry skiing.

I really enjoyed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike! The crater, with its surreal lakes and vents, was so different from our own Haleakalā National Park crater, which is another hike I love! The hike down the other side of the mountain back to the carpark was smooth sailing for me, as if I floated down on a feather. Retribution! Gorilla (and his 250lbs of weight crashing down on his joints) suffered every bit as much on the the downhill as I did going up. It was a great hike and with insider tips for the rest of our journey, we were ready to keep traveling aloha.