Over the weekend we guided on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, and while technically it wasn’t winter yet, there was enough of the white stuff around that we could call it our first crossing for the Winter 22 Season. It will be a few weeks before we have permanent snow on much of the crossing but things are already starting to look a little different.
The day started with a spectacular sunrise and with a pre-dawn temperature of around 3 degrees Celsius it was fairly mild. We had a group of 12 on this trip and they were an organised bunch which made for a nice early start at Mangatepopo with perfect conditions. And in case you’re wondering, apart from a few small groups at the start and around the bottleneck section on the ridge to Red Crater Summit, we mostly had the track to ourselves. We couldn’t have asked for a better day and the photos below pretty much speak for themselves.
One of the things about guiding, at least for me personally, is that you get to share the highs and lows of the people you guide, which makes each trip a unique, and oftentimes surprising experience. And while some have boundless energy and enthusiasm from start to finish, for many, energy levels start to ebb after Emerald Lakes and by Blue Lake the inevitable “How much further?” questions start to arise.
But here’s the thing, by the time you reach Blue Lake, you’ve done around ten and a half kilometers which means you’re only half way! So what follows for some is a long, slow slog to the Ketetahi carpark and while it’s downhill (mostly), that doesn’t help the aching knees and tired feet. Understandably then, the comments I most often hear on this section of the track are less about the scenery and more like “This feels like it goes on forever!” or something along those lines.
Now I have to admit that I too have at times considered the Blue Lake to Ketetahi section of the crossing to be the ‘lesser half’, certainly in terms of scenery, but after this last trip, I have to say that I was wrong. Maybe it was because this was my first time on the track in a little while. Or maybe it was the amazing afternoon light and beautiful reflections on a dead calm Lake Rotoaira, but there were several times that I literally stopped in my tracks and went “Wow!” as I took it all in. Fortunately I was tail-end charlie at this point in the walk, with Hiro the other guide in front, so I had the luxury of being able to take my time.
So, I’m more than willing to admit that I was wrong and that I think the Ketetahi half of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is just as spectacular in its own right. You’ve got the active Te Maari Crater and a stunning view of Lake Rotoaira and even Lake Taupō on clear days. And then, in stark contrast to the rest of the track, there’s the beautiful forest section which I guarantee you’ll appreciate when doing the crossing on a scorchingly hot summer day. Just remember to bring those walking poles if you’ve got dodgy knees as there are more than a few stairs on the way down.
The Tongariro Crossing is a true alpine experience in winter. As per DOC’s advice, from June to October, snow and ice means alpine skills and experience are essential. If in doubt, go with a guide.