Known for: Geothermal springs Huka Falls Alpine Treks Volcanic rock NZ tourism
If there is one scenic hike you do in New Zealand, make sure it’s the Tongariro Crossing.
We’re so lucky here in New Zealand with the abundance of hiking trails and mountains to climb on our doorstep, so each long weekend we tick another off the list.
WHERE TO STAY
Taupo is a tourism hub of New Zealand so there are plenty of hotels and backpackers around. However if you want to get off the beaten track – in cooler months your car is your best bet as it’s freakin’ cold. We stayed in the National Park carpark at the beginning of the Tongariro Crossing with a spectacular view of the mountains to wake up to. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
WHAT TO DO
1. Tongariro Crossing
Nearly every Kiwi would have pounded this soil at some point, whether on a school trip or an adventure-filled weekend away. We began the 19km trail (more like 25 as we took a round trip) at 10.30am, with the brisk morning wind biting at our ankles and blinding sun peeking through the fog. Stripping off thermal layers we tackled the perilous Devil’s Staircase winding up and up higher into the clouds. At one point I asked David, “so how many more stairs to go?” “Another three quarters” he said without batting an eyelid.
Fifteen steps later I notice a flat trail leading into a foreboding cloud. “So where are the rest of the steps” I probe through bated breath. David laughed for a while. “That was it.”
Of course I would be the only human ever to ask for more devilish stairs.
Once at the top, we saw a windswept duo trudging through the low hanging cloud. We gave them a nod of encouragement as they battled the strong winds (which were in our favour, not theirs) – then I heard a delighted yelp of my name… You know you have rad friends when you bump into them on top of a mountain.
Throughout the walk you’ll experience an ever-changing landscape with planes formed by volcanic eruptions creating shafts of molten rock that hang delicately from the cliff face.
If you’re relatively fit (and aren’t dragging along a wearisome Frodo -type) then the walk will be a breeze for you. Just take in the exotic scenery, take snack pit stops and run down the rocky mountain-face.
Travel tip: When I say run down the mountain, I mean it. If you walk down hesitantly you’ll feel the rocks breaking away under your feet and your chance of slipping will increase. So go for it!
We arrived back just as the sun was setting behind the mountains – shining a vibrant burnt orange. Looking across the landscape we felt like the only humans left on the planet. Not one person shared our path.
At one point we stopped and listened to the dead silence, noticing the absence of cicadas, birds or wind – just pure stillness.
It’s times like these where you can completely empty your mind of thoughts about the future, worries, stress or whether or not it would make a good Instagram picture – you simply enjoy the present moment, who you’re with and the incredible creation of your surroundings. Being able to experience this provides a feeling of happiness that no material possessions can fulfill.
2. Check out Sapphire Lakes
You can tick this off when you do the crossing.
3. Putaruru Blue Springs
The crystal clear blue spring water is bottled and served at fancy soirees and business meetings. It comes from the humble beginnings of some farmer’s backyard stream.
4. Spa Park, Taupo
David worked in Taupo for a year so he knows all the secret spots. Spa Park is a natural hot pool that leads into the Waikato river. It’s free, not overly crowded and nestled into lush greenery.
5. Huka falls
It amazes me how packed with tourists the falls are annually. Then I remembered how incredible they actually are. Easy access, free and there are lots of cool walks you can do nearby.
6. Aratiatia Dam
Releases it’s water at 10, 12, 2 and 4 in summer, “it’s spectacular” – David. I didn’t get to see this, but apparently it’s a must see.
7. Visit some of the many thrift stores.
For a small town, Taupo has a lot of treasures.
8. Visit Hamilton Gardens on the way back to Auckland.
Walk through 21 exquisitely authentic gardens ranging from an Italian Renaissance garden, to an Oriental Chinoiserie garden to a typical sustainable kiwi backyard.
This photo was taken in the Zen Garden (Japanese Contemplation) in style of the Muromachi era.
These gardens are typically quite austere but transcend the constructed contextual idea, and encourage the viewer to interpret their environment based on their natural reaction and own beliefs.
WHAT TO EAT
Not Burgerfuel. Instead make your own. We made that mistake out of desperation.
However we were saved by Whittakers! A big thank you to our favourite chocolatier for providing us with some delicious sustenance for our adventure. Our favourite flavour was the Oolong Tea Dark block.
So I’m back in Auckland now and have since torn all the ligaments in my ankle from wearing sensible shoes and walking on flat carpet – not salsa dancing in Argentina, how ironic. So we have been laying low and building an exciting new camping fit-out in David’s car (which I’ll feature in my post), so if anyone has any fun activity ideas while in a moon-boot, please let me know! I also finished a photography course that I ran with my mum (click here to watch the interview with the kids) and had a 22nd birthday – so thank you to everyone who made my day so special.