A walk to remember: Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Tongariro alpine crossing

Does your family love adventure? Tackling the one-day Tongariro alpine crossing feels like landing on the moon, says Aana Marinovich.

At the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, the landscape crosses from alpine tussock to barren volcanic expanse, with surreal jade and turquoise lakes, a sky-high summit, and lush green native forest with a rushing river alongside an old lahar. It’s a terrific family adventure, but not for the faint-hearted. Gather your whanau (recommended for children eight years plus) and plan for one of New Zealand’s greatest day walks. It would seem tourists from far and wide have all hooked into this unique experience, so we were determined that our kids would get to experience our local Kiwi best.

Where and how long will you be walking?

You’ll start your walk at Mangatepopo Road and finish at the Ketetahi Bus Park. You can’t park at either of these spots anymore, so you need to book a shuttle both ways. We used Tongariro Expeditions, who picked us up in Taupo at 6.30am and dropped us home by 5.30pm. You’ll be walking for about seven hours including breaks, although weather and family fitness level will make a big difference to your time.

Our best moments

* Looking over the massive “Red Crater” where the lava flow has forged a deep ravine. It’s black, volcanic-looking, and incredibly beautiful with its burnt autumn colours and grand scale.
* Being up close and personal with Ngaurahoe is spectacular. Certainly, daunting enough to convince us that taking the kids on a side excursion up this impressive mountain was not on our agenda.
* Seeing the Emerald Lakes are a “wowza” moment. Just over the summit, you will descend upon this truly Instagrammable sight. The lakes are tapu (sacred) and get their colour from their acidic makeup, so enjoy them from above and even walk around them, but don’t touch the water.
* Walking through the native bush at the end is a cool and shady relief. I love the canopy bush, and it was even more memorable with the running water in the lahar alongside the track. It sounded like we were walking under a waterfall. Even better, it was a great spot to rehydrate!

The tough bits

* The Devil’s Staircase is a bit of a killer. Sporty, fit kids cope fine, and of course we managed it too (just with a bit more huffing and puffing!). It’s how you make the ascent to the top, so there is no getting around it, and on the upside (literally) it allows you the most amazing views of Mount Taranaki on a clear day.
* The final climb up to and descent down from the Red Crater Summit is a little steep and slippy-slidey with loose gravel. As the “bad knee brigade”, this was our biggest fear on the track, but with leki stick in hand and a tidy little side-slide technique, we got through it pain-free.

We stayed in Taupo in a Bookabach

With a big crew of kids, we decided to rent a house through Bookabach. Even better, we decided on the 2018 Gold Medal award-winner from the “Bookabach of the Year Awards”, Muritai House. Set across two levels, this truly amazing property has just been completely renovated to a high standard. Whether you prefer a soak in the indoor plunge pool, or to fire up the BBQ and relax on the deck while taking in the stunning lake views, you will love this home. It has seven bedrooms and five bathrooms, and there are two kitchens and two living areas to make hosting large groups easy.

Just a two-minute walk to the shores of Lake Taupo, a five-minute walk to a popular local restaurant and convenience store, or take the car and you’ll be in town in less than five minutes.

Other cool things to do in Taupo

Tongariro White Water Rafting Adventure

We chose the grade three rapid, which had just the right amount of excitement for the kids, and still felt super-safe for those of us looking after them! Rafting can’t help but produce smiles, and the youthful, yet experienced Rafting New Zealand guides really know how to relate to the kids.

Taupo De Bretts Mineral Hot Pools

Make sure you’ve got this on the agenda after walking the Crossing. They have two large mineral pools, 12 private pools fed by a natural geothermal spring, two cooler freshwater pools, a dragon-inspired water slide, and the warm-water splash pad is fabulous.

Huka Prawn Park 

We could have stayed here all day! Fishing for prawns is unexpectedly very addictive, and easy for the kids to manage the process themselves. Pay to get in, then keep what you catch. We became far too relaxed idling the day away on the mini jetties under large umbrellas. Although we did manage to drag ourselves to the restaurant and scoff large amounts of garlic prawns.

Big thanks to Suzuki

We were lucky enough to drive a Suzuki S-Cross Turbo to Taupo. It was a peppy, goodsized SUV that carried me and three others comfortably with our luggage on the three-anda-half-hour journey from Auckland to Taupo. The boys had plenty of leg room and the car also got the tick of approval from the kids as it has a good stereo, Apple CarPlay, and Bluetooth connectivity that allowed everyone to have a turn at playing their own music. The SatNav also allows you to get your co-pilot to do some work by planning the route for you. It was an easy car to manage, with everything in arm’s reach and plenty of leg and head room.

Top Tongariro Alpine Crossing advice for families

  • Book ahead as bus trips book up with tourists, and you want to be there early to beat the crowds.
  • Plan an early start as the track can get super-busy.
  • Train for the steps as these are the most challenging part of the walk, and there’s quite a few of them. Slow and steady wins the race.
  • Dress for all weather as the Tongariro Crossing is known for changeable weather. If you walk in the mid-seasons, then you will need a range of clothing including gear that protects you from the cold, heat, wind, rain, and sun. Winter trekking is not recommended with kids.
  • Make hyrdration the priority and don’t take a drop less than two litres per person. There are no places to fill up on the track, and you will go through at least this much water. It’s a thirsty business.
  • Hold out to stop for a bigger rest at the Blue Lake, rather than at the Emerald Lakes. It has a better surround for sitting, doesn’t have a sulphur smell, and is just beautiful to look over.
  • Take a good camera as the lake colours are magical and the views are spectacular.
  • Eat wisely and stop for small, regular snacks rather than a big lunch. We had treats to nibble on, but apples were our
    most popular choice of fuel. Light, sweet, and juicy.
  • Taking your own toilet supplies is a good idea. There are toilet stops enroute, but you will need your own toilet paper and hand sanitiser.

More family travel from tots to teens:

Parent Hacks For Travelling To Mt Ruapheu With Kids

19 Things To Do In Taupo With Kids

A Long Weekend In Rotorua

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