Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to the Tongariro National Park Walks. New Zealand is a land of many names. In the Maori language, its name is Aoteoroa, which translates to the Land of the Long White Cloud. Some people call it Middle Earth or Hobbiton because the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed there.
Some people call it The Land Down Under, but these people are very wrong. (The Land Down Under is Australia. Never, never mistake New Zealand for Australia.) However, in my mind, New Zealand will always be the land of national parks since I experienced the Tongariro National Park Walks.
If you only get to experience one part of life in New Zealand, let it be the country’s natural beauty. And with 24 hours in Tongariro National Park, we will explore that beauty in detail. You might even get to watch me almost have a horrible accident. Let’s go!
Tongariro National Park Walks
What to Pack
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
New Zealand is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re not from Australia, New Zealand, or the UK, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. NZ electrical outlets don’t work with American or non-UK European plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
Tongariro National Park Walks
Tramping is what New Zealanders call hiking, and it is a very fun word to say. If I think of going off tramping, I envision slipping into some fishnet stockings and heavy red lipstick and heading to a dive bar. But fishnets would be impractical for New Zealand winds, and the red lipstick wouldn’t impress anyone but a stray kiwi bird.
Though I love going for walks, my Tongariro National Park Walks were my first experience with hiking in New Zealand, and it was extremely different from hiking in my beloved New York State. So I’d like to share with you the knowledge I gleaned from my infinite mistakes with…
three fun facts: tongariro National Park Walks
1) where can i go hiking?
Excellent question, Internet Stranger! I spent my Tongariro National Park Walks in the company of a tour group with Intrepid Travel. Many people in the tour group were experienced hikers who were stoked to do something called the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is apparently one of the most famous one day hikes in the world. We stayed at the Skotel Alpine Resort in Whakapapa Village, near Mt. Ruapehu. Like many resorts in the area, Skotel can help you with transportation to Tongariro National Park. Ideally there would have been no issue.
But unfortunately, there’s a reason the word “Alpine” is used when describing the Tongariro Crossing. Even in the summer, the area can get so frosty and windy that it is inadvisable to hike there. This happened to our group, and there were two passionately fanatic Canadian hikers whose dreams were crushed. So if you have your heart set on doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, make sure that you stay in the area for a few days. That way you’ll be much less likely to be disappointed if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
However, I was not especially bothered by the cancellation. I couldn’t have gone on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing because of an entirely different issue. Fortunately there are lovely day hikes around Whakapapa Village, like the one I took to the Tama Lakes. There are also very clearly labeled trails, so you can get lost. For an intermediate hiker like myself, I think I enjoyed the Tongariro National Park Walks more than I would have the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
2) What should you wear?
Experienced hikers will know this already, but as I mentioned, I am not an experienced hiker. Spending a cheerful afternoon moseying around the Hudson Highlands State Park about 2 hours outside New York City is very pleasant, but it is hardly “roughing it”. Back home, I see people hiking all the time wearing jeans and cotton t-shirts.
I myself am an inveterate pants-hater, so I always go hiking in a skirt and thick, black tights. I imagine this makes me look like Elizabeth Bennett after she went tramping through the mud because she was so desperate to reach her sick sister Jane. The only pants I own are one pair of jeans that I completely hate and never wear under any circumstances.
Well, apparently neither a skirt and black tights nor hated jeans will work in the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The TAC gets incredibly wet, windy, and snowy, so anything cotton is basically going to make you die of hypothermia. At least, that’s what it seemed like the guides were telling me.
You want something waterproof and loose enough to be comfy. Then you want lots of layers because it can be freezing even in the dead of summer. Bring a hat and gloves. Finally, you want shoes with good traction because there will be some walking downhill, and you don’t want to fall off a hill and crack your face open. All the sheep will laugh at you, and that will be very embarrassing.
Also, you may occasionally see some young gentlemen running about in sandals and shorts, no matter the wind chill or temperature. These people are very stupid. Do not imitate them.
3) How long will all this take?
For me, the hike to the Tama Lakes and back to the Skotel took about 6 hours. (I have the time stamps on my photos to prove it.) Two things to keep in mind. First, there is absolutely no place to buy food on the way. Bring lunch with you. Also, bring plenty of bottled water so you stay hydrated.
This brings me to point two. There are no toilets. Not even weird nasty hole in the grounds. If you want to go, just peek behind an accommodating bush or rock, and do your thing. If you’re too shy, New Zealand might not be the right country for you!
Tongariro National Park Walks
Afternoon: Enjoy Nature’s Beauty!
So the morning hike, I was so concentrated on reaching the Tama Lakes that I don’t think I properly appreciated my surroundings. But once it reaches noon, you reach the Tama Lakes, and the weather starts to warm up. This will give you plenty of time to focus on the wonders of Tongariro National Park. Some of my favorites include…
approximately top 5: tongariro National park walks
1) Lower Tama Lake
The Tama Lakes were created, like basically everything else in New Zealand, by volcanoes. Well, I’m exaggerating slightly because it’s only the craters that were made by volcanic eruption. Eventually water sneaked into the craters, I assume from rainfall or sheep’s tears, and then two insanely blue freshwater lakes were formed. You can see the Lower Tama Lake above. It’s nice. It’s pleasant. You can feel good about yourself if you reach the Lower Tama Lake. But for those who feel up to a steep climb and hella bragging rights, I present to you…
2) Upper Tama Lake
That’s right, bitches! My city slicker self made it to Upper Tama Lake. It is a fairly steep climb from Lower Tama Lake to Upper Tama Lake, and there’s no real pathway. One woman of our group decided not to make the climb. (Before you judge her too harshly, know that she was in her 60s.)
I personally found the climb to be an exciting challenge, kind of like playing Tetris with my own body. Now I literally have zero upper body strength. I may possibly be a Gumby. So you don’t need any superhuman muscles to take on this path. However, what I did not consider was what would happen when I reached the top.
There was so much wind!!! Look at the insane things this wind was doing to my bangs! I literally felt like I was going to get knocked off the viewpoint any second and die. In fact, it may be my ghost who is writing this blog post. BOO!
But it was almost worth it because of this bananas view of the Lower Tama Lake from the upper viewing point. All my friends back home thought this was photoshopped or a picture postcard. I assure you it is neither.
My final warning: the climb back down is very steep and I don’t think I had proper hiking shoes, just very warm lined boots. So I quickly realized that it would be much harder going down than climbing up. The wind had also reached egregious levels, and I feared I would tumble over and break my crown, Jack and Jill-styles. So I decided to leave my dignity in Upper Tama Lake and scoot down the hill on my tuchis. I regret nothing. If this blog teaches you nothing else, I hope it teaches you not to worry about looking silly.
3) Mt Ruapehu
If you’ve marveled at my photos that I risked windburn and hideous disfigurement to bring you, you’ve already seen Mt. Ruapehu. It’s this snow-capped beauty behind Lower Tama Lake. (Keep in mind that I visited New Zealand in December and January, which is their summer. My understanding is that in the winter, the entire mountain might be covered in snow.)
Mt. Ruapehu has the distinctions of being both an active volcano and a popular location for ski resorts. New Zealanders really are a tough bunch. They never know when or if Mt. Ruapehu might go off again, yet they can still relax and enjoy a little apres-ski right on top of a dangerous lava funnel. But fear not, Internet Stranger! Mt. Ruapehu hasn’t had a major eruption since…the 1990s! So probably there’s nothing to worry about.
4) Mt Ngauruhoe
Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu are the two big mountains you can see on the Tama Lakes hike. I have a horror that I’ve mixed up my photos of them despite all my research. (There was no guide with me on this hike, just a few people from my tour group, so I’ve had to figure out what everything was on my own.) I literally wake up in a cold sweat afraid some mean Kiwi is going to email me about what an uninformed American I am. But I did my best to find accurate information, and I hope my best will suffice.
Both Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu were used as stand-ins for Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. But there are a couple of key differences. One is that Mt Ngauruhoe is more beautifully cone-shaped. I kept calling it Mount Conehead because I do not know how to pronounce its real name.
Another difference is that it’s generally much easier to see Mt. Ruapehu during your 24 hours in Tongariro National Park. There are often clouds covering Mt Ngauruhoe. When I was by the Upper Tama Lake, Mt Ngauruhoe wasn’t visible in my photos at all. But eventually on the way back to Skotel, the clouds parted and we could see most of the cone. Then I waved my hands about in the air and yelled, “DOOM! DOOM!” (I haven’t actually seen all of the Lord of the Rings movies, but I assume someone does that at some point.)
5) Taranaki Falls
After all that wind and volcanic eruptions and DOOM and scooting on your booty, it’s time for a little peace and quiet. That’s why I suggest stopping at Taranaki Falls on your way back to the hotel. In fact, beginning hikers might want to simply hike to Taranaki Falls and back to the hotel. It will take you about two hours. Then you can spend the afternoon chillaxing at Skotel’s spa. You can even pretend you made it to the Tama Lakes and pass my photos off as yours. As long as you don’t make any money of it, I won’t object!
Tongariro National Park Walks
Evening: Dinner at Skotel
After all that walking, go back to your hotel and take a nice warm shower. You’ll have plenty of time to order a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and take in the views of the sunset from the Skotel balcony. (There’s no filter on that photo above, FYI.) You’ll have worked up an appetite, so get ready for some dinner! Just keep in mind that you need to book your table with the hotel in advance, even if you’re staying there.
Remember, New Zealand is an island nation, so the seafood there is not to be missed. (Anyone who emails me to tell me New Zealand is actually two islands is not allowed to read this blog anymore.) Because it’s chilly in Tongariro National Park, even in summer, I suggest warming up with a healing bowl of seafood chowder. Those plump mussels are just waiting for you to eat them!
The specialty at Skotel is their pork belly with sweet potato gratin. It felt like exactly the sort of thing you should eat to put some meat back on your bones after a full day of tramping. If you’re the sort of person, like me, who thinks the skin is the best part of the chicken, this dish is definitely for you.
That’s 24 Hours with Tongariro National Park Walks!
What would you do with 24 hours with Tongariro National Park walks? Would you be willing to go on this tramp if it meant peeing behind a bush or wearing pants? And is Gandalf the one who likes to say DOOM or is it Sauron? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours on Tongariro National Park Walks. If you want to add 24 hours of a Taupo to Waitomo trip, click here. And if you want to add 24 hours in Rotorua, click here.