Hiking Through Mordor: The Tongariro Crossing

Hiking the Tongariro Crossing was one of the most rewarding experiences we had in New Zealand. The day hike is 19.6km total, with a stunning backdrop of Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings in the background.

Be Prepared

When we hiked the Tongariro crossing, it was towards the end of summer, and we had some great weather. If you end up doing the hike, have some flexibility and do it on a day that is going to have some good visibility.

We wore:

  • Shorts
  • Short sleeve athletic shirt
  • Broken in running shoes
  • 2 layers of socks

We brought:

  • Hiking pants
  • Wind/rain jacket
  • 2 L of water each
  • 2 PB&Js each
  • 1 apple each
  • 2 nut bars each
  • First aid kit
  • Cameras
  • Sunscreen
  • Gloves
Tongariro Crossing

At the start of the Tongariro Corssing

Don’t drink a lot of fluids before you start and make sure business is taken care of if you know what I mean. It’s a loooooong hike to be holding it, and it’s completely open so there’s nowhere to hide.

We left our campsite at 6:30AM since the Tongariro crossing should be started as early as possible. Since the trek is not a loop, you essentially have 3 transportation options:

  1. Drive to the beginning of the hike and take a shuttle at the end back to your car
  2. Park your car at the end and take a shuttle to the beginning
  3. Carpool with other people; Park one car at the beginning and take the other car back to the start

We ended up doing the 2nd option and parking our car at the end of the Tongariro crossing, taking the Tongariro Expeditions shuttle ($30PP) to the beginning. That way, when we finished the exhausting hike, we could immediately drive our car back to our campsite. We wouldn’t be stuck at the end waiting with a bunch of other people for a shuttle to take us back to our car.  Tongariro Expeditions also gave us a map of the whole Tongariro crossing broken down into 8 sections.


Mongatepopo Car Park to Soda Springs

This was easy 1 hour walk taking us further into the area before starting our ascent. At this point we realized just how popular this hike actually is, with a steady line of people as far as we could see. A lot of people seemed to start at an aggressive pace, and us being naturally competitive, we wanted to not keep getting passed up. But it’s important to pace yourself, it’s all about endurance! Plus, you want to actually enjoy the scenery surrounding you.

Tongariro Crossing

This part is a piece of cake!

Soda Springs to South Crater (AKA the Devil’s Staircase)

Seriously go to the bathroom here, even if you don’t think you have to go. The next won’t be for quite a long time. Can you tell we made a mistake here? Learn from us!

Tongariro Crossing

The sign warning people to turn back if ill prepared

Tongariro Crossing

The devil’s staircase is exhausting

Before starting the ascent, there is a sign warning people to turn back if they are ill prepared or aren’t feeling well. After a couple minutes climbing, we could tell why this part was nicknamed the devil’s staircase.

Tongariro Crossing

Mount Doom

There is a 2 hour side option at the top of the this track to climb Mt. Ngauruhoe (aka Mt. Doom), but it’s only recommended if you find the devil’s staircase easy. Needless to say, we carried on with the regular track.

South Crater to Base of Red Crater

This was a nice, flat walk to break up the ascent.

Tongariro Crossing

Finally some flat ground! Up next was climbing up the left part of the ridge in the background

Ascent of the Red Crater Ridge

Ascending the red crater ridge was by far the hardest park of the Tongariro crossing. We didn’t mind stopping multiple times on the way up to catch our breath and enjoy the views.


The view from the summit was absolutely breathtaking, and we rested here for a while to eat some lunch. The summit was the halfway point, and we felt so accomplished after climbing up such a steep incline.

Tongariro Crossing

The red crater to the left with Mount Doom in the background

Red Crater Summit to Emerald Lakes

Climbing down to the emerald lakes was pretty difficult due to all the loose scree, and we pretty much slid most of the way down.

Tongariro Crossing

Descending down to the emerald lakes

It’s amazing how blue the lakes are, and we saw 2 people actually swimming in them. Although, there are signs everywhere saying not to, as they are not healthy to swim in. Not to mention how uncomfortable the rest of the hike must have been for them.

Tongariro Crossing

Someone swimming in one of the emerald lakes

Emerald Lakes to the Blue Lake

This was a short walk along the flat central crater, with a short climb at the end to get to the blue lake. It was awesome looking back at the summit and the path we had just come down. We had our final views of Mt. Doom at the blue lake.

Tongariro Crossing

Looking back at the trail we traveled from the blue lake, we were at the peak on the right

Blue Lake to Ketehai Shelter

Tongariro Crossing

The long windy trail wrapping down the mountain

This was a huge change of scenery from the rest of the Tongariro crossing, and the start of our long descent.

Ketehahi Shelter to Car Park

The descent was incredibly windy, and was almost as exhausting as the climb. We were going down hill for almost 2 hours straight, and our knees and toes were starting to kill us.

Tongariro Crossing

Meandering our way through the forest


Just when we started to think the end would never come, we broke through the trees into the parking lot where we had left the car.

Tongariro Crossing

At the very end in the carpark. All the people behind us are waiting for a shuttle

We finished the Tongariro crossing in 6 and a 1/2 hours and felt so accomplished! It felt great to spend the day outside and be doing something so active.


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  • Reply
    April 1, 2016 at 2:37 am

    Looks like y’all had a great weather day, until you said it was windy on the way down. Looking forwarding to following your adventures through New Zealand!

  • Reply
    April 3, 2016 at 11:27 pm

    We were lucky that it was so clear on the day we went. The day before it had been raining like crazy. Thanks for stopping by!

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