The Tongariro Crossing

While there are definitely issues living on an island that’s earned its place on the planet as a direct result of tectonic activity, there are also advantages for those very same reasons.

The Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand’s internationally acclaimed one day walk is one of the advantages.  If you’re reasonably fit and want to take in some stunning volcanic vistas, you should take the time to do it.  It’s not noted as New Zealand’s best one day walk by accident.

Mount Tongariro from National Park Village.  Even in summer it is snow-capped

If you’re reasonably fit and can walk for up to 7.5 hours, you can do this.  Without any add-ons (i.e. the summits of Mounts Tongariro or Ngauruhoe), you’ll finish the day having walked around 18km.

It is weather dependent.  If the forecast suggests wind speeds in excess of 65kmh, the Department of Conservation recommends that you don’t do it.  The top is very exposed with big drops on either side of Red Crater.  You also need to be carrying food, water and clothing for all eventualities.  It’s an alpine region where the weather changes quickly and with little warning.

The map below provides an overview of the track (marked in red).  It’s taken from the website.  They also have a good pdf you can download, giving you all the information you’d need for the walk.


Many people do the Crossing from Taupo, itself an impressive caldera from an ancient supervolcano.  You can book transport from Taupo (most hotels and motels can help with that), however, it is a longer drive to get there, necessitating setting off very early.  There is plenty of accommodation in Taupo.

An alternative is to base yourself in National Park.  While there’s less to do here, and accommodation is limited, it’s significantly closer to the walk (only around 20 minutes by bus rather than 1.5 hours).

I’ve done the walk from both locations and think that the more relaxed starting time associated with National Park suits me!

Stages of the walk

You should start at Mangatepopo and finish at the Ketetahi hut end.  Firstly, I’d hate to come up the scree slope at the Emerald Lakes and secondly; if you start at Ketetahi Hut, you have an additional 300m to climb due to the difference in height between the two.

For simplicity, I’ve broken the stages of the walk into sections.  My advice is not to rush it.  Stop often. Enjoy the scenery. Take lots of photos – they’ll give you some stunning memories!

Mangatepopo carpark to Mangatepopo hut

The bus (you can use your own transport, but need a vehicle at the start and finish) drops you off at the Mangatepopo carpark.

This easy section of the track, some of which is over boardwalks, is flat and unlikely to cause you any difficulties. It takes you towards the initial climb, fondly referred to as the Devil’s Staircase.



Mangatepopo hut to Soda Springs

On reaching the Devil’s Staircase (which begins at the Mangatepopo hut), the upwards hike begins, and at this moderate to difficult stage your lungs and legs start working noticeably harder!

Dont forget to keep looking back.  On a clear day, you can see Mount Taranaki in the distance – although you’ll need a decent camera to get a photo of it.  While the track is much better than it was several years ago, you still need to watch your footing.

Soda Springs to Red Crater

Once at the top of the Devil’s Staircase, there’s a well appreciated flat section. It’s a good time to take a breather, get some water in you and take more photos.  You’ll start to appreciate just how many volcanic craters make up this plateau!  The last part of the climb to Red Crater is moderate to difficult, but the plateau itself (seen below) is easy.

Platuea at the top of the Devil’s Staircase.  There are plenty of opportunities for unobstructed photos of Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom, if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan).


You can take a side trip up Mount Ngauruhoe from here.  I’ve never done it, but the views from the top would be stunning.  Access to Ngauruhoe is via scree slopes, so it’s dangerous and hard work.  Allow two hours extra if you’re doing this.

Looking back towards top of the Devil’s Staircase (Mount Taranaki in far distance).  
Nearing Red Crater showing how steep the climb is.


It would be nice and peaceful without all these fellow trampers about! 🙂

You’ll definitely want to stop at the top, not just to recover but for more photographs.   Red Crater is an active part of the volcanic system (last erupting in 1850).  As you progress over the summit you’ll see evidence of some of its volcanic deposits from eruptions down to the left.  Inside the crater you can see an exposed lava tube, formed when cooling lava flowed back into the crater:

Lava tube sticking out to the right of the crater.  

Red Crater to Emerald Lakes

This moderate section is one of the most beautiful parts of the walk.  Standing at the top of Red Crater, looking down to the Emerald Lakes for the first time is fantastic.

Then comes the scree slope descent!  Having good walking boots helps keep you on your feet and off your bum.  That said, even with boots I’ve yet to make it down without landing on my bum!

Emerald Lakes from Red Crater.  People heading down the scree slope and the track on the left towards Blue Lake.
Note the steam coming from the right of the lakes.

We usually stop at the Emerald Lakes to have lunch.  It’s an early lunch, but you’ve done enough walking to warrant it!  It’s a nice spot and is generally out of the wind.


A popular spot for lunch and getting stones from the scree slope out of your boots!
Looking up the scree slope to Red Crater.  

Emerald Lakes to Blue Lake

The Blue Lake – this area was once molten lava, 1km across.

This is another fairly flat section.  Once at Blue Lake look behind you.  You’ll see the trifecta of Mounts Tongariro, Ngaurahoe and Ruapehu (with snow on it even in summer). Red Crater is also clearly visible. It’s my favourite photograph spot of the entire walk:


From Blue Lake you see Tongariro (and Red Crater), Ngauruhoe and snow-capped Ruapehu in the background.  Note the lava field from Red Crater to the right of the photo.

Blue Lake to Ketetahi Hut

The descent starts here as you zizag down the mountain.  The toilets at Ketetahi Hut are busy (I often wonder if it’s just an excuse for a quick break!).

Lake Rotoaira (foreground) and Lake Taupo (background).

As you descend, you get great views of Lake Rotoaira and Lake Taupo.

Ketetahi hut to Ketetahi carpark

I’ll not lie – this moderate downhill stretch seems to last forever (it’s around 2 hours but feels longer).  There were many times on the descent when I’d have gladly swapped the downhill for more uphill.  When you get to the carpark, it’s a great feeling to get your boots off and wiggle your toes in the fresh air!

In Summary

This really is a highly recommended, outstanding one day walk, exposing you to some of the volcanic beauty of the central plateau.  It’s not easy – you’ll deserve a beer and feed at the end – but neither does it require superhuman fitness.

The walk itself is free, although you have to pay for transport to get you there.  The cost of this depends on where you’re coming from. If you have a car, I’d suggest you stay at National Park for a couple of days.

On both occasions our motel provided packed lunches.  We topped it up with snacks that we wanted and 2 litres of water.

On a clear day, the views are spectacular and well worth getting up early for!  You’ll struggle to find a better one day walk in the world, never mind New Zealand!

Helpful Hints

  1. Go out of main holiday periods (i.e. Christmas) if possible – The last time we went was just before New Year and it was very busy (albeit not enough to ruin your enjoyment).
  2. Water. Take 2 litres. Don’t skimp on it or you will regret it.
  3. Food. Take a packed lunch.  You’ll be doing upwards of 30,000 steps so as well as keeping hydrated, keep yourself fuelled.  It’s great to have little snacks that you can have when you stop to enjoy the view.
  4. Altitude.  Although you only get up to 2,000m, it’s high enough to make you notice that the air is thinner (harder to get your breath) and it’s cooler than at sea level.  Make sure you take waterproofs and warm clothing.
  5. Feet. While I saw people doing this in trainers, I’d suggest strong walking shoes or walking boots.  It’s easy to go over on ankles in some places. I wouldn’t do it in trainers.
  6. Sunblock. Even if it’s not hot, apply plenty of sunblock.  The UV in New Zealand is lethal and there’s very little shade for you on this walk.

Quick video of my last Tongariro Crossing

The last time I did the Tongariro Crossing, I made a quick video (disclaimer – I’m never going to be in the film industry with my cinematic skills). It gives you an idea of some of the views you’ll get on this walk though. Click here if you’d like to see it.


Egypt – impressive land of contrasts

Egypt is a land of startling contrasts.  Isolated, arid deserts and fertile river floodplains.  Polluted, congested cities and unspoiled, desolate riverbanks.  Illegally constructed buildings, likely to topple at the first suspicion of an earthquake, and Pyramids and temples that have withstood all that nature has thrown at them for over 5,000 years.

Egypt continues to mesmerise travellers, hundreds of years after the first tourists turned up to inspect the centuries old legacy of the Pharaohs.

Our 10-day Egypt tour with Peregrine Adventures took us from Cairo to Aswan and back again, providing an insight into the ancient Egyptian psyche and unravelling the mysteries of this ancient civilisation.


For me, the trip had four highlights;

  • The Pyramids,
  • Karnak Temple, a cultic centre of worship of the God “Amun-Re” (built on 2 axes, covering over 100ha),
  • The Valley of the Kings, where many Pharaohs were buried, and
  • Abu Simbel, Ramesses II’s rock cut temples on the banks of Lake Nasser.

Arriving in Cairo, you know you’ve stepped into something special.  Never before have I experienced a rubbish dump in the middle of a city, surrounded by people’s homes, with pigs used as mobile mulchers.  Nor have I seen so many people living in a cemetery, in a suburb known as the City of the Dead.  Yet neither have I been in a city where I have felt entirely safe, where the locals are incredibly friendly (if slightly over curious!), where the roads are as busy at midnight as they are during the morning rush-hour, and where you are guaranteed an experience that you can only get rummaging about in the shadows of such an ancient civilisation.

Cairo’s roads cannot be judged by New Zealand norms.  One taxi driver took great delight telling us how safe he was and that he had never crashed his car.  The rolls of sellotape holding both of his wing mirrors together suggested that he was being at least slightly economical with the truth, but we jumped in anyway.  His taxi looked no worse than any other in the vicinity!

Cairo and Giza’s combined population of 22 million put Auckland’s traffic congestion into perspective.  They have minimised gridlock by having few lane markings and negligible numbers of traffic lights.  These omissions enable seven or eight cars abreast to fit in a space that, in New Zealand, would comfortably hold four.

Egyptians communicate energetically via their horns.  A single honk can mean anything from “get out the way” to “if you just squeeze slightly to the left, I can get my car between you and the pavement without having to mount it”.  Remarkably, Caireans have an innate understanding of what each honk means and whether or not it is directed at them – particularly impressive when you understand that most drivers are frantically honking most of the time.

Our official tour began with a visit to Memphis and Saqqara near Cairo.  Here you start learning the importance of ego to the ancient Pharaohs.  The enormous statue of Ramesses II is a great example of how these ancient kings viewed their importance and self-worth:

Memphis Open-Air Museum - 4/7/07
Statue of Rameses II at Memphis

Saqqara boasts Djozer’s Step Pyramid, a predecessor to its more famous neighbours at Giza.  Dating to around 2630 BC, it started as a single bench (or mastaba), but grew to a total of six mastabas placed on top of one another by the time he died.

Djoser's Step Pyramid Complex - 4/7/07
Djozer’s Step Pyramid (circa 2630 BC)

If the Pyramid’s size and surroundings are not sufficiently impressive, knowing that it has stood for almost 5,000 years certainly gives you a sense of how well things were built in those days!

Djoser's Step Pyramid Complex - 4/7/07
Entrance to Djozer’s Step Pyramid Complex (as seen from the inside).

Giza’s Plateau (home of the Pyramids and Sphinx) is equally impressive.  It is truly fascinating, and somewhat humbling, to examine the Pyramids and to consider the workers who toiled so hard to complete them.  It is even more fascinating and equally humbling to think that, had we been about in their heyday, we would never have been allowed in the inner sanctuaries that we were being guided through.  It is perhaps most fascinating, though not at all humbling, to walk around the corner from these structures and find a KFC, a Pizza Hut and a fake Hard Rock Café!  I guess that’s progress for you!

Khafre’s Pyramid is most impressive, with its limestone cap and Sphinx, although Khufu’s is the oldest of the three on the Plateau.  The splendour of the area is tempered by the litter left by tourists; sadly typical of many Egyptian tourist sites.

Giza Pyramids - 5/7/07
Khafre’s Pyramid, with its limestone cap intact.
Sphinx - 5/7/07
The Sphinx with Khafre’s Pyramid in the background.
Giza Pyramids - 5/7/07
The Pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Mankaure (l to r).

Khufu’s Solar Boat museum was also worth a visit.  Not only was the air conditioning a welcome relief from the oppressive July heat, but the 3,000 year old boat, believed to have been used to take the dead Pharaoh to his Pyramid, was very impressive in its own right.

Solar Boat Museum - 5/7/07
Khufu’s impressive Solar Boat.

From Cairo, we headed south to Luxor by sleeper train; an experience I’d recommend trying no more than once, if you want a decent night’s sleep!

Once in Southern Egypt, you are coming forward in time and many temples in this area were still being added to in Roman times.

Approaching Karnak Temple by horse and cart at 7.30am, the increase in temperature compared to Cairo was immediately evident.  Indeed, it wasn’t unusual for temperatures to reach 48C.

So much is packed into the 3,500 year old sprawling temple complex, including the 134 columned Hypostyle hall.  Commenced in 1390BC, the hall was still being decorated some 177 years later.  Imagining such sustained construction nowadays is a real challenge.

Karnak Temple - 6/7/07

Western entrance to Karnak Temple through an avenue of ram-headed sphinxes.

Karnak Temple - 6/7/07
Karnak’s Hypostyle Hall.  The post and lintel hall was originally illuminated by high windows, as seen at the top of the photograph.

The Hypostyle hall’s 134 columns leave you with a sense of enduring admiration for their craftsmen.  The undersides of some lintels still retain much of their original colour; vivid hues of red, yellow and blue.

Karnak Temple - 6/7/07
The colour that remains on some of the lintels is very impressive!

The temple still retains two of its original six obelisks, one of which was built by Hatshepsut, the first female Pharaoh (who reigned as if she were a male). The other was built by Thutmose III, Hatshepsut’s stepson.

Karnak Temple - 6/7/07
Obelisk at Karnak Temple.

It was disappointing to leave Karnak Temple, as we could have spent several more hours exploring.  Our disappointment was soon forgotten on arriving at the Valley of the Kings, however.  A huge area on the West Bank of the Nile, this was the burial ground for Pharaohs, Queens and Nobles from around 1500BC.

Our day got underway with a dawn balloon trip, taking in the spectacular vista before the inevitable crowds descended.  The peacefulness of sun-rise at 1500ft in near total silence totally justified the US$95 per person cost.

Valley of the Kings (Hot Air Balloon) - 7/7/07
Sunrise from a hot air balloon over Luxor.
Valley of the Kings (Hot Air Balloon) - 7/7/07
The views were impressive….
Valley of the Kings (Hot Air Balloon) - 7/7/07
….and helped to understand the overall scale.

Following an inch-perfect landing, we were bussed to the Valley of the Kings, where our entry fee entitled us to explore the resting places of three Pharaohs.  Our guide showed us to those of Ramesses IV (a simple, early style tomb with vivid, colourful scenes on the ceiling) and Merneptah (a more intricate tomb with a much steeper entrance).  For our third, we walked to the far end of the Valley to the temple of Thutmosis III.  This was a fascinating, if somewhat claustrophobic, tomb with simple wall paintings depicting instructions for the Pharaoh’s progression to the afterlife.

Although this tomb did not boast the vivid colours of the other two we visited, it was certainly my favourite.  Unfortunately, no photography can be carried out within the tombs, as this can damage the paint.

Valley of the Kings (Sesostris III) - 7/7/07
The climb leading to the tomb of Thutmosis III

On the opposite side of the hill from the Valley of the Kings lies the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut.  Designed to legitimise her right to rule, much was made of her feats, including trading voyages that she oversaw to neighbouring countries.  Most of Hatshepsut’s images in this temple were destroyed by those who came after her.

Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple - 7/7/07
Dug from the limestone cliffs, Hatchepsut’s Mortuary Temple is very impressive, although in its heyday, there would have been significantly more greenery around it.
Valley of the Kings (Hot Air Balloon) - 7/7/07
Seen from above, it is clearer to see how it was dug into the limestone.
Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple - 7/7/07
Soldiers marching in honour of Hatchepsut at her mortuary temple.

Many Egyptian tours include a trip on the Nile.  Not wanting to “rough it” in a felucca (a small sail boat that has been in existence for centuries in Egypt), we opted for a cruise style ship, the Atun, instead.  There are many such ships, with varying degrees of luxury. Peregrine’s choice in ship (not to mention their outstanding guide Big Mo) was excellent and made for a very relaxing three day cruise, during which we took in temples at Edfu, Komombo and Philae.  The cruise provided an excellent opportunity for relaxing and watching life on the Nile.

Philae Temple was possibly one of the most impressive to approach.  Built for the God Isis, it was relocated following the building of the Aswan High Dam.  The island on which it was originally located is now underwater.

Philae Temple - 9/7/07
Approach to Philae Temple.
Philae Temple - 9/7/07
A closer view of the Temple.

The Romans continued to add to Philae Temple and Trajan’s kiosk, built to embellish existing features of the temple, is a great example of this.  It demonstrates that some of these Pagan temples were used until fairly recently.

Philae Temple - 9/7/07
Trajan’s Kiosk.  Built by the Romans at Philae Temple.

Our final destination prior to returning to Cairo was Abu Simbel.  Here we visited 2 temples; the larger one celebrating the great Pharaoh Ramesses II, the other celebrating his most famous wife, Nefertari.  Like Philae Temple, both of these were cut and moved to higher ground due to the Aswan High Dam.  Had they not been moved, they would currently be submerged.

Ramesses demonstrates the extent of his ego through his four seated statues (that are as tall as a five to six storey building) and through the depiction of him being an equal with the three Gods with whom he is seated in the inner sanctuary.

Abu Simbel - 10/7/07
Temple of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel. A long minibus ride to get here, but well worth the effort.
Abu Simbel - 10/7/07
Temple of Queen Nefertari at Abu Simbel.

Ramesses II had around 110 children and probably lived into his 90s.  Given that he spent the first 20 years of his Kingship at war building his empire; it seems surprising that he also had the time to be one of the most prolific builders of all the Pharaohs.

Having finished in Southern Egypt, it was time to return to Cairo for a final couple of days sight-seeing. It didn’t take long to get back into the clamour of Cairo life.  After the heat of Southern Egypt, the cool 38C of Cairo almost felt civilised!

As I said at the outset, Egypt is a land of startling contrasts.  It is precisely these contrasts that ignite your senses, guiding you back to early Dynastic times, immersing you in a history that is very hard to imagine without being there.  I suspect that Egypt will still be mesmerising travellers such as me in another 5 millennia, with the wondrous legacy of the Pharaohs.


  • Haggle for everything including taxi rides.  It’s fun, it’s expected, and you’ll get ripped off if you don’t!
  • Tipping (or “baksheesh”) is a way of life in Egypt.  You will be expected to tip everywhere you go.  Ensure you accumulate lots of small notes (i.e. EG£1, which is around 25c).
  • Be prepared for the heat if travelling in July / August.  This will result in some very early starts on your excursions.
  • Don’t eat fruit or salad if you have not washed them yourself with bottled water.  This should help you fend off a bad stomach.  Even use bottled water for brushing your teeth.
  • Take Imodium and electrolytes for replenishing your body if you get an upset stomach.  It’s better to be safe than sorry!