To be honest, we are not super experienced hikers. First, we live in Florida, so even hills are impressive to us. Secondly, while we’ve hiked in Kauai, Namibia and Colorado, we don’t even own proper hiking boots. We have gotten better over the years, but we are absolutely, 100% novice hikers who seem to be the right mixture of physically fit, blissfully ignorant and outdoorsy-but-also-like-to-shower-every-night kind of travelers.
In our current age (mid thirties) and state of health (active and healthy) there are not too many trails we wouldn’t attempt. True, summiting Mount Everest is not on my list, but Kilimanjaro is, completing the Napali Coast Trail in Kauai is and hiking the Tongariro Trail is. Only now we can say was, since we finished the hike in just over 6 hours in December 2015. It is certainly one for the books and every bit as impressive as I’d hoped it would be.
Here is a synopsis of our 6 hour hike, in tennis shoes, on the Tongariro Trail.
Hour 1: Park, wait for the bus, ride the bus and then start hiking (Note, 99.9% of people do this. If you park and start hiking, then ride the bus back to your car you will be hiking against the flow of foot traffic.) The first hour is easy – both in general and in comparison to the rest of the hike. The first hour consists of gravel trails, well-kept boardwalks over marshy land and a slow uphill trek. There are also port-o-potties, or temporary toilets for you to use. These are the only facilities on the path, so take advantage of them.
Hour 2: Hour 2 is up and down and even perfectly flat at times. Leaving the toilets is almost straight up, but then you reach a crater like stretch suddenly the earth looks like Mars.
Hour 3: The third hour was the highlight for me. After reaching a high point and sitting a boulder to rest and eat a snack in the clouds (literally), we marveled at the Red Crater and the prismatic pools of water below. This is also a good stopping point for lunch.
Hour 4: Stopping for lunch bleeds into the next hour, but the trek through a valley and alongside other ponds is easy enough and allows your food to digest some. If this part of the trek looks like the land of Mordor, you’re a solid LOTR fan.
Hour 5: Rises and falls in the land create for changing views of the valley below and it is tough to not trip over the loose rocks as you forget to look down at your footing while staring at the stunning beauty that is all around you.
Hour 6: The last hour is the longest, because that is just how time and life work. HOwever, for me, this was the most rigorous as it is almost entirely downhill. My body is built for uphill climbs, but downhill over the course of an hour can really wear on your knees and ankles, so be prepared. The downhill trail brings you down from the mountains, foothills and ends in a forest. This forest is the only shade found on the entire trail.
Things to know before you hike:
- Pack water and food – more than you think you’ll need.
- Plan on spending a few days in the area as weather might not cooperate and this causes the trail to close for everyone.
- Dress in layers. We added and peeled off layers all day long.
- Socks were more important and helpful to us than hiking boots were. We had water wicking, warm socks that kept dirt and small pebbles out; which was paramount.
- We did not have walking sticks, but I can see how they would be helpful.
- Pack sunscreen and sunglasses/hat for sure! At some points you are in the clouds, but other times the sun is intense and there is no shade to be found.
- Did I say to pack water and snacks? The average time is 7 hours.