It has to be said, this is one of our favourite trips so you’re in for a fantastic weekend. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing may well be referred to as the best one day walk in New Zealand but to us it’s much more than that. Taking you deep into the heart of Mordor (for you Lord of the Rings fans), this is a walk that really takes you off the beaten track where you’ll discover landscapes you’ve never before witnessed and push yourself on to complete this challenging but rewarding walk. We love this trip and we hope you do too but we had better crack on as there are a few miles between Auckland and Mount Doom so let’s get your skates on and GO!
- Route map with key locations
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- Trip itinerary
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1Auckland to National Park Village (322kms – 3 hours 54mins)
It’s a good old drive down to National Park Village, your base camp for this one day walk but thankfully with three days off for this trip, you can take your time on day one heading down and there’s even time for a detour on the way back so it’s not all bad!
Pokeno (53.7kms – 37 mins)
Although it’s only half an hour since you left Auckland, the first stop of the day is soon upon us! The Pokeno ice cream store is renowned for the biggest ice creams in the country.
Pokeno Takeaways, on Great South Road, will sell you a 15-scoop ice cream (yes, you read that right). Treat yourself. See, we told you it was worth it!
Hamilton (74.2kms – 1 hour)
Nestled on the banks of the Waikato River, Hamilton is a great stop off on the way down to Tongariro from Auckland to grab a coffee and some cake. With some great riverside walks, the stunning Hamilton Gardens and a wealth of places to eat, it’s a great way to break up the journey and stretch the legs.
Te Awamutu (29kms – 28 mins)
Known as the rose capital of New Zealand, November to April is a great time to visit Te Awamutu to smell the beautiful flowers in full bloom. During season, you can take in the magnificent sight of over 2000 rose bushes in full bloom next to the visitors centre.
Notable residents of Te Awamutu include the Finn brothers Tim and Neil who are the men behind the internationally successful band Crowded House. Te Awamutu gets a mention in their debut single from their self-titled debut album ‘Mean to Me’. There’s a little bit of trivia to bore your car companions with!
Waitomo Caves (41kms – 37 mins)
This is one of those unique things not to be missed. The Waitomo Caves have been formed by rivers and streams pushing through the soft limestone over thousands of years and are now home to some amazing sights and sounds. From the stalactites and stalagmites that grow from the floor and ceiling to the incredible glow worms that light up these underground grottos, this is a detour that is well worth the extra kms.
If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, you can always experience some blackwater rafting inside the caves where you‘ll be transported through the caves in a rubber ring. Sounds pretty cool to us.
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From Waitomo, it’s another 139kms to National Park Village which should take you just under 2 hours.
Once you arrive and check in to your accommodation, hopefully you will have enough time to head out and explore because there are loads of things to do in the National Park as well as the Alpine Crossing. Take a trip to Whakapapa and check out the magnificent Chateau Tongariro. In the summer you can head out kayaking and in winter, there are of course the ski fields. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing in not recommended in winter so if you’re down these parts in the winter months, head to the ski fields rather than the famous walking track.
It’s going to be an early start tomorrow so we recommend a hearty feed and a good night’s sleep – tomorrow we’re going on an adventure!
2Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Hopefully a beautiful sunshine will awaken you today and you will have a great day ahead of you on the Alpine Crossing. The weather can change quickly out on the walk so make sure you pack for all seasons from the sun cream to the warm base layers – even if it’s a lovely sunny day when you set out, things can soon change out on the track.
A gentle start to the walk will soon be replaced by some gradual climbs before the steep ascent to Red Crater where you get some amazing views looking down to the Emerald Lakes. Make sure you have your camera at the ready as there are so many photo opportunities on the walk.
Lord of the Rings Fans
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan (we won’t hold it against you if you’re not – promise!) then this is the place for you. Home to the sinister Mordor, you’ll soon start to recognise landscapes from the trilogy and a look over to Mt Ngauruhoe should bring flashbacks of the infamous Mount Doom. If you have the fitness and the equipment, climbing to the summit of Mount Doom is a possible add on to your day but be aware that this is a steep climb and should only be carried out by experience climbers.
By the end of the walk, you’ll probably feel like Frodo and Sam so treat yourself to a big feed and a cold beer at the end of a great day.
3Taupo to Auckland (279kms – 3 hours 20 mins)
Heading out from Tongariro your day starts with a scenic drive around the shores of NZ’s largest lake to the town that shares the same name – Taupo. There is plenty to see and do in and around Taupo so definitely put aside a couple of hours on the way up to Auckland to explore.
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Although this is a guide to off the beaten track activities, it wouldn’t be right for us not to mention the amazing sky diving over Lake Taupo. As you will be aware, New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world and sky diving opportunities are abundant all over the country but Lake Taupo is a GO Rentals favourite and luckily for you, Taupo Tandem Skydiving is a GO Play partner giving you a 5% discount. The views as you hurtle out of the plane towards the lake are spectacular and if you can, we recommend you get the photo pack – it’s well worth the extra dollars to remember this day.
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For you budding Rorys out there, Lake Taupo throws up a challenge – can you land your ball on a green floating in the middle of the lake? If the answer is yes, and more importantly, if you can get a hole in one, your trip to Lake Taupo just got a whole bunch better as there are some big prizes up for grabs. Even if you don’t play golf, it’s pretty satisfying just whacking balls into the lake!
This is a great little detour as you head out of Taupo and well worth it as it’s not every day you get to see a river that is usually 100m wide get squeezed through a gap which is only 20m wide over a 20m drop! Apparently 220,000 litres of water gushes over the falls every second (that is a LOT of water) – we haven’t as yet managed to see any salmon leaping up the falls and we’re not sure it’s possible – what do you reckon?
Lake Taupo has an abundance of rainbow and brown trout so if a day relaxing, sitting back and casting your line sounds like your idea of heaven, then you’ve come to the right place. If you want something a bit different, you can always have a go at fly fishing in the Tongariro River.
Tokoroa (66.1km – 48mins)
Surrounded by the Kinleith forest, it’s perhaps not so surprising that Tokoroa is a logging town with not a whole bunch going on. The thing we love about Tokoroa though is the man size portions of food served up in just about every eatery in town. Even their website doesn’t beat about the bush ‘No pretensions here; just honest kiwi hospitality and lumberjack-sized meals’ – lunch anyone?
Putaruru (22.5kms – 17 mins) – Chainsaw Collection at the New Zealand Timber Museum
Not exactly the most obvious choice for a recommended touristic attraction but we’re talking about unique and quaint experiences that you will only get in New Zealand, right? So here’s one: a chainsaw collection at a Timber Museum in the small town of Putaruru, about an hour south of Hamilton. You don’t find that in many other places.
Before you head out of Putaruru, stop for a visit to the international acclaimed Blue Spring with crystal clear blue waters. Pack a picnic and head along the Te Waihou Walkway to reach the spring. The walk takes about 1.5 hours each way and passes through rolling farmland, New Zealand native bush and even some waterfalls.
Mandatory waterfall photo taken, it’s time to keep heading north – Matamata is next – Lord of the Rings fans prepare to be excited!
Matamata (29.5kms – 25 mins)
Many people have never heard of Matamata (even though it’s so good they named it twice!) but speak the words ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘The Hobbit’ and you soon see that spark of intrigue that only comes from the opportunity to visit one of the most famous movie sets in the world.
That’s right people, one of the last stop offs on this adventure takes us to Hobbiton and the home of The Shire made famous in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. Take a guided tour of The Shire and you will soon see from the rolling hills why Director Peter Jackson chose this location. Wander through the 44 unique hobbit holes including Bag End before stopping off for a pint in the Green Dragon Inn. This is a must for all Lord of the Rings fans and even if you’re not, it’s well worth a visit as it’s a truly captivating place.
If you’ve got the time, a trip to the Wairere Falls is also worth a shout. At 153m, these are the highest waterfalls in the North Island and there is a great walking tacks that will take you up to a lookout where you can enjoy some pretty awesome views over the Waikato as well as a bird’s eye view of the falls.
From here it’s a further 162 kms to Auckland which will take you just under 2 hours and bring to an end this pretty awesome adventure. We hope you have enjoyed this trip as much as we do – it’s a beauty for sure and if you have managed to take some great snaps (who are we kidding, of course you took some great snaps!) then be sure to send them in to our GO Snap Happy competition or post them up on our GO Explore Facebook page.