a VirtualTourist member from Plano
My husband and I are of moderate fitness, although he has some knee problems and uses poles to hike. We love to hike and will be visiting Tongariro National Park early April. We're hesitant to do the full crossing, because of potential bad weather conditions, but would love to see the volcanoes. Which hikes would you recommend, and is it possible to just hike to Red Crater rim?
Hello [VT member 136254], welcome to VT!!
Although April is not yet winter, it can throw any kind of weather at you up the mountain, as you already know. (this goes even for mid summer).
I have to say that the Red Crater rim is right up there on the mountain and there is no shortcut to get there. So it's a big hike to get there, with occassional rock climbing. This is not technical rope stuff, but more stepping and scrambling up scoria climbs. But most of the way, apart from a series of high steps at the north end, there is a formed path. In April, after a summer season, the path is normally well formed.
Even at road level, this whole area is alpine and quite high above sea level, so even to walk the base of the mountains, is considered "volcanic plateau". Already lot temps due to the altitude.
I am not so familiar with the other walks, although I have a book somewhere, but where :-))))
You can download a good publication if you click on "Walks in and around Tongariro National Park" on this website:
As well you can view my page on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing here on VT:
[original VT link]
Especially note if you scroll down and see my Travelogues with many photos from my hike.
Good luck and have fun.
An alternative could be one of the walks from the visitor center at Whakapapa Village.
We did the walk to the Tama Lakes. The track goes through tussock land, passes the Tarinaka Falls and along many old lava flows and rocks before reaching the Tama Lakes.
See for more info: [original VT link]
Let's just assume that you will have perfect weather conditions. (In any adverse kind of weather you should not tackle the track if you are no real experienced and perfectly fit mountaineer.)
Your idea of only walking to the rim of the Red Crater is not bad, given your husband's knee problems. There is nothing worse for someone with knee problems than the endless downhill walk from Blue Lake past Ketetahi Hut to Ketetahi carpark.
If you make a U-turn at Red Crater (which is the highest point of the hike) you have two steep downhill sections but also some flat crater crossings and moderate downhill sections. In the web brochure you can see the topography of the hike.
If you have a look at other walks from Whakapapa Village, there are also shorter walks with great views, especially the Skyline Route (guided walk, if you want). It is tough but only 1.5 hours return:
You have great views of the volcanoes from many points in the region, and already magic from the road leading to Whakapapa Village. But I agree, the Red Crater is very special.
A great alternative would be a chairlift ride up to Mt. Ruapehu, the North Island's highest peak. The chairlift operates until 25 April. So if the weather is good you could do that and then do the (guided) Skyline walk.
The trouble is, you can set out in perfect weather with a perfect forecast, and within 30 mins all that can go bad and change.
You need to be prepared for the worst.
Thank you for all your answers. You have definitely given us some options to think about, and we realize that the weather will be a major factor. I assume that the chairlift would also offer great views. Also, would the hike to the Red Crater rim and back take as long as the crossing itself?
In your original question you mention that the weather and not your husbands crook knees are the reason you hesitate doing the complete crossing.
Depending on the state of his knee, depends on whether or not I'd recommend going to the Red Crater rim. You say he uses poles to walk and that is good for this hike and much of the time you are walking along a fairly flat well formed track. The climb from the Soda Springs to the Mangetepopo Saddle is steep over scoria and is definitely a potential hazard for ankles and knees. That is so for everyone not just those with previous injuries, but just to say bind up and be well prepared and take your time (more time). I might mention that this point is good to review the weather and see what is ahead, you can easily turn back here.
Actually the views for the saddle are stunning, back over Mt Taranaki if it is clear.
Mangetepopo carpark to Red Crater is 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hrs depending on your rate.
Return is a little quicker but not necessarily much quicker.
After the saddle you cross South Crater which is almost dead flat but is longer than it looks. Then another climb up to the crater. However if the wind is up people end up on hands and knees to traverse this area and reach the crater rim.
I would guess that Red Crater is almost half way on the hike, so it's not much quicker than the entire crossing. The advantage of turning back after Red Crater is that you miss the leg busting steps that are way too high (18 ins plus) at the Ketetahi end of the crossing. With going downhill, your body puts added weight on knees with each step. Poles help here.
There are some great books on walks around NZ and specifically the Tongariro National Park, a very good bookshop at the Auckland International Airport has many of these. As well you will get good advice on weather and conditions in Taupo at the time you are there. The Crossing is always last minute decisions.
Sorry if all this is too much information :-)