Hiking the Tongariro Northern Circuit: my love/hate relationship with hiking
I forget how much I love hiking, until I am hiking, then I hate it slightly, then I love it.
Whenever I plan a multi-day hike, I spend the few weeks before it getting excited about the beautiful landscapes, camping under the clear night skies and the freedom of being away from the world. But as the date draws closer, I start to remember that there is actually a 45 kilometre hike ahead, the Tongariro Northern Circuit, and probably a fair few bloody big hills that need climbing and I begin to doubt whether it has all been one giant silly idea. BUT IT IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA.
Hiking is one of the best ways in which you can feel fully immersed in the outdoors and see some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. New Zealand definitely boasts some of this.
But like any hike, the most beautiful views are at the top. No matter how many hikes I complete, I always doubt my ability to get up the hill. I stand at the bottom looking up and think ‘Why am I doing this to myself?!’. But after I take my time putting one foot in front of the other, often with my heart trying to pound out of my chest, I find myself there, filled with gratitude for the outdoors and for my health.
Aside from the Tongariro Crossing itself, a highlight for me on the Circuit was the moment the path splits away from the main crossing and you escape the crowds. Within minutes, you are in the middle of nowhere in a Mars-like landscape.
I don’t know anyone who honestly admits to getting a full comfortable night’s sleep whilst on a multi-day hike but there is nothing more pleasing than watching a sunset from a summit and then opening your tent to find the Milky Way above you. In our case, we watched the sun rise from behind Mount Ngauruhoe and suddenly the lack of sleep seemed insignificant. Funny because if this was a case on a normal day, I wouldn’t be even close to functioning without 10 cups of coffee!
I find something very satisfying about carrying every single thing I need for a multi-day hike on my back – it’s extreme minimalism. Even still, the first time you shoulder that bag every morning, you will curse it and the best moment of the day will still be when you finally get to take it off!
Read more: 10 Ways to Cut Backpack Weight
Hiking makes for great thinking time. When all you have to do keep ticking those legs over, it frees up your brain to go through anything and everything else. Sometimes, this brings revelations and clarity but there are other moments when my brain just goes into overdrive. I end up overthinking, usually about all those life jobs I should be doing instead of being in the middle of nowhere.
But even then, to just listen to my brain for four straight hours, without any distraction, is powerful. When else do we actually do this?
For me, there is no greater feeling than completing a multi-day hike. You and your body have done it! You have accomplished something you didn’t think you could do. You have also got to see something incredible; a landscape that may look completely different in a few decades’ time and and something that only a fraction of the world has got to witness.
After the grime has been washed off and the legs no longer feel like jelly, its only matter of time before I then start planning my next multi-day hike….and wondering why I do this to myself all over again!
The Tongariro Northern Circuit is a 45 kilometre loop that includes the famous Tongariro Crossing. We completed the hike over 3 days.
Day 1 - Whakapapa Village to Mangatepopo Hut – 9.4km – a nice first day to ease you in.
Day 2 – Mangatepopo Hut to Oturere Hut – 12km – This is the most challenging day in terms of fitness, as the first half of the day is steep – but trust me it’s worth it for the views when you reach the peak.
Day 3 – Oturere Hut to Whakapapa Village -23.5km – The last day is always the toughest, and this a tough slog for a final day. But today is when you get to take in the three volcanoes as you wind between them back to the village – Mt Ngauruhoe, Mt Tongariro and Mt Ruapehu. Epic.
Alicia is a former UK Geography teacher who left her job and home in 2017 and has been travelling, working, adventuring and eating her way around the world since! She’s travelled India, Nepal, Malaysia, Australia, is currently in New Zealand and has her compass set to Vietnam next.
Follow Alicia’s adventures on her Instagram, @alicia_m17