Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

As soon as we decided to go to New Zealand, I knew a good hike was in our future. New Zealand’s landscape is so diverse between its beaches, rolling, hills, and volcanic mountains and, thankfully, there are trails everywhere to get you to some amazing views!

About to embark on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand!

Initially, when we started looking at the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, I was worried about a few things:

  • It looks like a really intense hike for the pros – of which I am not
  • It was hard to judge the temperature of the hike, especially in May when the weather is turning cold and snow can cap the mountain peek
  • I wasn’t sure what to bring or pack
  • I am clumsy and didn’t want to fall to my death…

All of these things initially make me wary of the trail, however, I can tell you that I am alive and it was one of the most amazing hikes of my life! If you are physically active and are OK with long walks, you should not have a problem. The up-hill parts were very steep but, if you take it one step at a time and break when you need to, it is a great hike. Plus, you won’t want to power through the views!

With all of that said, let me walk you through the Tongariro hike and the best way to approach it so you can experience a view like this in real life #nofiltersneeded:

The lakes at the top of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

First off: Weather – When looking at the potential weather for our hike, it ranged from 50 degrees fahrenheit at the base to a potential low of 30! Theoretically, the mountain gets colder as you hike up but, for us, it got warmer as the sun came out and we got hot from hiking such a steep climb. I took off more and more clothes as we gained altitude, but was happy I had all of they layering options. If you are not going in April / May, research temps beforehand and keep in mind it will vary throughout your hike. What I wore is below:

  • Hat & sunnies: A must have! It is so sunny and you will burn your face). I also brought a beanie but did not end up wearing it.
  • Gloves for the cool morning
  • Upper layers: Sweat wicking tee shirt, Lululemon fitted jacket, puffer jacket with hood, and, on top of all that, a rain jacket
  • Pants: under leggings and then a looser, warm top legging. I probably could have just warn the warm leggings and would have been fine. See fancy leggings below:All of my pant layers on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike in New Zealand
  • Hiking boots with sweat wicking hiking socks – a total must! At the peek of the hike, the mountain top is all gravel and is very slick. It can also get into your shoes. High socks that prevent blisters and hiking boots with ankle support will give you the best grip and lessen the chance of rolling and ankle. I loooove my Lowa boots and wore them the majority of my New Zealand trip:My saviors during the 12 mile Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike, New Zealand

I also brought a packable backpack on the hike to carry all of my excess layers and other must-haves:

  • Packable backpacks fold into themselves so you can easily bring them in your luggage without taking up too much room. I cannot tell you how much they come in handy when going on hikes or to the beach. I bring my on every trip I take.
  • Food: We bought bread and PB/J to make sandwiches for our lunches in New Zealand. We made a few for lunch on our hike and also packed some nuts from our hotel for snacks. I always bring Quest Bars with me on trips too for a healthy protein snack too and we ate those about 1.5 hours into the hike. The thing we didn’t bring, which we regretted, were bananas. Ryan got really bad cramps half-way up to the summit and bananas would have helped with that.Snack time on the Tongariro Hike in New Zealand
  • Liquids: Bring at least 2-3 bottles of water. Your hike can be up to 6 hours and you will need it. If you are questioning if you have enough, go ahead and grab more. You will thank me!
  • Misc.: AKA, Chapstick because, obviously. Extra hair tie, lots of sun screen, hand sanitizer, toilet paper (because the porta potties WILL run out), bandaids, and moisturizer.

Now that we have gone through prepping for the hike, there is something else we should cover – lodging and transport!

Lodging; You can stay in the National Park town which is where most of the transports for the hike start from. There are a bunch of little hotels and a few restaurants, but the town itself is pretty sparse. If you want a much better option (in my opinion), stay at the Tongiraro Suites @ The Rocks. It is about 15 minutes south of the town and the best little hotel I have ever stayed at! We watched the moon rise over the mountain top from our bed (view from our room is featured below). With views like that, freshly baked, warm croissants delivered to our door every morning for breakfast, a luxurious wooden spa, fuzzy blankets to use outside to watch shooting stars, and more, the Suites made our sleep the night before resfult and hike recovery so easy! They even had warming racks to dry our sweaty boots after the hike. The owners literally thought of everything and I would give this place a 15 out of 10 if I could. Read more about our stay here.

The view from our room at the Tongariro Suites @ The Rocks in Tongariro, New Zealand

Lastly is transportation into the National Park to the base of the hike. There are a bunch of services on TripAdvisor that will take you to the start of the hike, but we used National Park Shuttles. Since it is not a circular trek, you have to get a shuttle to drop you off at the start of the hike and then pick you up at the end. They have different pick up times from the end, pending your hiking speed, and will ensure that you are counted as “off the mountain” at the end of the day. The ride from the town to the base is about 25 minutes and it takes about an hour from the end fo the hike to get back to town.

The peak of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

I hope this has been helpful and has persuaded you that this is a “must do!” while in the North Island of New Zealand. Let me know if you have any other questions about our experience on this amazing treck! Happy hiking!

 

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Hiking 101

Hiking 101

Going on a hike soon and don’t know what to expect or can’t remember all of the things you need to bring? Don’t fret! Below your will find some tips about hiking prep and packing so you will have all of the tools you need for an awesome trek!

Pre-hike prep:

  • Pick a trail – Most trails are rated for their difficulty and length. Before you head out on a trail, check the trail’s website to see how long the trail is, the average time to complete the trail, the elevation change, and the level of difficulty, to ensure the trail meets your hiking goals.
  • Find a map of your trail – Most parks and trails will have trail maps available online. Print out a map before you go so that you have directions if the trails are not clearly marked or in case you lose cell signal.
  • Research where to park, park entrance fees, and park hours before you go. Some parks open at a certain time but, due to popularity, close once they hit capacity. Most hiking trails will tell you the optimal hours to arrive at the park. Additionally, while more and more parks are taking cards, some are still cash only, so be prepared to pay the park fee either way so you aren’t turned away at the gates!

What to bring on your hike:

  • Packable backpack – A good bag to carry extras is essential to any trip. A packable backpack fits easily into any suit case or car pocket, has supportive, padded straps for comfort, and has extra pockets for water bottles and other necessities you don’t want to hold by hand. My backpack (shown below) folds up to be about 5×6 inches:

  • Water bottles – Swell or Hydro Flask bottles are great. Not only do they look cool (no pun intended), they keep your water cold for hours and hours so you can be refreshed while in the heat.
  • A hat and UV protected sun glasses – Make sure your sunnies stay on when you tilt your head back and forth. You will be looking at the ground a bunch so you don’t want a pair that constantly slips down your face.
  • Hiking boots – Along with a good pair of socks, shoes are the most important part of a hike. Invest in a good pair with support, ventilation, and decent grip. REI is a great place to go try on boots with some expert help, but you can find a bunch of options on Amazon with rave reviews. If you are going on a hike and can’t buy a new pair of shoes right now, wear sneakers with a lot of tread and ankle support.
  • Hiking socks – Investing in a decent pair of socks will prevent painful blisters down the road. REI has comfy and soft hiking socks that come with either high and low tops and will keep your toes warm without blister discomfort. If you are still nervous about blisters on a long hike, check out BodyGlide. I use it when I go on long runs (8-20 milers) and it prevents blisters wherever you feel a chafe. Also, if you are going into grassy areas, wear higher socks and long pants so you don’t get dirt, bugs, or poison ivy on your legs.

  • Protein bars for extra energy – No one wants to hike on an empty stomach! If you are going for over an hour, bring a healthy snack, high in protein and  / or healthy carbs, to pick you up. My favorite are Quest bars, especially the white chocolate raspberry and cookies and cream flavors, almonds, and apples.
  • Bug spray – A must if you are a mosquito magnet like I am!
  • Band aids or a small first aid kit – Target has a bunch of travel sized first-aid kits with a little of everything you may need.
  • Camera / phone for pictures – Don’t forget your selfie stick! You may also want to bring a portable phone charger just in case.
  • A light and comfortable jacket – Just in case it gets cool
  • Umbrella – Check your local weather before you go to make sure you don’t have any rainy surprises!

Have questions? Feel free to comment them below. If not, happy hiking!

Ketchikan

Ketchikan

Ketchikan, Alaska

6:15 AM wake up for our 7 AM arrival at the Ketchikan port. The city is absolutely charming with the different colored houses making their way up the mountains. Ketchikan is 3 miles long and only 3 blocks wide since the mountains make it difficult to build upon. Some of the “roads” with street signs are actually wooden stairs that lead up the the higher houses that cannot be accessed by traditional paved roads!

View of Ketchikan, Alaska from the Crown Princess cruise ship

We got off the ship right at 7 AM and had about an hour to make our way to the Liquid Sun Gauge where we were to meet our kayaking guides. It was about a 10-minute walk down the dock to the gauge and we perused some stores along the way. One of the stores had a “Short cut to downtown” sign that pointed through its doors as you could walk through the store and out the other side. Talk about cute but effective ways to get people in your store!

We arrived at the Liquid Sun Gauge which had Ketchikan factoids on it and showed how much rainfall the town has seen to date vs. its record of 202.55 inches in 1949. The above shows approximately 180 inches through May of 2016 alone! Next to the gauge is a huge bronze statue called “The Rock” portraying a native Ketchikan woman welcoming all of the traveler types that shaped the town (i.e. gold seekers, fisherman, tradesmen, loggers, and more). We waited by the statue until our guide arrived with a big yellow paddle. She escorted us, along with 6 others, further down the dock to Southeast Sea Kayak’s boat HQ. We got a brief safety instruction, dry bags for our valuables, and life vests. We then transferred to a smaller boat to drive about 20 minutes to Orca Cove. Our transport ship’s Captain was from Australia and was quirky and informative about much of Ketchikan. He told us of the natives and various islands where people live around the city. He also informed us that there was no whistling allowed on the ship. We still have no idea why he was so opposed to our tunes, but both Ryan and I got in trouble a few times for that one!

Sea kayaks in Orca Cove, Ketchikan Alasak

The view on the ride to Orca Cove was amazing. There was a larger boat waiting for us in the cove which had all of our kayaks attached. We hopped from our boat to the larger and got put into our two-person sea kayaks. Ryan was too big for our kayak so they had to remove our rudder controlling pegs so he could fit! We also had to wear these water skirt things that we wore like overalls and that covered the sitting hole so if any water came up onto our kayak, it wouldn’t go inside. The water was very calm, but the skirts were nice since they kept our stuff dry from water running off our paddles and kept the heat in so we were warm!

Sea kayaking in Orca Cove, Ketchikan Alasak

The tide was at its low point for the day and we paddled first to the rocky inlet of a salmon run stream. The tide was so low that all of the water from the stream was gone and we could not paddle up, but we were able to look down and see tons of sea life in the rocks since the water was crystal clear. We saw what must have been thousands of red or purple starfish all over the sea floor and exposed rocks that were waiting for the tide to come back in. There were also loads of anemone and sea cucumbers! The amount of life teaming below our little kayaks was amazing.

Star fish on the rocks during low tied in Ketchikan, Alaska

We continued to paddle along the shore line. There were only 6 of us, our guide, and the sounds of nature. We came across a rushing waterfall sourced from an inland freshwater lake and multiple eagles who were perched close to their nests where they mate for life and raise their young every year. At one point, two bald eagles took off from their tree and flew right over us to the neighboring island. It was incredible!

Sea kayaking in Orca Cove, Ketchikan Alaska

We kayaked for just about 2 hours. It was so relaxing and by far my favorite experience of the trip so far. Unfortunately, we did not see any whales or otters, but the scenery alone was enough to satisfy. We headed back to the kayak docking boat and chatted with the guys who captained the boat for a while about their travel stories and how they arrived in Alaska. Most of the workers we met were seasonal and just traveled the world for each regions various tourist seasons. What a life huh?

The owner of theSoutheast Sea Kayak makes his own smoked salmon which we got to snack on after our kayaking ride. With a little cream cheese and crackers, it was so yummy! Our boat back arrived just as we finished our snack and we hopped on to go back to shore. I was so sad our last Alaskan excursion was over, but there were still a few cruise days left!

It took about 20 minutes to get back to shore. We grabbed our stuff and browsed quite a few of the gift shops on the way back to the boat. I bought some smoked salmon for my folks as they love to have salmon on the bagels in the morning and where better to buy smoked salmon than the salmon capital of the world!?

Hanging with my bear friends in Ketchikan, Alaska

Our ship departed from Ketchikan at 1:15 PM. We had “A Taste of India” for lunch and I was surprised at how good the ships take on Indian food was. It wasn’t the best ever, but it was not disappointing either! After that, we hopped into our bathing suits and into a hot tub on deck 15. We were having a nice time and I was stretching my IT bands in the hot tub since they were a bit sore. With one foot out of the water, I looked up and saw this 40ish year old guy in a bright red jacket with fanny pack take my picture, smile, and wave at me! Then he turned around and walked off. It was so weird and creepy – I guess he really liked my feet?!

We didn’t stay in the tub too much longer after foot guy before we had to run back to the room and get ready for formal night! I wore a blue cocktail dress and Ryan matched me with a navy bow tie. We did a little pre-gaming at the buy one get one for $1 drink event at the Wheelhouse bar – a great way to have some strong and cheap cocktails if you do not have a cruise drink package. We then continued our party in the Botticelli dining room and had quite the feast or lamb and veal pate, beef Wellington and smashed potatoes, and baked apple cake with vanilla ice-cream.
After dinner, Ryan and I grabbed the bottle of wine from our room and headed to Disney trivia in another bar. While Ryan’s sister and her husband knew almost all of the answers, Ryan and I were pretty poor Dinsey fans. The girl hosting the trivia used to work at Disney and her questions were very detailed! We opted for trying our luck in the couples “how well do you know each other” game after trivia, but we got turned away since Ryan and I are not yet married – boo! After being rejected, we decided to head back to the room to watch movies and sleep off our wine!

Sea kayaking in Orca Cove, Ketchikan Alaska