Chris Daniels finds 10 good reasons to do the Tongariro Crossing in winter
1. It's called an Alpine Crossing! So do it Alpine Style in the snow.
2. It's blissfully uncrowded. There's about 100,000 people trekking this great walk every year — so some of the peak summer days are getting really, really busy. Like shopping mall at Christmas-time busy — standing around waiting for someone to move off the next step before you can walk on to it isn't exactly a wilderness adventure.
3. You can get all the gear — Not every household has spare crampons and ice axes for every member of the family. Take a guided hike and it's all part of the deal. I went with adriftnz.co.nz. They've got a room filled with jackets, boots, gloves and all for people who don't have all the equipment.
4. You can pretend (just for a while) that you're climbing Everest like Hillary. My group was heading over the track on a beautifully sunny winter's day, with perfect views to Mt Taranaki and right across Lake Taupo — the Kaimanawa on the other side.
5. You get to use crampons and ice axes! Once you get on to the snow and ice at the South Crater (about an hour or two into the walk) everyone gets a lesson on how to install and walk in crampons. High, wide and flat is the crampon walking mantra.
But listen up! Get a guide if you're inexperienced and want to walk it in winter. We saw young hikers in street shoes, light jackets and jeans trying to make their way up icy slopes and down the snowy descent from the Red Crater. On a nice day you can make it — but we're talking an altitude of 1780m at the highest point — so cold, stormy weather can come in quick. Part of the walk also goes through an area of high avalanche risk. One group was unaware the Crossing finished at a different point from where they'd parked their car.
7. Guides know a lot of stuff. They know about the volcanic history and the glacial movements that blasted and carved out this remarkable landscape. They know when you're running up against time pressure (remember the days are short in winter — our group arrived at the final Ketetahi carpark just 30 minutes before sunset.) And during the challenging parts, they were good at checking everyone was comfortable and happy. Any problems and there's always someone to walk you back to the start.
8. The air is clear in winter, without the heat haze of summer. Beautiful views stretch out for miles.
9. But you might get a rougher day. According to the guides — who walk this magic 19.4 kilometres pretty much every day — we had happened to luck into an exceptional day. Other winter days have low cloud and high winds. Don't worry — this is where you get to act out any staunch mountain climber fantasies.
10. There's a cold beer waiting for you at the end.
Details: Adrift NZ guides visitors over the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Winter crossings run from May 15 - October 15. All gear is supplied and the walk takes about eight hours. The company says "a reasonably good level of fitness is required".