**Well actually a bus full of people were “scammed.” Let me explain, but it is two-sided – one more personal and the other totally unjust. So what exactly is this relating to? This is about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is a 13 mile trek through Tongariro National Park, New Zealand’s oldest national park and a dual World Heritage Site. The crossing includes crossing over Mount Tongariro and also has views of two other mountains, Ngauruhoe (NZ’s youngest and most active volcano) and Ruapehu. If you’re a Lord of the Ring’s fan you may know it as Mount Doom.
Let’s start with my personal woes to get it out of the way. For weeks I had heard how amazing the crossing was and how it was a top thing to do while in NZ: a “must do.” And well my friends that was just completely false. I think it is only a must if you like extreme hiking or if you want to really push yourself. Yes, the views are pretty cool, but honestly I have seen better. It isn’t something that is going to be a top thing I’ve done/seen in my life or even on this trip. And so if you are a normal traveler not looking to push your body to it’s limit I think this is something you can skip. Honestly, apart for the first hour every second of the experience was miserable and I consider myself to be fairly fit/active. It was windy and freezing and I wanted it to be over. So the fact that it was sold to us as something we couldn’t miss was the first injustice I felt. I can’t understand how something so extreme as this could have been pushed onto us so hard. Only two people from the bus opted out and the Stray drivers were basically trying to convince them to change their minds up until 15 minutes before. It just left a bad taste.
Okay now time for the actual “scam.” I think at this point it is well known I am traveling with a hop on/off bus company, Stray. They have an app where you book your travel, follow along the route, book accommodation and activities. The crossing activity on the app was listed at $69 NZ and you know we did question the cost with our driver. We were told that park fees were increased 400% or something wild this year so that was why it was so high. We all took it at face value mostly because we trusted our driver and also because we wanted to do the hike. I’ll review the actual hike at the end, but again I didn’t enjoy it and wanted it to end, especially after the summit. As a result I finished the crossing family quickly, in under 5.5 hours and I was one of the first 5 in our group to finish. Now is where it gets interesting…
We finish the walk and have to shuttle back to Adrift’s base. On the drive back we are asked if we wanted to be dropped off at a bar. Are you insane?! I almost just died (okay being very dramatic), but seriously I can think of a lot of things I want before a drink – shower, bed, food, bathroom, etc. The five of us decline and are dropped off at Adrift where we drop off our rented gear (I had rented gloves for $5 – which someone also made the point that the rentals should have been included with what we were paying). Okay cool so when is our ride coming to drive us to our accommodation? Well it wasn’t easy to get an answer, but when we finally had it clarified it was that it wasn’t coming until 5:15/5:30pm (3 hours waiting around) and that we had to wait for the entire group to finish so they only do one trip. This was just so messed up on so many levels, but the main two being:
#1. We are traveling with a bus company. Why couldn’t our normal driver come to pick us up? I even gave him the benefit of the doubt thinking that maybe today was one of his days off after he dropped us off. Nope it wasn’t so he pretty much wasn’t working after 9am that day, but getting paid for the day. I don’t see why he couldn’t have made at least one trip back.
#2. We all paid $69 and multiplied by 20 that is $1,380. There are no fees to actually hike the crossing and therefore the fees Adrift has to pay are to be a commercial operator at the park – meaning they are listed on the website and can send guides with groups. We didn’t have guides we just had shuttles. So we paid money for transportation when we are traveling with a bus company….logic. And the icing on that is that we are paying for transportation, but they won’t take us when we are ready to go. We had to wait 3 hours outside (oh yes I forgot to mention that after we dropped off our gear they closed down and we were left outside) after hiking in brutal conditions for over 5 hours.
For the amount we were paying compared to the distance Adrift should have at least made two trips back to our accommodation. It was bull, but I have since let it go it is just a solid reminder to be diligent while traveling even when you trust a company like I did with Stray. Honestly, look up different options if you are looking to do the crossing – maybe rent a car with some mates to split the cost and do it on your own time. There are other options don’t feel like what is offered is the only one.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Now to the actual crossing… We were given the green light for the next morning at 7pm the night before. The conditions hadn’t been great earlier in the week and safety of the crossing is very weather dependent. When we heard it was on we were all stoked. It was our last night at Blue Duck Station and ended up being very chilled. I think most of the group retired to bed around 9pm. I’ve never been one to go to bed early and as a result inadvertently I stayed up until around midnight. Total error on my part because we were leaving at 5:45am.
It was too early to eat a proper meal, but we knew what was ahead of us so we all tried to fuel up. When we were finally on our way our driver was speeding down the winding roads. I’m really not exaggerating a couple of people were getting car sick, but he kept saying we didn’t have a choice because we were running late. After arriving, checking in, gear check, and briefed we had 45 minutes to wait for the shuttle so there actually wasn’t a need to drive wild.
I just mentioned our gear had to be checked. To do the walk you need to have a minimum three layers, a rain jacket, 2 liters of water, and proper shoes for “all conditions.” I was so concerned about the cold that I totally overdid it on layers. I brought/wore my shirt, lulu sports zip jacket, a big sweater, a lighter sweater, a scarf, and the rain jacket. Then I had 3.5 liters of water. I wore the big, black sweater maybe for the first hour or so, but even though it’s windy and freezing the layers are heavy and you are sweating from the physical exertion. So I was wearing my shirt, lulu jacket, and rain jacket for the majority of the hike the other layers and excess water was just more weight on my back. I am really glad I rented the gloves otherwise my hands would have been totally wrecked. What I really needed was a headband or hat to cover my ears.
The first part of the hike was tough. That was what pushed you physically. The weather was against you and the uphill sections were straight uphill. Even though it was hard I didn’t mind it because it felt like you were working towards something. At 2.5 hours I summited and it was spectacular. We were walking on volcanic debris sans path. At the top is where I should have turned around and went back the way I came. The second part of the crossing was all mentally grueling. At that point you just wanted it to be over and there wasn’t a light at the end of the tunnel. It just kept going and going. Every time you thought you were close to the end you just had to keep walking more and more. And at the very end the signage became so scarce I kept thinking I could possibly be lost. Ugh it was a nightmare, but I did it and I survived and truth be told I would recommend the crossing to others just not to everyone.
Snowy Waters Lodge
For the night we were staying in Raetihi at Snowy Waters Lodge. I’m not sure for how long they have been opened, but it did seem like all the pieces weren’t there. The hospitality was great, but it was a little rundown. The heaters weren’t working in any of the rooms which wasn’t ideal after a crazy, cold hike. All in all it was an okay place to stay, but not a favorite. I think because we were all done with the crossing at 5pm we all would have rathered to keep driving to get a little closer to Wellington. Another bitter discovery was that to get to Tongariro National Park and back to Snowy Waters (so two ways) is advertised at $40 – where we paid $69 for the one-way.
**In full disclosure this situation happened two weeks ago and I’ve honestly gotten over it at this point. I almost didn’t want to post about it at all, but thought it was important to be transparent about the ups and downs of my travels. Also, when we were stranded for the 3 hours waiting for our transport we did look into options like taxi, uber, bus, other shuttle companies, etc. we just were limited because of not booking in advance/not much around.