Mary in the Mountains

On the Tongariro Crossing

By Mary Hadfield

For many years I have wanted to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. With help from Belinda and Anthony Hadfield (my brother-in-law and sister-in-law) I finally achieved my dream.

As a sight-impaired person (I lost a lot of my sight after a brain tumour operation 3 years ago) I have particular perceptual and physical challenges walking in the outdoors, especially on something like the Tongariro Crossing.

We stayed the night at Discovery Lodge, and if you search for more here you will see the full package deal especially for the Tongariro Crossing, including our evening meal and bus shuttle service drop off and pick up, while our car remained safe at the motel for the day.

Out of darkness and into the alpine garden

Heeding down the scoria to the Blue Lake

It was a brisk, starry morning as we approached our starting point at 6 am. Other trampers were already ahead of us, including a young baby protesting as the last adjustments to harnesses were made before walking off into the darkness.

As we walked towards the daylight, it wasn’t long before nature revealed the true beauty, colour and texture of her alpine garden.

Nestled amongst the tall spikey clumps of tussock and the larger dark oval leaves of the alpine daisy were the beautiful heathers, ranging in colours from deep magenta to delicate peachy pinks. The beauty of the soft creamy mosses protected the small white orchid flowers blanketed over the volcanic floor. No weeding needed here!

Comfortably striding with walking poles

With careful instruction from Belinda, I had been practising the techniques of using walking poles for a few days, so it wasn’t long before I was comfortably striding along the well-groomed path.

After about an hour or so, we began the ascent. DOC have done a great job ensuring safety with many purpose-built steps which not only helps walkers / trampers but also protects the unique environment around us.

Just when my lungs began to feel the climbing it was time for another stop to take in the majestic lunar landscape.

Unlike the Kapiti Joggers and Walkers Sunday walks, this tramp was all about start, stop, look around and absorb the energy from the peace and silence of the grand surrounding. We took our time, but for me it was about staying in the moment, keeping it as simple as how to get over or around the large obstacle in front of me.

Magnificent weather to take it all in

We had a perfect clear, sunny, windless day.  The views were stunning from the highest point at 1886 metres.

We looked back over Oturere Valley, the Desert Road and Kaimanawa Mountains.  When we stopped for lunch at the Blue Lake, we had a visit from a karearea (NZ falcon) flying over us.

Further on, past the Blue Lake, we could see over to Lake Taupo and Lake Rotoaira, and in the foreground Mount Rotopaunga.

From Ketetahi Hut we had a long zig-zag descent for a couple of hours, finishing in time to rest before our bus arrived.

A day to treasure

This was a day I will treasure and reflect on for the rest of my life. The bucket list has one more tick!

This walk is very common now, as it seems that every second person I talk to has done it or is about to do it!  However, as a sight-impaired person, I hope my experience will encourage others with disabilities or difficulties to do something like it. 

Walking in the great NZ outdoors and having to really concentrate gave me the opportunity to truly live “in the moment”.  To just focus on putting my feet in the right place – one foot here, one foot there.

When you’re doing that you can’t think, you can’t ruminate, you can’t worry about your future or grieve about the past.  You’re just in the moment, in the now.  There’s something healing and life-enhancing about that!

My special thanks to Anthony and Belinda for their love and support.

(Footnote: The numbers of people now walking the Tongariro Crossing will need to be managed. As visitor numbers continue to increase in New Zealand, we run the risk of destroying that which brought them here in the first place.

At some stage we will need to cap the numbers visiting our country to protect our environment.)


Congratulations you did it. We just loved our Easter 2018 crossing too and look forward to taking our children up next time, maybe a half up and half down to begin with.

I agree with your comments re numbers. Although DOC encourage walkers to sign in their intention to walk it, it is not mandatory.

Approximately 4400 people walked it Easter Saturday and 2000 Easter Sunday. These people all needed accommodation nearby, pickup and drop off transport, toilet facilities which were available at the beginning and end only. Food and water which is a business opportunity yet to be explored. At some point this activity will not be without detrimental impact on a very precious environment.

Incidentally, for those needing accommodation. Our locally owned (Levin Waiopehu Skiing, Tramping and Outdoors Club) ski lodge up on Mt Ruapehu’s Iwaku Village is very handy for crossing users and can be booked year round on .

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