TONGARIRO ALPINE CROSSING
It’s been described as “The best one day hike in NZ”
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is an incredibly popular hiking experience for people from all over the world due to its incredible mountain beauty, stunning views and turquoise lakes.
Plan Your Tongariro Crossing
Everything you need to know about hiking the Tongariro Crossing – this is the ultimate guide.
About Tongariro National Park
The Crossing is part of Tongariro National Park, New Zealand’s oldest national park.
The Tongariro Crossing is a spiritual and cultural landmark for New Zealanders, with its World Heritage status recognising both the Maori significance of this natural wonder as well as its unique volcanic features.
The park is home to three active volcanic mountains – Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu, as well as iconic and majestic landscapes.
In 1990, Tongariro was nominated for both natural and cultural World Heritage status. and was inscribed on the heritage list that year for its natural values.
At that time the criteria for cultural World Heritage sites stipulated that there be some tangible evidence of cultural use of the site e.g. a temple, habitation, etc.
Ngauruhoe is famous globally for being Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies.
Ruapehu is most well known for its ski fields of Whakapapa and Turoa – popular with Aucklanders in winter who descent on National Park in droves.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing: Key Facts
- Distance: 19.4 km one way.
- Time Needed: 6 – 8 hr in summer, 8 – 9 in winter.
- Location: Tongariro National Park
- Starts: Mangatepopo Car Park
- Ends: Ketetahi Car Park
Fun Fact: A small percentage of people hike the track in the opposite direction. This means they start at Ketetahi and end at Mangatepopo.
Generally this is not a good idea as the hike will take longer and you’ll have an extra 360 metres of climbing.
It will also mean walking against the flow of human traffic, and uphill over loose rocks – so don’t do it, unless you have a very good reason!
Tongariro Crossing or Tongariro Alpine Crossing?
Until 2007 the crossing was called the “Tongariro Crossing”, but this was changed to the “Tongariro Alpine Crossing” to emphasise the extreme weather conditions that can be experienced on the exposed terrain., especially in winter.
Why is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing So Popular?
There are a few reasons why it’s so well-known and loved by locals and tourists alike.
For one, it’s challenging but not too hard for people who want to do something more than just a hill climb.
It also offers incredible views from every point along the way, as hikers can see both Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro as they make their way across the 19.4km crossing.
Its location is also a factor in it’s popularity. Tongariro National Park, in the central North Island is very easy to get to from Auckland (by far NZ’s most populated city) and Wellington.
It’s also just an hour from Taupo, which itself is popular with international tourists which means the crossing becomes relatively easy to do as it’s not too far out of the way for them.
Where should you stay while walking the crossing? There are a few factors involved in finding the town that’s best for you
How busy is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?
Given the crossing is popular, it does get busy and you should expect crowds.
In shoulder seasons, you might see up to 800 hikers per day and during summer, there might be up to 3,000 walkers per day – yes 3,000!
In fact, in the summer of 2021, an estimated 122,000 people journeyed to national park and hiked the crossing – and that’s a summer without international tourists.
If possible, avoid walking the crossing on the weekend if you can, as that is when it is the busiest. This is also why it’s crucial to secure your car park well in advance.
Big crowds is also why you should start walking as early as possible. The first shuttle leaves the Ketetahi car park at 7.00am – and in peak season it’s worth the early start!
A moderate level of fitness is required for the Alpine Crossing Tongariro – thousands of ‘average’ people walk the crossing every year and you do not need to be in top physical shape..
That said, it’s recommended that you ‘practice’ by going on long walks in your hometown as preparation for your hike.
This includes walking downhill, which presents its own set of challenges.
Even better, do all of this with a loaded backpack.
Remember – it’s nearly 20 kilometres in length, so you’ll need to be sure you can walk that far on the day
Over the course of the day you will encounter a variety of surfaces and terrain. There are boardwalks and steps, but there is loose scoria (scree) and damp, spongy parts.
Walking uphill can be tricky – bearing in mind you are heading up nearly 1,200 metres.
But downhill can also be challenging – for different reasons. Gravity may be on your side, but on loose terrain especially, the downhill sections can place stress on knees and ankles.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing Weather
The weather is the one thing out of your control as you plan your crossing. It’s not unusual for conditions to be bad enough to stop your hike, even in summer.
For this reason allow more than one day to do the crossing – having a back up day or two is very handy as it’s very common for people to miss out as they only allowed one day for their hike.
Check the weather forecast on the NIWA or Metservice websites.
Phone Reception On The Tongariro Crossing
There is limited coverage over most of the track for most providers – however once you commence the downhill leg from Ketetahi Hut coverage can be very sketchy and almost non existent until you reach the end carpark.
There is limited cell phone reception over most of the Tongariro Crossing from most providers. But once you start heading downhill from Ketetahi Hut, reception tends to be unreliable and until you get to the end.
Toilets On The Hike
Along the way, you’ll come across a toilet every 1 or 2 hours. But this is not ‘the Ritz’, so be sure to bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitiser.
There are toilets at the start of the crossing, so it might pay to use the facilities just before you set off for the day.
Likewise there are also toilets at the end of the crossing at Ketetahi.
There are no rubbish bins on the Tongariro Crossing – take your rubbish with you. In New Zealand the phrase used is ‘Be a Tidy Kiwi!’
Transport to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a 19.4 km one-way track, you will need to book some sort of shuttle service to pick you up at the end of the track and take you back to your car at the starting point. See this page that details your transport options.
Booking the Tongariro Crossing
There is no need to book the crossing, just prepare and plan appropriately and turn up.
The downside of not needing to book is that in peak season there can be LOTS of people hiking.
Thus it’s extra important to secure your car park at Ketetahi which includes the shuttle service that takes you to the start of the crossing, a 30 min drive from the carpark to Mangatepopo.
What is the Tongariro Northern Circuit?
The Tongariro Northern Circuit is different from the crossing itself. It’s a multi-day hike (3 to 4 days) that takes you around the cone of Mount Ngauruhoe.
The first part of the Northern circuit follows the Tongariro Crossing.
On the walk you will stay at one of the three Department of Conservation huts – and you will need to book in advance in peak season (late October to late April).
The rest of the time you’re going to need a DOC hut ticket or annual hut pass.
Summary of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Your Tongariro Crossing journey starts at 1,120 m in altitude. You head up the Mangatepopo valley to the saddle between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, then through South Crater before heading back up again to Red Crater.
This is the highest point at 1,868 metres. At this point, even in summer it can be cool – it’s generally 10 degrees 10 degrees colder than Taupo.
From there, you’ll start going back down. This is where many falls happen so take care, as the terrain is.
From there, you’ll start going back down. This is where many falls happen so take care, as the terrain is loose rock as you approach the Emerald Lakes (at which point you will need your camera).
After passing Blue Lake, the track skirts around the northern slope of Tongariro, then ends with a long meandering track down to the Ketetahi road end. At this point you are 760m above sea level.
For a break down of the different sections of the crossing, click here.