Take A Safety First Approach

While the Tongariro Crossing is generally regarded as a ‘safe’ activity, it’s not 100% risk free, and basic precautions need to be taken.

It’s worth remembering that well over 100,000 people walk the crossing every year.

Compare this with the Milford Track, which only gets about 15,000 trampers per year.

The sheer volume of people walking the Tongariro means there are more likely to be accidents.

So it’s not surprising that the Tongariro Crossing is the scene of the highest number search and rescues in all of New Zealand.

Red Crater - Tongariro Alpine Crossoing
Stay Safe on the Tongariro Crossing

Many people think that if so many people walk the crossing each year then it must be easy.

What’s actually easy is to have a false sense of security about the track.

There are parts of the Tongariro Crossing that are not paths or board walks – it’s loose rocks (scree) and when walking downhill on this kind of terrain, care must be taken.

The New Zealand Mountain Safety Council reported that between 2010 and 2018, 83 people needed to be assisted off the crossing, due to a ‘slip, trip or fall’. Most of the falls occur on the downhill portions of the crossing.

In fact, in the same time period, there were 292 people involved in a search and rescue (including the 83 above) on the crossing.

Other contributing factors were lack of fitness and people underestimating the walks duration.

So being fit enough is critical, and ensuring you can walk long distances with a back pack, and going up and down hill is a very easy way to understand if you can manage the distance.

Tragically, several people have also died while attempting the crossing.

None of these facts are there to scare or put you off.  Rather it’s about knowing and managing the risks so you can enjoy the Tongariro Crossing experience.

Safety Precautions On The Tongariro Crossing

There are a few simple things you can do to minimise your risk and stay safe on your hike.

Firstly, make sure you know where you’re going and have a map of the Tongariro Crossing.

Ensure you have enough time to complete in the daylight – critical if you are undertaking a winter crossing.

Tell someone your plans: It’s an absolute no-brainer that friends and/or family should know what you are doing and when you are doing it (when it comes to the crossing)

This is even more important for solo travellers.

The New Zealand Mountain Safety Council has an app that brings together the important information needed for planning a safe walk/tramp – including the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

The app allows you to add emergency contacts, and share your plans with friends and family.

Download the app from your iPhone/Android app store or from the website:

Plan My Walk Logo

You could also use the official ‘Outdoor Intentions’ form to fill in your details, including expected return times. The site is from the official New Zealand Search and Rescue Council.

This means your information is accessible by search and rescue teams if required.

Talk To Your Shuttle Company

When you book a car park or shuttle they will generally be a reliable source of information on the day, as they are almost certainly local and will have a good understanding of conditions and risks.They can advise you on whether it’s safe to walk the crossing on the day.

Bad Weather Advisory For The Tongariro Crossing

Bad weather can stop you from your walk, even in summer. Conditions are very changeable.

The Department of Conservation has a warning system in place, when conditions prohibit your crossing.  

If conditions are bad enough, warning signs are placed at the start/end of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing as well as signs on the road at the Mangatepopo and Ketetahi car park ends.

If you see the warnings, do not attempt to try the crossing.

They have clear criteria for the warning system, which is based on the Metservice forecast for the Red Crater, and the advisory will be applied if any of the following parameters are forecast for 12:00 pm or 6:00 pm:

  • Wind speed of 65 km per hour or greater between the time of 6:00 am to 6:00 pm
  • Wind speed of 50 km per hour or greater and precipitation of 10mm or more between 6:00 am and 12:00 pm, or 12:00 pm and 6:00 pm
  • Wind chill of minus 10 degrees Celsius or colder on a fine day
  • Wind chill of 0 degrees Celsius or colder with any amount of precipitation
  • Severe Weather Warning issued for Tongariro National Park

Every day, at 6.00am DOC check the parameters and apply the warning if required.

DOC Bad Weather Advisory Warning Sign
DOC Bad Weather Advisory Warning Sign

Checking The Weather On The Crossing

You can check the weather anytime on the NIWA and Metservice websites:

COVID-19 Considerations

Given the changeable situation with COVID-19, it also pays to check the New Zealand Mountain Safety Councils COVID specific website, which details what can and can’t be with respect to outdoor adventures, depending on the Alert levels.

Allow More Than One Day To Walk The Crossing

You should allow 2 or 3 days to walk the Tongariro Crossing. This means if there is poor weather on your scheduled day, you can come back the next day for another attempt.

Having a back up day also means there is less pressure.

If you’ve traveled a long distance and are looking forward to the crossing, it can create pressure to ignore the warnings and ‘give it a go’. This is obviously not a good idea!

There are plenty of other things to do, on the days you don’t do the crossing.