SECTIONS OF THE TONGARIRO ALPINE CROSSING
We’ve broken down the Tongariro Crossing into 6 main sections to give you a taste of what to expect. But these are not super detailed descriptions – because half the fun is in the discovery. We encourage you to take one step at a time, absorb the views and have fun!
Mangatepopo Car Park to Soda Springs
You’ll get dropped off at the Mangatepopo car park at the start of the crossing, and it’s here that the actual hike begins. But first things first, there are toilets here so it’s a good idea to use them before you head off.
This section is pretty easy, and is a pleasant way to get the day started.
Near the head of the Mangatepopo Valley a 15 minute return sidetrack leads to the Soda Springs. This is probably the most visited waterfall along the track.
You can see it from the main track, but you can also take the dedicated track and walk about 10 minutes to get a closer view. That said, it’s worth noting that in summer there may not be much water. Soda Springs also has a toilet.
At this point you would have walked for about an hour.
Soda Springs to South Crater - Introducing the Devil’s Staircase!
Righto, walking gets harder for this section of the track, and there is no better example of this than the ‘Devil’s Staircase’ – your new, favourite set of stairs.
This is an ascent of 200 metres over a relatively short distance, meaning it’s a challenging gradient. Your thighs are about to get a work out.
The walk is very doable though, the views are awesome and on a clear day you can spot Mt Taranaki, over on the west coast of the North Island.
This part of your walk will take roughly 50-60 minutes – but don’t clock watch – just enjoy the challenge, the views and the feeling of satisfaction you’ll get at the top!
Best of all, the next 15 minutes or so will be an easy, flat walk.
South Crater To Red Crater
At just over 8km, this section takes you to the highest point of the hike – the Red Crater. You’ll be 1,886 metres above sea level.
The temperature here is generally 10 degrees colder than what it will be in Taupo. You may also notice the smell of sulphur – that’s because the crater is still alive.
The views are epic – including your first views of the heavily photographed Emerald Lakes. You can also see the Kaimanawa Mountain Ranges to the east.
All up, this part of the walk takes around an hour and part of this includes the steepest climb as you get to the top of the Red Crater. Take care here as it can get windy and there are steep drops, off the sides of the track.
Red Crater to Blue Lake
It’s all downhill from here, but you still need to take care as the track is steep, and will be slippery due to the loose rocks/scoria. At one point you’ll descend 145 metres in height in just over 500 metres of walking.
This is also why you should not walk the crossing in ‘reverse’. Walking uphill on the scoria is much more difficult than walking downwards.
However, you will soon be rewarded as you get closer views of the Emerald Lakes.
There’s a short climb to the Blue Lake. It goes without saying that the lake is Tapu (sacred) – do not swim in the lake, and don’t eat or drink around it.
This section talks about 30 minutes.
Blue Lake To Ketetahi Hut
Next up is about the walk to the Ketetahi Hut which will take around an hour.
It starts with a short climb to the North Crater, again with picture perfect views of the central plateau, Lake Taupo and Lake Rotoaira, then you will walk down to the Ketetahi hut.
There are toilets here as well, and you’ll probably need them!
Ketetahi Hut to Ketetahi Carpark
The final stretch!
It’s at this point that people often start to think about their transport back to their accommodation, and whether they will have to wait for their shuttle etc.
This is exactly why we recommend booking a car park and shuttle at the Ketetahi car park. It’s a private car park and you have ample time (till 7pm) to get back.
As you are now much closer to sea level, it’s much greener, with plenty of Kanuka and Manuka.
When you end your hike, the car park is an easy ten minute walk away, where your car awaits.