What is the Tongariro Crossing Like in Winter?

The world famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing in winter adds a particular form of beauty AND difficulty that you won’t find anyplace else on the planet!

Most people think of this hike as a summer activity but it is totally possible to do in the winter.

If the weather is clear, so you’ll get amazing views of the mountains, and the snow makes everything look magical.

Walking the crossing in winter (June/July/August/September) can be an incredible experience for those who are properly prepared and use the services of a guide on their walk.

Safety Considerations for a Winter Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Until 2007, the crossing was called just “The Tongariro Crossing”. But that all changed when they added a more importance and relevance to it by renaming it ‘The Tongariro Alpine Crossing’ to put focus on the extreme conditions that can be experienced.

You can expect ice on the track between April and October. 38% of tramping injuries happen from slipping over, so start with safety in mind and be sure to wear shoes with good traction for hiking.

With increased winter elements throughout Tongariro National Park from snow-covered hillsides and avalanche terrain, sub zero degrees in temperature weather conditions, completing the track in winter conditions takes specific preparation before venturing out onto these frozen grounds where the risks are much greater than summer.

Things to check before you go:

Weather Conditions, as these can change quickly with little warning: Check the metservice forecast here.

Volcanic Activity – It may sound unlikely but be sure to check for volcanic activity

Possible Avalanches: You can see the avalanche forecast here

How Cold Does it Get?

As you venture to the Red Crater, the temperature drops by at least 5°C. And 10° colder than Taupo.

The wind speed also needs to be taken into account as for every 10km per hour of wind, it will get about 2 degrees colder.

You'll need a guide for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in winter

Don’t attempt the crossing in winter without a guide. A guided walk or tour is not compulsory, but unless you are highly experienced it’s a no go!

The harsh terrain and extreme weather have resulted in this track having the highest number of search-and-rescues in New Zealand.

You should exercise caution when trekking on the Tongariro during the winter because it is vulnerable to extreme weather conditions such as snow and high winds.

For these reasons it’s recommended you join a guided walk is highly recommended.

Generally speaking a guide can also arrange your transport – but be sure to check.

Firms that offer a guided tour of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in winter:

Tongariro Guided Walks, Turangi (027) 308 9689)

Adventure Outdoors, National Park Village (0800 386925),

and Adrift, based in National Park (0004 623 7374)

Tongariro Alpine Crossing: Essentials for Winter

The following is a list of the clothing and equipment required for a winter crossing trip.

Cotton T shirts and jeans are obviously not a good idea, and you’ll need some special equipment like crampons and an ice axe. 

Stick to the below gear list to keep warm and safe.

  • Hiking Boots that go above the ankles with decent tread and grip (no trainers or running shoes)
  • Winter socks
  • Winter warm jackets which can handle a good amount of rain
  • Fleece and thermal trousers & tops (with extras just in case)
  • Ice axe
  • Crampons
  • Beanie
  • Head torch
  • Helmet
  • Gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • Rain coat
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

The best way to stay warm during winter is by layering your clothes.

Start with a base layer of polypropylene/merino, add an insulation layer such as fleece and wool for comfort in harsh conditions like wind or wetness; finish off the combo with waterproof shells which will protect you from icy temperatures outside.

When it comes to the specialised gear like crampons and an ice axe, the good news is if you use a guided tour, they will generally have hiking equipment for you to use – always check with the first.

Food and Drink for a Winter Tongariro Alpine Crossing

You’ll need to keep fuelled and hydrated while walking the crossing so be sure to take:

Two litres of water minimum.

Plenty of energy rich snacks and lunch – whether they are the ones to give you a burst of energy or something more ‘slow release’, be sure to pack food you know will work best for you – it’s not the time to experiment when you’re walking!

A Reserve Day

People visiting the Tongariro National Park sometimes have tight schedules which meant some were prepared to try to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in poor conditions rather than risk missing out and the rate of incidents had gone up.

Rather than put yourself in this position, allow at least 2, ideally 3 days in the area.

That way, if it’s simply too dangerous on the first day, you’ll have a few back up days up your sleeve, and there are other activities you can do while you are in the area.

Note that this is a good idea for summer as well, as the weather can change quickly regardless of season.

Fitness Levels

In the winter, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a difficult but magnificent trekking route that traverses through snow and an avalanche zone in the heart of National Park.

Regardless of season, you need a reasonable level of fitness to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It’s just over 20km in length and can take about 6-8 hours in summer. 

Expect a winter crossing of the track to take a little longer at around 9 hours. It’s worth bearing in mind that there is only around 11 hours of daylight available during winter in this part of New Zealand, so you’ll want to start with that in mind.

Bottom line is you need to be fit enough for the distance, and you should have a few test runs around your own location.

Is an Alpine Crossing in Winter Worth it?

At the risk of sounding cheesy, winter is a season for miracles. The Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand can be such an amazing experience with its iconic views, white snow and pure air. 

Seeing places like Mt Ngauruhoe and the frozen Emerald Lakes on the track will blow your mind – so take safety precautions, use a guide and create an unforgettable experience.