The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the top day hikes in New Zealand and was definitely a highlight of our time in this breathtaking country. The crossing leads over volcanic terrain between the active volcanoes Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe. It is a landscape we both have not experienced before! Though Dan has hiked a volcano in Indonesia before, the red-ish rocks and emerald crater lakes found on this hike at Tongariro National Park truly are something special.
- In this article you’ll find everything you’ll need to consider for a great Tongariro Alpine Crossing experience:
- Tongariro Crossing at a glance
- When did we go?
- How long did it take us?
- What to wear and bring?
- What to consider before, during and after the hike?
- Where to stay?
Tongariro Crossing at a glance
- Location: Tongariro National Park, North Island, New Zealand
- Starting Point: Mangatepopo Car Park (most common side to start)
- Distance: 19.4km
- Duration: 6-8hrs
- Elevation gain: 766m starting from Mangatepopo Car Park
- Difficulty: Intermediate, good fitness level is required
- Best time to go: September – May; doing the hike in winter (June to mid-October) requires alpine hiking skills!
- Cost: no entrance fee, $40 for return shuttle
- Footwear: strong hiking boots with good grip
TIP: if you think the whole hike is too much or you are short in time, you can walk to the Soda Springs and return. This will take you about 2 hrs. You can park at Mangatepopo Car Park. There are many more walks in the area. Click here to be directed to the brochure of walks in the Tongariro National Park.
When did we go?
We did the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in late October. Coming out of winter, there was still snow on the trail, but as the weather conditions were amazing (sunny, no clouds, still) on the day we arrived for the hike we could proceed. A few days earlier or the days after, the hike would have been more risky and not safe for us to do. Having done the hike we can see why: between the South and Red Crater there is a short climb along an exposed ridge line. Even with clear blue skies, the wind at the ridge was quite strong and required us to crawl for a few meters. We wouldn’t want to do it on an already windy day!
How long did it take us?
Walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing took us 6.5 hours. This includes taking heaps of photos on the way – especially at the crater lake! However, we rushed down the mountain to catch the 4.30pm shuttle and not have to wait for the next shuttle at 6pm. Honestly, I (Manu) would have enjoyed walking slower as my knees and legs started hurting at that faster pace. I’d say 7 hours is more like it.
What to wear and bring?
- Sturdy shoes with good grip (can be rented for the walk at eg. Skibiz- that’s what Dan did)
- Water & wind resistant jacket
- Wear layers– we wore 3 layers: long sleeve shirt, jumper, rainproof winter jacket
- Bring a beanie, sunnies, gloves and warm socks
- Pack enough WATER (we had 2L each which was good. Wouldn’t recommend taking less)
- FOOD & energy rich snacks like nuts, fruits, veggies, bars
- Toilet paper/ tissues – toilets are provided but no toilet paper
What to consider before, during and after the hike?
Before the hike
- Get up early; what time does the sun go down? Count at least 8hours backwards to see when you have to start the LATEST and plan to start your hike earlier than that.
- Check the weather forecast and additionally ask at the visitor center or one of the rental places for updated and more accurate information on weather, possible hazards (you are entering an area of active volcanoes) and overall track conditions
- Book a return shuttle. As the crossing starts and finishes at different locations, you will have to book a shuttle to return to your car. We booked the Tongariro Crossing Shuttle Transport with “Summit Shuttles” for $40 per person:
- Various pick up & drop-off locations and times
- Free day parking at their depot at National Park Village
- The shuttle team makes sure that everyone who took the shuttle to the starting point, takes it back as well by crossing names off a list. If people have not returned for the last shuttle, the company starts a search. “We don’t go home until everybody has returned from the walk”
During the hike
The hike starts off flat and partially on a wooden walkway
It continues upwards on a steep, well paved trail with stairs
After reaching the South Crater, the walk is not paved anymore: it continues on an uneven surface and partly unstable volcanic rock.
Enjoy the incredible view at the Red Crater with the emerald lakes, admire the colors of volcanic rock and watch steam come out of the ground.
After passing the craters and lakes, you will soon get back to a paved track leading down the volcano to the Ketetahi Car Park
- Make sure to stay on the path; look out for signs and poles to keep on track
- Check-in with yourself and your friends along the way to see if you feel well enough to continue as long as the path ahead is longer than the distance you’ve already hiked. Be honest with yourself – there is no need to push yourself to the limit!
- Watch out for the weather and any possible changes in the sky. As we are in an alpine environment, the weather can change rapidly. Does it look safe to continue?
After the hike
- The shuttle will drop you off at your desired location (either hotel or shuttle depot)
- Where to shower if traveling in a campervan and no hostel/ hotel booked? You can shower at the Skotel Hotel for $10. This includes towels and sauna usage – amazing to relax your muscles after the long hike!
|＋ unlimited hot shower||－ comparably high price if just using the shower|
|＋ wooden, well maintained sauna||－ only one shower per gender|
|＋ toilet available|
|＋ big, fluffy towel provided|
Where to stay?
In the nearby villages Iwikau Village and National Park village you can find different options for accommodation.
We travelled by CamperVan and stayed at the Mangahuia Campground
- Facilities: toilets (non-flush), running water (untreated), shelter for cooking
- Cost: $15 per adult per night
Tipp: install the free App CamperMate to easily find campgrounds, toilets, showers and other information which is helpful for your travels within NZ
About to do the hike? Visit the NZ DOC (Department of Conservation) website for more detailed information.