At the Tongariro National Park on the North Island of New Zealand you can take the best and most beautiful day hike in New Zealand: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. And I can tell you: he certainly is!
During this 19.4km long hike you will have a great view of the rugged volcanic landscape of New Zealand’s oldest national park, you will walk along emerald green and blue lakes and you will look out on huge volcanoes, old lava flows and various craters.
Are you soon to be found on the North Island of New Zealand? Then you should not miss the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It is a tough hike, but it is more than worth the 19.4km! And with the information below you will certainly start this beautiful walk well prepared!
- What is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?
- Where is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?
- How fit should you be?
- Do you need a guide?
- The best season for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- The best weather for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- Route map Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- The starting point of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- Tongariro Alpine Crossing: the route
- Which facilities can be found along the way?
- Parking Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- Shuttle bus Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- The transport options in a row
- Overnight near the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- Good to know about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- The Tongariro Alpine Crossing packing list
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a free day walk over a distance of 19.4km on the North Island of New Zealand and part of the 43.1km long (3-4 days) Tongariro Northern Circuit. The walk is also known as New Zealand’s most beautiful day walk!
During the walk you will walk through a (still active) volcanic area with a view of ancient lava flows, the mountain peaks of Mount Ngauruhoe (2287m) and Mount Tongariro (1967m), you will walk on the crater edges of the South and the Red Crater and you will come along the crater lakes Emerald Lakes and Blue Lake.
You can undertake the walk throughout the year and, depending on your condition, you will finish it in about 6 to 8 hours. Do you take the walk in winter or with snow? Then it might be possible that it will take you a little longer to complete the walk.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing runs through the oldest national park of New Zealand: the Tongariro National Park. The park is located 30 km south of Lake Taupo, is 796 square kilometers and contains three active volcanoes: Mount Ruapehu, Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe. The latter Mount Ngauruhoe even figured in the Lord of The Rings films and is therefore known as Mount Doom.
The walk not only has a length of 19.4 km, but you will also rise almost 800m in altitude: from 1120m at the Mangatepopo Car park to 1886m altitude at the top of the Red Crater. In addition, you will walk over rough terrain, with at some places a steep climb and loose stones.
In order to complete the walk well and safely, mountain hiking experience is not necessary, but it is important that you have a good physical condition. For an experienced walker the walk will not be tough, but if you have a moderate condition, then the walk will certainly be a bit tougher.
The entire Tongariro Alpine Crossing (excluding the climbs of a mountain top) you will walk over well-marked trails, together with other hikers. So during the summer season a guide is not necessary.
But if you find it interesting to learn a bit more about the landscape you will see on your way, you can consider to take the walk with a guide. Also if you want to undertake the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in the winter and you have no experience with hiking in winter conditions, then a guide is definitely recommended.
Providers of guided tours are:
- Tongariro Expeditions (only in winter). From NZD$95.00 / € 55 per person.
- Tongariro Guided Walks (summer/winter). From NZD$185 / € 107 per person (1 person).
NZD$110 / € 64 per person (2 persons).
- Adventure Outdoors (summer/winter). From NZD$245.00 / € 140 per person.
The Tongariro National Park has got two seasons:
- The Great Walk Season, the summer season: start Labour Weekend (end October) – 30 April
- Outside the Great Walk Season, the winter season: 1 May – Labour Weekend (end October)
Despite these seasons, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is open all year round, provided weather conditions and volcanic activity allow you to walk. Although it can be very busy and warm in the summer. If you want to avoid the hustle and heat a bit, then it is better to do the hike in the months October, November, February and March. From December till March, the walking path is also often clear of snow and the daylight hours are getting longer.
However, in winter, from May till October, there is no / limited transportation (shuttle buses) to the start of the walk and you will have to make extra preparations because of the extreme winter environment you will be walking through. It is a period with (extreme) winter weather, such as strong winds and snowfall and in which avalanches can also arise.
During this period you certainly need to take a good alpine equipment with crampons and an ice ax with you. Especially when you do not have experience in walking in an extremely wintery environment, a tour including an experienced guide and transport is definitely recommended.
In Tongariro National Park it is possible to experience all four seasons in one day and in addition the weather in the valley can be very different than at a 1000m higher altitude on the 1886m high summit of Red Crater. I also started the walk with long pants and a t-shirt, but towards the top of the Red Crater I was definitely very happy with my sweater and a windproof jacket.
Before you decide to start walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, it is important to check and keep an eye on the weather forecast. In order to be able to enjoy the view on your way and to be able to walk safely, the weather and visibility must be absolutely good! If one of the conditions below is predicted, it is even strongly advised not to start the walk:
- A wind strength forecast of 65km/h or greater between the hours of 09.00am and 03.00pm.
- A wind strengt forecast of 50km/h or greater and rainfall of 10mm or more in a 6 hour period (these conditions can cause snowfall).
- Wind-chill on a fine day of -12 degrees Celsius or colder.
- Wind-chill on a rainy day of 0 degrees Celsius or colder.
- A “severe weather” warning has been issued for Tongariro National Park.
So always check the weather forecast for Tongariro National Park.
If you want to see all the highlights and want to climb the least, starting from the Mangatepopo Car Park is the best choice. You will find most of the highlights from the Mangatepopo Car Park till the Red Crater, from where you will have a great view of the Emerald Lakes and the nearby Blue Lake. At the Mangatepopo Car Park you will also start at an altitude of 1120m and will walk via the highest point (the Red Crater) at 1886m to the end point (Ketetahi) at 760m. So you will only climb 766m instead of 1126m when you would start from Ketetahi.
Since the introduction of the parking measure of a maximum of 4 hours, you will also be dropped off at Mangatepopo by the shuttle bus. The starting point of the walk.
Are you going to do the walk in the winter season? Then you can choose to park at the Mangatepopo Car Park, walk up to the Red Crater and then walk back to Mangatepopo via the same road. Namely, most of the highlights are in the first part of the walk. In addition, during the winter season, there are no or a limited number of shuttle buses to take you back to your car or campervan.
Are you curious what you will see and can expect during the walk? Then read on quickly.
1. Mangatepopo Car Park – Soda Springs (1-1,5 hour)
From the Mangatepopo Car Park you will start the walk on a relatively flat path which will take you to the Soda Springs, while passing a sidetrack to the Mangatepopo Hut. On the way you will look out on the 2287m high Mount Ngauruhoe, which is surrounded by ancient lava flows and different types of moss in all kinds of colors of green. Once you have arrived at the Soda Springs you can choose to have a look at this small waterfall (300m / 5 min walk one way) or to start the climb to the South Crater (after possibly a sanitary stop at the toilets present).
2. Soda Springs – South Crater (45min-1 hour)
Grade: moderate – difficult.
Just after the Soda Springs you will be at the beginning of the heaviest part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing: the Devil’s Staircase. And the climb definitely lives up to this name. Through a large number of steps you will rise 200m in altitude towards the South Crater, from 1400m to 1600m above sea level! And you will definitely notice this difference in height on your breathing, because the air is getting thinner.
Mount Ngauruhoe alias Mount Doom
Are you a Lord of the Rings fan? Then you might recognize Mount Ngauruhoe. The mountain acted as Mount Doom in the Lord of The Rings movies. It was first possible to climb to the top of the steep Mount Ngauruhoe, but this has recently been banned. The mountain is sacred for the Iwi, a local Māori tribe. Park rangers therefore ensure that the mountain is no longer climbed.
3. South Crater – Red Crater (1 hour)
Grade: moderate – difficult.
At the South Crater you can take a rest from your effort. The walking path through the South Crater is completely flat and looks like you have landed on the moon. But unfortunately this flat part is only of short duration. To get to the top of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, the Red Crater, you will still have a last short climb ahead. From the South Crater you will first follow your way along a mountainside. At this part it can be quite windy and then the installed steel chain is certainly not an unnecessary luxury to be able to cling yourself to it or to lift yourself.
Once you are around the corner, it is still only a short climb to the top of the Red Crater. But be careful! Because the path is strewn with loose stones and this will not always walk comfortably.
4. Red Crater – Emerald Lakes (10-20 minutes)
Grade: tough descent with loose stones.
Yes, you made it! 1886m! You have arrived at the highest point of the walk and immediately you will see where the name Red Crater is coming from. Namely, the crater rim has got a beautiful red color and has arisen because iron in the rock oxidized by the high temperatures.
As soon as you walk past the Red Crater you will be rewarded for all your effort. On top of the summit you have (in good and clear weather!) an amazing view of Mount Ngauruhoe, the Red Crater, Oturee Valley, Rangipo Desert, Kaimanawa Ranges, the Emerald Lakes and the Blue Lake.
After you have enjoyed the amazing view and a rest from the climb, you can choose to climb the summit of Mount Tongariro (1967m, 1-2h return from the top of Red Crater) or to descend to the Emerald Lakes.
When you descend to the Emerald Lakes, take your time, because before you know it you will slip from the steep slope. The slope is strewn with loose stones and volcanic debris. Once down you will find the Emerald Lakes on your right and you will immediately smell the scent of sulfur, which comes from the steam you will see rising from the steam vents above the lake. A sign that you are still walking around an active volcanic area.
It is definitely worth taking a look at the lakes with their beautiful emerald green color. A color that they owe to the minerals which are released by the surrounding rocks. Are you visiting in the winter? Then the lakes are frozen and you will most likely not see the colors of the lakes because they are covered in a thick layer of snow.
Swimming is not allowed in the Emerald Lakes. The water is not only cold, acidic and not drinkable, but the lake is also sacred to the local Iwi.
5. Emerald Lakes – Blue Lake (10-15 minutes)
From the Emerald Lakes you will walk via the Central Crater and will the path go up to Te Wai-whakaata-o-te-Rangihiroa, the Blue Lake.
The lake is not only cold, acidic and not drinkable, but also sacred to the local Iwi. Because of this it is not respectful and allowed to swim in the lake, to touch and / or to eat or drink around the banks.
6. Blue Lake – Ketetahi Hut (1-,5 hour)
After your stop at the Blue Lake you will walk along the flanks of the North Crater, which once was a lava lake. Slowly you will descend to Ketetahia via a kilometers long winding road and you will have a nice view of the steamy Te Maari craters.
Along the way you will also clearly see the damage caused by the eruption of the Te Maari craters (on the slope of Mount Tongariro) in 2012. There are various impact craters around the path and you will pass the damaged Ketetahi Hut.
Because of the eruption, this hut is so badly damaged that it is no longer possible to spend the night here. But at the hut you can still take a break, make a sanitary stop or just enjoy the view.
7. Ketetahi Hut – Ketetahi Car Park (1,5-2 hours)
From the Ketetahi Hut you will start with the last stage of the walk. You will now slowly descend via the moss-covered slopes and a forest area, where also the active volcanic zone ends. After about 1.5-2 hours of walking, the end is almost in sight.
If you still have some energy left, then you can visit the small Ketetahi Falls just before you arrive at the Ketetahi Car Park. This is a short 5 minute walk from the hiking trail. And otherwise you will continue walking to the Ketetahi Car Park and have you accomplished the Tongariro Alpine Crossing!
Toilets are present at the Mangatepopo Car Park, the Mangatepopo hut, the Soda Springs, the Ketetahi Hut and the Ketetahi Car Park. From the summer of 2017 extra toilets will be placed on the route, so that there will be a toilet every 1-2 hours. Take your own toilet paper and / or paper tissues with you and do not litter, but throw your waste away in a designated place. Leave nothing but footprints!
Food and drinks
There are no taps for drinking water on the way and there are also no options for buying food or drinks. So make sure you bring enough food and snacks for the entire walk, as well as at least 1.5 liters of water per person. On a summer day it is advisable to bring even more drinking water.
Until recently it was possible to park unlimited (in the summer season) at both the Mangatepopo Car Park and the Ketetahi Car Park.
However, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is very popular among both travelers and residents of New Zealand. This has led to the fact that, especially in the summer season, parking can be very busy. When the parking lots are full, many visitors choose to park their car on the side of the road.
In order to regulate this bustle a little more and to prevent further damage to nature at both the parking lot and along the walking track, DOC has decided to set a time limit for parking at the Mangatepopo starting point. From the start of Labour weekend till 30 April, here you are only allowed to park your car/campervan for a maximum of 4 hours.
If you want to walk the entire Tongariro Alpine Crossing, you are obliged to use the shuttle bus. If you use a shuttle bus from Ketetahi Car Park, you can park for free at the available parking lots: the Security Day Park and the Ketetahi Car Park.
In the winter season parking is still free of charge at both the Ketetahi Car Park and the Mangatepopo Car park. The number of available parking spaces is limited and therefore it might be a bit busier with parking.
Depending on when you go hiking in the winter season, there are no/ a limited number of shuttle buses running from Ketetahi to take you to the start of the walk. If you can still use the shuttle service, you can also use the available parking spaces: the Security Day Park and the Ketetahi Car Park.
If you can no longer use the shuttle service, then choose to start and end your walk at Mangatepopo.
Take your valuables with you or put them out of sight!
During the summer season you have to use a paid shuttle bus. The shuttle buses are available on a return basis from various places and accommodations or on a single journey basis, when you choose to park your car at Ketetahi Car Park. The advantage is that you can take the entire walk, but disadvantage is that you are bound to (pre-booked) pick up times and there are also costs associated with the use of the shuttle bus. The costs for using the shuttle bus are:
- One way Ketetahi Car Park – Mangatepopo Car Park: NZD$30 / € 17,50 per person. Duration: 30 minutes.
- One way Tongariro Shuttle Car Park – Mangatepopo Car Park: NZD$30 / € 17,50 per person. Duration: 30 minutes.
- Return Tongariro Base Camp – Mangatepopo Car Park: NZD$40 / € 23 per person. Duration: 20 minutes.
- Return Turangi – Mangatepopo Car Park: NZD$50 / € 29 per person. Duration: 45-60 minutes.
- Return Taupo – Mangatepopo Car Park: NZD$65 / € 37,50 per person. Duration: 90 minutes.
Check with your accommodation whether they offer a shuttle service, free or at (reduced) costs, before you choose another provider.
If you intend to climb Mount Tongariro, you have to take the first and also the earliest shuttle!
Some other providers (outside accommodations) are:
- Mountain Shuttle (reduced rates for seniors, students, children and groups), from NZD$30.
- Tongariro Expeditions (reduced rates for seniors, students and children), from NZD$35.
- Alpine Shuttles, from NZD$35.
- Adventure HQ (reduced rates for seniors and children), from NZD$35.
Have you booked a return by shuttle bus? Keep an eye on your time and make sure you are at the pick-up point at the agreed time.
To make your choice easier, you can find the various transport options below.
Do you want to save on the shuttle bus, least climbing and see all highlights:
In the summer season:
- Drop off your tour group at the Mangatepopo Car Park, let 1 person park the car at Ketetahi Car Park (25min drive) and take the pre-booked shuttle bus to Mangatepopo Car Park. This way you can take the entire walk from Mangatepopo to Ketetahi, but you will only need to pay for the shuttle bus for one person. The only downside is that your travel companions have to wait for you at Mangatepopo.
- Park your car at Ketetahi Car Park (limited parking spaces) and walk to the Mangatepopo Car Park from here. Here you can try to hitchhike to your car or camper at Ketetahi. The disadvantage is that you have to wait for a lift and by starting from Ketetahi you have to climb more, than when you would start from Mangatepopo. At Ketetahi you start at 760m instead of at 1120m at Mangatepopo.
In the winter season (if the 4h parking limit does not apply):
Park your car at the Mangatepopo Car park, walk to Red Crater, take a look at the Emerald Lakes and walk back to the Mangatepopo Car park.
Would you like to use the shuttle service:
- In the summer season:
Park your car at the Ketetahi Car Park or the Security Day Park, take a shuttle bus to the Mangatepopo Car Park and walk 19.4km back to your car or camper.
- In the winter season:
In the winter season there are no/a limited number of shuttle buses running.
Shuttle buses depart at fixed, pre-booked, times!
The shuttle buses to the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing leave early in the morning, so it is advisable to spend the night near the start of the walk.
Below you will find a number of accommodations where you could stay or camp, near the start of the walk or at Turangi.
The Crossing Backpackers is a 29-minute drive from Ketetahi Car Park and 23 minutes from the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
You can spend the night in your campervan or car with a tent, in a dormitory, double-, triple-, quadruple- or family room. The rooms have a private or a shared bathroom.
You can also use a paid shuttle service, hot tub, shared kitchen, the BBQ, laundry room and the pool table.
The Pipers Lodge is a 25-minute drive from Ketetahi Car Park and a 20-minute drive from Mangatepopo Car Park.
At the lodge you can stay in a double or quadruple room with shared bathroom, as well as in a family room with shared or private bathroom.
The lodge offers a paid shuttle service. Also you can use the hot tub, have a drink or meal at the bar/restaurant and enjoy a game in the recreation room.
Riverstone Backpackers is located in Turangi, op 20-minute drive from Ketetahi Car Park and 38 minutes from Mangatepopo Car Park.
You can stay in a double-, triple-, quadruple- or dormitory room.
The rooms have a private or shared bathroom.
There are also a common room and a terrace.
The hostel offers a shuttle service at an additional charge.
Download the apps WikiCamps NZ and Camper Mate NZ. With these apps you can easily and quickly search for a campsite while you are on the road. A number of places where you can camp near the Tongariro Alpine Crossing are:
Mangahuia Campsite: 21min drive from Ketetahi Car Park. NZD$13 / €8 per person per night.
National Park Backpackers: 24min drive from Ketetahi Car Park, from NZD$15 / €9 per person per night.
The Crossing Backpackers: 29min drive from Ketetahi Car Park, from NZD$16 / €9,50 per person per night.
Plateau Lodge: 24min drive from Ketetahi Car Park, from NZD$40 / €23,50 per night (2 persons).
All accommodations above, except Mangahuia, offer a paid shuttle service to the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
- Only take the walk if the weather is good! Since you go to an altitude of 1886m it would be a shame if you are at the top and because of the fog and / or rain you do not see anything of the normally beautiful view. Despite that the weather seams to be good in the valley, it may be bad at the top.
- The Tongariro Alpine Crossing runs through an active volcanic area.
- It is a tough hike, with loose stones and with a steep climb here and there. A good condition and not too weak ankles are certainly a requirement to take this walk with pleasure.
- Stay on the trail at all times.
- Make sure you are back at your car or campervan before dark.
- Walking the dog is not allowed.
- Prepare for all types of weather, possibly wear a zip-off pants and take a wind- or rain jacket with you. The walk runs through an Alpine area and during the walk you can experience all four weather types. It is possible that you first walk in the sun and then climb the Red Crater in the screeching wind. If you are wearing a shorts at that moment, you will not be happy!
- If you have a drone and you would like to record your hike from the air, unfortunately this is not allowed.
- Take sunscreen and apply regularly. Because at an altitude of 1886m you can burn easily, also when it is cloudy!
- And last but not least: leave nothing but footprints. Take all your waste down, so that other hikers can also still enjoy this beautiful walk for a long time!
- Sturdy (hiking) shoes or sports shoes with a good profile. Flip-flops are absolutely a no-go, unless you want to slide down a mountain.
- A water- and windproof jacket and a long or zip-off pants.
- Wear clothing in layers.
- Gloves and a hut.
- Minimum 1.5 liters of water per person. In the summer months it is advisable to bring more water.
- Sufficient food and snacks.
- First aid kit.
- A mobile phone.
- Flashlight and / or headlamp (if you are going to start walking in the dark).
When you are going to walk in winter, the following items are a must:
- Crampons and an ice axe, as well as the knowledge to use them.
- Snow gaiters
- An avalanche probe, snow shovel and a transmitter
- Thermal clothing
Have you walked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?
All times and prices listed above are subject to changes.
Check the website(s) of the supplier(s) for current departure times, prices and other traveler information.