The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the best day hikes in New Zealand, and some would say the entire world! Crossing over 19.4 kilometers, you’ll be left in awe of the wild terrain. Yet, before you head out on the ultimate adventure there’s a few things you should know! Let us tell you all about Tongariro National Park, weather warnings, and more of what to expect along the way.
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14 Tips for the Tongariro Crossing
1. About the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
So what exactly makes this the best day hike in New Zealand? If you’ve never done a “crossing” before the name can sound a little intimidating. The word alone gives off a more challenging and intense feel than a regular hike!
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a one way track that cuts through the Tongariro National Park. Taking on average 6 to 8 hours to complete, you’ll climb the Devils Staircase, pass the Mount Ngauruhoe volcano, the Red Crater, and slide down to the Emerald Lakes.
2. Tongariro Crossing Parking
The parking at this New Zealand hike can be confusing so let’s break it down. You can start the Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike from both the Mangatepopo and Ketetahi car parks.
Beginning at the Mangatepopo car park is much more popular as you’re at a higher elevation which means less of a steep climb over the course of the day. Note that we did the hike from Mangatepopo so that is the order you’ll see in this blog.
Hotels in the area can arrange for you to be driven to the start and picked up at the end later in the day. If you have your own car you’ll have to park at the Ketetahi Car Park and pre-arrange a one-way shuttle to Mangatepopo.
→ Book a Tongariro Alpine Crossing Roundtrip Shuttle
3. Tongariro Weather Warning
Take it from me, the Tongariro weather can play a major role in your experience! Even on a bright sunny day, it can change in an instant in this part of New Zealand. If you’re in the middle of the hike there is little you can do to prepare, but there are some steps you can take beforehand to ensure a great day.
Back in 2010, I was dropped off for the Tongariro Crossing by my hotel. What followed was my group spending the next 8 hours struggling to make our way through the fog and storm that rolled in once we had reached the Red Crater.
This was partially my own fault as I attempted it at the end of the winter season. Fortunately, 10 years later Jake and I got a chance to do it together in early summer.
4. How to Plan for the Tongariro Weather
Hike the Tongariro Crossing during the right time of year. The trek can actually be done in spring, summer, fall, and winter. However, every season brings dramatically different weather. Once you figure out your dates look into what the conditions will be like and dress accordingly.
If you’re brave enough to try the crossing in the winter you are required to hire a park guide to go with you. Also, know that you’ll need proper footwear and other gear that will be provided by your tour company.
Check the Metservice Tongariro Weather daily leading up to your hike. If possible, plan to be in the area for a few nights and do the Tongariro Crossing on the best available day.
Take the signs seriously and don’t feel bad about turning around if the weather has changed. It was not nearly as enjoyable the first time I came here. I mean I could barely see more than 10 feet in front of me at the most beautiful points in the hike!
5. Start the Tongariro Crossing Early
There is no better reason to wake up early than to take on the best day hike in New Zealand! In the summer months you’ll want to get an early start to beat both the mass of hikers and strong summer sun.
We were shocked to find out that during peak season the Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike averages around 3,500 people per day! In the fall and spring, you’ll also want to be up and out early due to the limited hours of daylight.
6. What to Pack for Tongariro National Park
Layers: Have warm clothing even in the summer months including hat and gloves.
Water: Carry a minimum of 2 liters of water per person.
Sunblock: Bring plenty of sunblock, chapstick, and any other protection you might need.
Phone: Equip your phone with a local sim card in case of emergency.
Food: Make sure you have enough food to last the day. Our go-to hiker fuel is sandwiches, trail mix, apples, and dark chocolate!
7. Easy Walk Towards Mount Ngauruhoe Volcano
Now that you have have some information on Tongariro National Park, it’s time to get into the actual hike! Just one more thing… There are several public bathrooms available during the Tongariro Crossing. Avoid going off the trail instead as that can result in a hefty fine.
For the first hour of the hike, you’ll stroll through a long valley with Mount Ngauruhoe growing closer and closer. This active volcano has become internationally known not only for the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing but for its role as “Mount Doom” in the popular Lord of the Rings movies.
The walk to the base of Mount Ngauruhoe is the easiest part of the entire crossing so know that it gets much more difficult ahead! This section is also frequently utilized as a popular 2 hour roundtrip day hike for families, and those not able to complete the full hike.
8. The Devils Staircase
We hope you’re ready for a challenge because this next part definitely lives up to its name! Devils Staircase is a steady hour long climb that will take you up and over the side of the Mount Ngauruhoe volcano.
Here you’ll take step after step on this vertical patch, and really start to feel the burn of the crossing. Although it is steep, it’s actually more of a gradual incline than straight shot up the manmade stairs.
As you move higher in elevation enjoy the views of the Tongariro National Park all around you. The scenery is truly spectacular!
9. Climbing to The Highest Peek
About two hours into the Tongariro Alpine Crossing you’ll find yourself at the Mount Ngauruhoe viewpoint. This was one of our favorite places to take a quick break and get some photos with the massive volcano in the background.
We couldn’t believe that the last time it erupted was only in 1977! Here you’ll need to rest and a grab a snack as you gear up for one of the steepest climbs of the day. The following hill to the Red Crater will test each muscle in your legs, but we promise it will be worth every step.
10. The Red Crater
Even though you’ve already seen plenty of amazing scenery, some of the most incredible features of the Tongariro Crossing are still to come. The Red Crater gets its color from the intense heat and lava that once flowed out of it. This is one of several active craters you’ll see inside Tongariro National Park.
If your starting point was Mangatepopo (like most hikers) then the Red Crater will be on your right side as you head towards the peak. Once you get to this magnificent viewpoint you’ll be at the highest elevation of the hike. From here you can see the Emerald Lakes ahead, the Red Crater to the side, with Mount Ngauruhoe behind you. Enjoy it!
11. Sliding Down to the Emerald Lakes
After the final push to the highest point of the crossing it’s time for a steep climb down to the Emerald Lakes. This is by far the most uncomfortable section of the Tongariro Crossing. Steam floats up from the mountainside as the loose rocks and pebbles roll under your feet.
It’s almost impossible to pay attention to where you’re stepping with the blue and green colored pools sparkling below you. Do your best to keep your footing while still taking in the view. About halfway down we moved over to the side and found a spot to fully enjoy the views with some lunch.
12. Continue to the Blue Lake
Once you do get to the bottom there are small trails around these special lakes to see them up close. Like most of the other attractions in Tongariro National Park, the Emerald Lakes were created by volcanic activity.
The color is formed by a combination of rock minerals in the pools and sunlight reflecting off them. The much larger Blue Lake will be next up after the Emeralds. As welcoming as it may seem to dive in on a hot summer day, you’ll have to restrain yourself as this is a protected body of water!
13. Final Push of the Tongariro Crossing
Once you pass Mount Ngauruhoe, have climbed up to the Red Crater, and worked your way down to the Emerald Lakes, it’s time for the long descent down to the Ketetahi car park.
After passing through a large valley the trail will start to snake its way down the mountain. This downhill stroll might have you feeling like you’re walking towards the finish line, but you actually still have several hours of hiking to go!
From the Emerald Lakes, follow the winding path down the mountain for 2-3 more hours. These beautiful views of Lake Taupo in the distance will be the perfect end to your day. After you enter the forest you’ll be at the last section of the hike with only about 45 minutes left to the parking lot.
14. Hotels Near Tongariro National Park
Ultra Luxury – Chateau Tongariro Hotel – The picturesque scene of this historic hotel under the mountains of Tongariro is something out of a dream. The facilities here include indoor pool, spa, 9 hole golf course, and 2 different restaurants to choose from. Also, at the Chateau Tongariro Hotel world class skiing and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing will be close by.
Fun Vacation – Skotel Alpine Resort – This unique property is set just steps away from the start of the Taranaki Falls Track. Some rooms have balconies with views and access to the kitchen and shared lounge area.
Hostel Life – LKNZ Lodge – Located just a short drive away, this backpackers lodge has both dorms and private rooms available. Enjoy the hot tubs, sauna rooms, and common area for a one of a kind hostel experience near the Tongariro Crossing.
For more places to stay near Tongariro National Park you can explore the latest prices here!
Have any questions about this article or want to share your own tips for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing? Leave a comment below!
Brigitte & Jake
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