If you know anything about hiking in New Zealand, I’m sure you’ve heard about the hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Being New Zealand’s oldest national park, it’s famous for its 19.4km day hike featuring a volcanic landscape, emerald lakes and for featuring in Lord of the Rings as Mordor. Here’s everything you need to know about completing the trail that’s been voted New Zealand’s best day hike.
Where is Tongariro Alpine Crossing located?
Tongariro Alpine Crossing is located centrally in the North Island of New Zealand. Nearby attractions and larger towns include Taupo (where I stayed the night before the hike), Huka Falls and Whakapapa Village.
Where does Tongariro Crossing start and finish?
How do I get to Tongariro Alpine Crossing?
You can get to nearby towns by train, car or bus. However, on the day of your hike, you’ll need to get to the start of the track by driving yourself or using a bus shuttle.
Be aware, if you drive yourself there’s limited parking at the start of the track which I’ve heard is restricted to four hours. As the walk takes around 6-8 hours you’ll either have to park at the start of the trail and pay someone to drive it to the end. Or you park at the end of the crossing and pay for a shuttle to the start of the track. People choose these options to avoid paying both the drop-off and pick up fee with the shuttles or for convenience when they finish the trail. I’d recommend using a shuttle, you can see details of shuttle buses here.
Do I need to book the Tongariro Crossing?
You don’t need to book the crossing but you do need to book your shuttles or get there early to park if you’re driving yourself. Shuttles can get booked up fast in the summer months (Dec – Feb) so keep this mind.
What is the best time of the year to hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing?
I imagine there isn’t a bad time of year to complete the crossing because it’s such a beautiful landscape. However, it can be a lot more dangerous and therefore difficult in the winter (June-October) due to the low temperature, ice and risk of avalanche. You’ll need equipment for this hike in winter and it’s popular to go with a guide. You can see in-depth information about climbing in the winter here.
What time should I start the Tongariro Crossing?
Most shuttles will drop you off between 5:00 and 8:00 AM and last pickup from the end is between 2:30 and 4:30 PM. The walk should take you between 6-8 hours depending on your pace and ability so do keep this in mind. Parking is also restricted hence why people get there early to avoid full car parks.
How much will Tongariro Alpine Crossing cost?
In terms of cost, the Tongariro Crossing day hike is free. What you need to pay for are the transport costs. If you’re staying in the local towns a return shuttle will cost around $35 per person. The further away you stay the more expensive it’ll be. If you want to do this for as cheap as possible you will need to drive yourself, park at the end and get a one-way shuttle back.
Where should I stay to hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing?
I stayed in Taupo and got a shuttle at 4:15 AM to the start of the crossing. If I did this again, I’d stay closer so I could sleep for longer! Staying in the National Park Village is just a 25 min drive as opposed to Taupo which takes an hour. There’s a range of places to stay in the village which you can find here.
What do you pack and wear to hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing?
I was honestly surprised by the number of people I saw wearing skinny jeans on this hike. I chose to wear gym clothes for comfort and practicality. Here’s my packing list and what to wear to hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing:
- Wear running trainers or hiking boots. You don’t necessarily need hiking boots but I did slip a few times on the climb up so wear shoes with a good grip.
- Comfortable socks/underwear.
- Wear layers. I wore a sports bra, cami, a t-shirt and sports leggings and packed a long sleeve zip-up top and a waterproof.
- Pack a waterproof jacket and trousers just in case it rains as there’s no shelter on this hike. These will be helpful for the high winds at the peak too.
- A hat and gloves. I hiked in February and still needed these for the cold temperature at the top. It got warmer later on in the hike but they didn’t add ‘Alpine’ into this hike name for nothing.
- A cap/sunglasses and suncream. The weather really can vary on this hike and you’ll need this to protect your skin.
- Snacks to keep you going i.e. cereal bars/banana.
- A solid lunch i.e. a sandwich/pasta.
- A 2-litre water bottle. There’s nowhere to refill your water on this hike and you don’t want to run out so make sure to bring enough.
- Toilet paper, hand sanitizer and wipes. The toilets are not nice, they’re dark and are long drops so bring what you can to keep clean.
- A phone. To keep track of the time, to use as a torch for the toilets and in case you need to contact anyone in the event of danger.
How long does it take to walk the Tongariro Crossing?
On average, this hike should take you between 6-8 hours. The distance is 19.4km.
What experience do you need for Tongariro Crossing?
The Crossing is a tough hike and you do need to be relatively fit. It will be a challenge to most people unless you’re an avid hiker but this doesn’t mean you need weeks of preparation. The hike itself starts flat but reaches an elevation of around 1900 m just past the 8km point.
What facilities does Tongariro Alpine Crossing have?
There are toilets approximately every 2 hours but remember to take toilet roll. There’s nowhere to fill up water or buy food so bring your own. There’s also no rubbish bins on the track so take everything you bring and dispose of this properly once you finish.
Is the Tongariro Crossing dangerous?
Generally, I would say the hike isn’t dangerous, but it can be if you aren’t prepared. You’re hiking between two active volcanoes Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe (otherwise known as Mt Doom of Mordor for those who know Lord of the Rings). Tongariro last erupted in 2012 but the Ngauruhoe was in 1975. There is information on the hike about what to do if there is an eruption. Although unlikely, it is possible. The most important thing is to be as prepared as possible. Take enough water, food, the right clothing, a phone and make sure people know you’re doing the hike should something go wrong.
The journey of Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Mangatepopo Valley to Soda Springs
Approximately 1-1.5 hrs
The beginning of the track is generally flat and not too difficult. There is the option to go off the main track here which is a 15 min return to the Soda Springs. We skipped this as we knew we had a long walk ahead so I can’t say if it’s worth it or not.
Soda Springs to South Crater
This is where things start to get difficult. Known as ‘Devils Staircase’ expect to be climbing stairs for a good 45 min-1 hr. Definitely take your time, this is physically one of the hardest parts.
South Crater to Red Crater
Approximately 45 min – 1 hr
Hallejullah, another flat part. You’ll be relieved after the stairs.
Red Crater to Emerald Lakes
The Red Crater summit is the hight part of the crossing. I found this the scariest part (and the coldest!) as I slid quite a few times and it’s high. Take your time and be careful. You’ll then have the challenging downhill part which is made of a sand-like texture. A lot of people sit on their bums and slide down for this part, otherwise prepare to fall over a few times! This is also the part you can see Emerald Lakes, which is beautiful.
Emerald Lakes to Ketetahi Shelter
The views here are beautiful and this part of the walk often has the most sun exposure so wear suncream.
Ketetahi Shelter to Ketetahi Bus Park
The last part of the track is actually a forest section. You really do see so much different scenery on this hike. This is pretty much downhill most of the way but it’s a challenge on the knees. This is the finish line! Congratulations.
Is Tongariro Crossing worth it?
So, is the hike worth it? Absolutely. The range of landscapes you see on this hike are incredible. It is tough at times and you will feel it the next day but as long as you are prepared and take your time, you’ll be fine! To hear more about what happened to me on this hike…check out my Instagram post here. So, is Tongariro Alpine Crossing the best day hike New Zealand has to offer? Maybe. I did love Roy’s Peak in Wanaka on the South Island but the view remains quite consistent. With Tongariro, the view is so different and hiking an active volcano is rather special. Have a go and let me know what you think!
If you’re looking for other things to do in New Zealand, I spent 8 weeks travelling the country. Check out my other posts here.