Tongariro Alpine Crossing Day Hike

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is considered one of New Zealand’s best day hikes. The track runs about 20km through New Zealand’s oldest National Park.

Located on New Zealand’s North Island, the Tongariro National Park is World Heritage listed for both its volcanic landscapes and its importance to Maori culture.

The sign at the trail head says, “it’s a 7-8 hour, 19.4km walk over a mountain”. And that mountain? It’s a volcano.

The sign at the trail head says, “it’s a 7-8 hour, 19.4km walk over a mountain”. And that mountain? It’s a volcano.

New Zealand’s Best Day Hike

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing day hike starts at 1120m elevation, before climbing to the track’s highest point of Red Crater at 1886m elevation — on the way you’ll pass across South Crater between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe.

The track descends sharply on the rim of the volcanic crater, down past the Emerald Lakes, across the Central Crater to pass Blue Lake, with some more climbs before the descent down and off the track via the now unused Ketetahi Shelter.

It’s the volcanoes, craters, and brilliant alpine lakes that make the landscapes of this day hike so captivating.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a hike that can be physically challenging in both its ascents and descents — though it’s on a clearly marked track and it’s certainly an achievable day hike for those with reasonable fitness.

The mountains at the heart of the park have cultural and religious significance for the Maori people and symbolize the spiritual links between this community and its environment. The park has active and extinct volcanoes, a diverse range of ecosystems and some spectacular landscapes.
— UNESCO

How to get to Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a day hike in Tongariro National Park on New Zealand’s North Island. Walking Tongariro Alpine Crossing will take you a full day. It’s not a loop track, so you’ll need to have transport sorted for both ends of the trail.

The easiest way to arrange transport to and from Tongariro Alpine Crossing is to book a ticket with one of the bus companies that run shuttle transfers from nearby towns. I travelled from Taupo with Tongariro Expeditions.

What gear to take on Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Layers, water, food! This is a hike where you need to be prepared for ‘four seasons in one day’: when I started walking it was dark and cool, then misty and rainy. When the cloud cleared it was warm and sunny, then up on the crater summit it was sunny, windy, and cold. Walking out the wind calmed and it was sunny and hot. It’s one of those hikes where you come to understand the importance of layering and taking both a beanie and sunscreen.

Know before you go:

  • You’ll be grateful for your rain/wind jacket, and a beanie or neck gaiter. But that doesn’t mean you can leave the sunscreen at home. There’s plenty of exposed sections on this hike and you’ll want to have a hat and sunscreen to keep from being burned when the sun is shining.

  • Your shoes will want to be decently sturdy and properly worn in. There’s all sorts of terrain on this day hike from rocky scree, to dusty dirt track, and some built boardwalk sections over sensitive alpine environments too.

  • Take high-energy snacks and lunch, and at least a couple of litres of water (there’s no drinking water on the track).

  • There are toilets every couple of hours along the track.

  • Pack it in, pack it out — there’s nowhere to dispose of rubbish on the track, make sure everything you take with you leaves with you too.

  • nb: I hiked this track in summer. In winter conditions are very different due to snow, ice, and avalanche risk. It can be very dangerous to hike this and any track with these conditions when not properly prepared or adequately experienced. You should see the NZ Department of Conservation website for more information — and whenever you hike Tongariro Crossing, check the weather before you head out.

Happy hiking!

You can also experience Tongariro National Park on the multi-day  Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk  and stay in backcountry huts including the Mangatepopo Hut.

You can also experience Tongariro National Park on the multi-day Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk and stay in backcountry huts including the Mangatepopo Hut.

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