Adventures New Zealand

Tongariro Alpine Crossing: Greatest Day Hike in New Zealand

February 11, 2018
Tongariro Alpine Crossing

If you are to do just ONE hike on New Zealand’s North Island, then make it the 19.4km Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is quite possibly the greatest single day hike I have ever done. The trail is situated on the outskirts of Lake Taupo, in New Zealand’s oldest National Park – The Tongariro National Park.

The area has two World Heritage statuses, firstly for the spectacular volcanic landscape and secondly to mark the cultural and religious significance to the Maori people. Note to self: it is culturally disrespectful to pee along the trail and to climb certain peaks in the area, so always check up-to-date guidelines before venturing out.

If you are a keen hiker, then be sure to read my guide to trekking in Nepal.
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At the starting point, layered up for the frosty morning!

At the starting point, layered up for the frosty morning!

What to expect

The rich landscape has so much to offer, from steaming volcanic vents to ancient lava flows, vivid emerald crater lakes to fiery red volcanic peaks and plenty of rich fauna and flora. The start of the hike reminded me of the Scottish highlands and there were areas that resembled an otherworldly rocky moonscape.

You can walk the track in either direction, but most people begin at Mangatepopo as the altitude is higher than at Ketetahi, so there’s less of a hike involved. Though be warned if you choose this route and you have bad knees or joints, there is a LONG downhill stretch at the end which you may struggle with.

The landscape reminded me of the Scottish Highlands in parts

The landscape reminded me of the Scottish Highlands in parts

The otherworldly terrain on the Tongariro Crossing

Terrain on the Tongariro Crossing

The never-ending downhill track towards the finish line of the Tongariro

The never-ending downhill track towards the finish line

This hike isn’t for the faint-hearted

This is a demanding, challenging and physically exhausting hike. You will be covering 19.4km in approximately 6-8 hours. You will tackle near vertical rock walls, scramble up and down scree paths and use guide ropes tacked into rocks to reach the peak, where strong winds are likely to push you back. Don’t be fooled. This trek isn’t for the faint-hearted.

We were surprised to see holiday-makers in unsuitable footwear, a lack of layers in case the weather changed and one lady with a simple sandwich box and bottle of water – no rucksack with supplies or extra clothing!

We have relatives living in nearby Lake Taupo who have tackled this hike on more than one occasion. They are only too aware of how changeable the weather in the mountains can be and how unprepared some people are for such a hike. So make sure you have the right gear.

Reaching the peak of the Red Crater with awesome views

Reaching the peak of the Red Crater with awesome views

So, what’s the ideal kit list?

Sturdy walking shoes with a good grip. Ideally with an ankle support as there’s a lot of loose stone underfoot. Make sure they’re comfortable, as once you reach the peak, it’s a 2.5hr walk downhill before you get to the finish line.

Layers. Wear lightweight layers that can easily be removed/added. A rain jacket/trousers and down or insulated jacket are a must. Also bring hat, gloves and a neck buff to protect against the wind. These are particularly important if you are trekking in the winter months as it’s likely there will be snow in the hills.

Sun protection and sunglasses. There is no cover on the trek and you will be exposed to the elements.

Bring enough water, food and high energy snacks. There is no where to buy these at either end of the trek or along the route.

Mobile phone or two, ideally on different networks. We borrowed a GPS emergency device just in case.

Camera and GoPro.

Map of the trail, with the all important official toilet stops!

Make sure you have the right gear for the weather conditions

Make sure you have the right gear for the weather conditions

What time of year is best?

I would strongly recommend  Spring, Summer or Autumn. Even during these warmer months, the weather on the crossing is extremely unpredictable. It can switch from warm and sunny to icy winds within minutes.

Be sure to check the weather forecast a few days before you plan to hike, with the New Zealand Met Service and also the volcanic activity using the Geo Net app.

In the winter, it’s likely the higher peaks will be covered in snow. If you’re looking to trek at this time then it’s recommended you bring a guide.

Midway stop at the Ketetahi Hut

Midway stop at the Ketetahi Hut

How to get there

To ensure the best weather, start your trek early – 5-6am. There are numerous companies that offer drop off and collection. We used Tongariro Expeditions – and the experience was seamless.

Handy Links

This iPhone app may be of use preparing for and navigating the hike.

The official guide from Lake Taupo tourism.

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Have you completed the Tongariro Crossing? I’d love to hear all about it. Leave a comment below. 

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17 Comments

  • Reply Lola Mendez April 4, 2018 at 10:23 pm

    Wow! That water looks so frothy and blue. I’d love to see this!

  • Reply Krista Staudinger April 4, 2018 at 10:52 pm

    How perfect to have just stumbled upon your blog! 🙂 I am going to be doing this trek solo in a matter of weeks (my boyfriend has a fishing excursion planned so he is going to be dropping me off and picking me up after). Thanks for all of the helpful information, do you think the app is necessary?

    • Reply nickyherbert April 5, 2018 at 4:53 pm

      what great timing! No i dont think the app is necessary, but it does have a heap of info in there which could be useful so check it out before you go, and be prepared. Too many people begin this trek like it’s a walk in the park! Plus, you may not get phone signal on the mountain so you may want to screengrab parts of the app

  • Reply Vick April 4, 2018 at 11:23 pm

    It does resemble Scotland, or even some parts of Italy, like the hike on the Etna volcano!
    Volcanic landscapes are amazing, by the way! Those green lakes, how beautiful is this??

    • Reply nickyherbert April 5, 2018 at 4:51 pm

      Vick, the start of the trek has flora and fauna exactly like Scotland! Then the path morphed into a moonscape, and then yes hikes on Etna! Great comparisons haha

  • Reply Lena April 5, 2018 at 12:54 am

    Oh dear, that’s a long long hike! But hey, it’s an adventure after all, right? I remember doing a similar hike in Norway, to see the famous Trolltunga, it was a bit shorter, 11 km, but still it took us 6 hours. With things like these, you feel great once you’ve reached the top or the bottom 😀

    • Reply nickyherbert April 5, 2018 at 4:50 pm

      Yes the Trolltunga! Gutted we didnt get the chance to do it when we were in Norway. One day….

  • Reply Katherine April 5, 2018 at 2:10 am

    So this hike totally lives up to New Zealand’s reputation – weather and all! But it looks like it’s so worth it for those views!

  • Reply Valerie Hansen April 5, 2018 at 3:15 am

    Wow that green water is just amazing!! I would love to visit NZ and do this hike! Thanks for sharing your tips, lovely post!

    Valerie

    • Reply nickyherbert April 5, 2018 at 4:49 pm

      Thanks Valerie 🙂

  • Reply Sarah Puckett April 5, 2018 at 8:54 am

    This is definitely the best day hike in NZ! It was a highlight of our 6 weeks there for sure 🙂

  • Reply Milijana April 5, 2018 at 11:59 am

    Hi Nicky,

    Mix of a spectacular volcanic landscape and the cultural and religious Maori sites sounds very appealing to me!
    I will definitely keep on my mind Tongariro Alpine Crossing when visiting NZ !!

    Milijana

    • Reply nickyherbert April 5, 2018 at 4:49 pm

      Sounds perfect Milijana i hope you get to do the hike on your next visit to NZ!

  • Reply Heidi April 5, 2018 at 2:45 pm

    What a beautiful and diverse hike. So many landscapes in such a short span. We live close to the Rocky Mountains so are always seeing people hiking unprepared when we’re out. It never ceases to amaze me how people don’t do their homework because mountain weather changes in a split second. This hike looks amazing, adding it to our list of must hike places.

    • Reply nickyherbert April 5, 2018 at 4:48 pm

      You live next to the Rockies – dream living!

  • Reply Marvi April 6, 2018 at 4:47 am

    Sounds like a very challenging hike indeed! I’m not really a adventurous traveler by nature, but I can’t say no to a rewarding hike for sure! Good to know about the length of the trail and the rock walls and guide ropes along the way. Guess you should really be physically prepared to try the hike, then.

  • Reply 5 Podcasts to Inspire a Healthy You when Traveling - Travel Interesting April 6, 2018 at 10:23 pm

    […] health benefits of broccoli for over 20 minutes. I remember listening to it when climbing down the Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand  (read about the hike here) – I LOVE […]

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