Day Hikes | Hiking

How long does the Tongariro Crossing take? And more on this fantastic day hike.

It is not the shortest day walk in New Zealand, but definitely one of the most exciting one.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing will bring you deep into the heart of this National Park and dual World Heritage Site. You will see ancient volcanoes and fantastic blue and green lakes during this day-hike.

The 19.4 kilometer Tongariro Crossing on the Nort Island of New Zealand will take between 6 to 8 hours to complete. It includes time to rest and take in the view. If you have a high level of fitness and continue hiking without many breaks, you can do it in 5 hours.

In this blog, you will find everything you need to know about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. You can download the brochure from the DOC, find places to park, read what you should pack, and of course, we will tell you all about the 19,4 km hike through this volcanic land. 

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Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Photo: Tongariro Crossing by Camilla Rutherford
Source: Department of Conservation (NZ)

The Tongariro track overview

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a challenging day-hike in the center of the northern island. You will find the start of the hike at Mangatepōpō Road end at an altitude of 1120 meters. It is most challenging because of the length of the walk. The ascend is about 760 meters, and the descend 1110 meters. 

You will start by climbing the Mangatepopo Valley to the saddle between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe. Then you will pass the South Crater before climbing to the Red Crater, the highest point on this crossing at 1886 meters. 

Now it is time to descend to the fantastic Emerald Lakes, also known as Ngarotopounamu. After passing the blue-colored lake Te Wai-whakaata-o-te-Rangihiroa (yeh, try to read that again), the track goes around the northern slope of Tongariro. A long descent brings you to the road end at 760 meters. 

Tongariro Crossing track overview & time

  • Mangatepopo Road End To Soda Springs – 1 to 1.5 h
  • Soda Springs To South Crater – 40 m to 1 h
  • South Crater to Red Crater – 1 h
  • Red Crater to Blue Lake – 30 m
  • Blue Lake to Ketetahi Shelter – 1 h
  • Ketetahi Shelter to Ketetahi Carpark – 2 h

You can find detailed information about the track in the brochure from the Department of Conservation.

Or you can visit the local i-SITE or Department of Conservation Visitor Centre. They can give you information about track conditions, weather, and avalanches. 

You can book your tickets for Tongariro Crossing Shuttles in advance. 

Or you can choose one of the excellent Guided Tongariro Crossing Tours

Can you walk the Tongariro Crossing on your own?

You can do the Tongariro Crossing on your own, especially in summer when many hikers do the 19.4-kilometer walk in New Zealand. You won’t be alone on the track, so help, or a friendly face is always nearby. Make sure you take the proper gear, food, and water. 

Make sure you have an adequate level of fitness because it is a long and pretty demanding hike. On a sunny day, you will probably have hundreds of new hiker friends to choose from, so don’t worry, you won’t feel alone. 

But even on a slow day when the weather is cool and maybe rainy, it is still alright to do the track by yourself. The route is well signposted, and it is difficult to get lost. But be aware, weather can change quickly, and rain, wind, snow, and fog can occur on the mountain. A map, cellphone, and compass are helpful, especially when you are on your own. 

Source: Department of Conservation (NZ)

Are there any toilets on the Tongariro Crossing?

There are nine public toilet units on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Please make sure you use the toilets and do not litter this National Park. Many hikers do this track during the summer season, and pollution can be a big problem. 

The public toilets on the Tongariro Crossing are situated:

  1. At the beginning of the track
  2. Close to the junction with the Around the Mountain track
  3. At Magatepopo Hut 
  4. Near Soda Springs (just before the climb starts)
  5. Close to the south crater
  6. Near Blue lakes
  7. Close to Ketetahi shelter (halfway the first descent)
  8. Just before second descent close to the forest
  9. At the end of the track
Tongariro Crossing Laura Smetsers
Photo: Emerald Lake by Laura Smetsers

What is the best time of year to do the Tongariro Crossing?

You can hike the Tongariro Crossing year-round, but the best time is between November and April, the summer season. In winter, you need alpine experience and use crampons and snow axes to complete the 19.4-kilometer track. Hire a guide if you have no experience in hiking on alpine terrain in winter conditions. 

Weather can change quickly on the mountainsides of the Tongariro National Park. Even in the middle of summer, it can change rapidly. Be prepared for strong winds, sudden rainfall, and scorching heat. So bring a windproof raincoat and plenty of water and food. 

How to get to the starting point of the Tongariro Crossing

You can choose one of the shuttle services that run from local towns to get you to the starting point of the Tongariro Crossing. There is minimal parking near the access points to the track. From the beginning of Labour weekend in October until April 30th, parking restrictions (only 4 hours allowed) will be in place at road-ends.

You can book your Tongariro Crossing Shuttles from National park Village in advance. National Park fees, round-trip shared transfer, and return Shuttle Transfer from National Park Village are included in the fair. 

This shuttle from Viator provides excellent service and has a 5 out of 5 stars review. 

Here are a few other well-known shuttle services in the area:

  1. Tongariro Crossing Shuttles 
  2. Tongariro Expeditions 
  3. Tongariro Transport Hub 

How much does the Tongariro Crossing shuttle service cost?

Mt Doom New Zealand
Photo: Mount Ngauruhoe by Thomas Malik

Tongariro Alpine Crossing Packing List Summer

You will be on your feet for about 6 to 9 hours, so come prepared. Depending on the season, you will need to bring at least:

  • A lot of water, especially in summer. Water on the track is not suitable for drinking.
  • Bring foods high in calories. You will be burning a lot of energy.
  • Waterproof jacket and pants.
  • Warm layered clothing, hat, and, depending on the temperature, gloves.
  • Sturdy tramping boots
  • Mobile phone, map, compass, or GPS. 
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a First Aid Kid
  • You will need warm clothing, gloves, a scarf, a warm hat, hiking boots, crampons, and a snow/ice ax in winter. 
Tongariro Crossing Blue lake
Photo: Tongariro Crossing Blue Lake by Sylvain Cleymans

My top 10 tips for hiking the Tongariro Crossing

To help you make the most of your day hike on the Tongariro Crossing, I have put together a list of my top 10 tips. Please read them carefully before hitting the trail and always consult the Department of Conservation in the area if you have any further questions. 

  1. Take the appropriate gear, including a wind and waterproof jacket
  2. Wear sturdy walking shoes, boots, or trail runners. Anything less can be dangerous on the rocky surface. 
  3. Bring plenty of water, at least between 2 or 3 liters on a hot day (you cannot get a refill on the track).
  4. Take food and snacks high in calories (including fats and proteins). 
  5. Use sunscreen, sunglasses, and a sun hat when it is hot to prevent sunstroke. 
  6. Plan your trip according to your fitness level, and the time you need to finish the track.
  7. Bring a map and a cellphone even if the track is pretty straightforward; you never know when you might need it. 
  8. Start early (before 7 am) or late (if you are a fast hiker) to beat the crowds, if even possible. Be prepared for many hikers on the track, especially during the summer months on a sunny day. 
  9. Pack some toiletpaper in case there is none in one of the nine public toilets
  10. Use the public toilets and do not litter this beautiful National Park. 

Dual World Heritage Site

Tongariro National Park, with its giant volcanoes, Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu, has dual World Heritage status. All three volcanoes have erupted in recent times. The last confirmed eruption of Tongariro was in 1897. It was the end of a sequence that lasted 40 years.

In 1990 Tongariro National Park received its World Heritage Status because of its outstanding natural values. In 1993 it also became the first place in the world to be listed as a World Heritage Site for the spiritual and cultural values.

Photo: Chateau Tongariro Hotel

Where to stay in Tongariro National Park?

There are five main villages in or close to the border of the Tongariro National Park. Here you can book a motel, hotel, or campsite before you hike the Alpine Crossing. Most accommodations work closely with transfer companies. 

Taupo is about 90 km from the start of the track. This town has excellent facilities for hikers. It is considered the main tourist center of the region. But it is also the furthest from the starting point. 

Turangi is about 40 km from the start of the track at the Mangatepapa Car Park. It is the closest ‘larger’ town with the essential shops and services. 

National Park Village: is about 20 km from the start of the track and lies on the edge of the National Park. A great spot to spend the night before the Tongariro Crossing. It has a convenience store, a couple of bars, restaurants, and a gas station. 

Whakapapa Village is about 15 km from the car park at the start of the track. At the base of Mt Ruapehu, the largest volcano in New Zealand, it is the closest to the Tongariro Crossing. You can even start your walk from this town. 

Ohakune is about 55 km from the start of the track; you will find this town with good amenities like bars, restaurants, and supermarkets. 

Enjoy this fantastic alpine hike

I wish you a great day at the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Leave nothing but footprints so others can enjoy this beautiful scenery as well. When you are ready to book a shuttle or guide, you can find the best here. 

Check out these breathable and fast-drying t-shirts. They are especially suitable for demanding hikes like the Tongariro Crossing. 

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