Introduction

Find out important safety information for hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

It is essential that you are properly prepared to walk the Crossing. It is not safe to go in poor visibility, heavy rain or snow, or strong wind. 

Your safety is your responsibility. To have a great time in the outdoors, know before you go the five simple rules of the Outdoor Safety Code to help you stay safe:

  1. Plan your trip
  2. Tell someone
  3. Be aware of the weather
  4. Know your limits
  5. Take sufficient supplies

1. Plan your trip

Seek local knowledge, plan your route and the amount of time you expect it to take.

It's important to plan, prepare and equip yourself well. Have the right gear and skills required for the trip and always check the latest information about facilities you plan to use, and local track and weather conditions.

On the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, be aware that:

  • The track surface is a mix of formed track/boardwalk, and rugged and exposed alpine terrain. There is only one section of forest at the northern end of the track.
  • You walk at a higher altitude. The track begins at 1120 m, the highest point (at the top of Red Crater) is 1886 m, and the track finishes at 760 m.
  • Most streams are bridged and there are no river crossings, but heavy rain can cause small streams to flood.
  • Major hazards are generally managed on the track during the summer (October to April). In winter the main hazard is snow/ice on the track.
  • Guided trips are available. Find commercial operators in Tongariro National Park, or contact the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre or local i-SITE information centre.

More information:

Check for alerts at the top of this page, or contact:

Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 7 892 3729
Address:   Whakapapa Village
State Highway 48
Mount Ruapehu
Email:   tongarirovc@doc.govt.nz
Full office details
 

Watch a video on how to prepare for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

View of Te Maari steaming vents from the track.
View of Te Maari steaming vents
from the track past the Blue Lake

Volcanic hazards

This is an active volcanic area, and eruptions are possible at any time without warning.

Active volcanic vents on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing are Mount Ngauruhoe, Red Crater, and Te Maari Craters. Volcanic hazard zones surround all of these vents. If you are within one of these areas when an eruption happens, you may be in danger.

Transport and parking

Transport options depend on the time of year. Bus services are weather dependent - they don't operate in bad weather conditions.

In the summer season there are many return shuttle bus services from local towns and accommodation providers. There are also one-way buses, if you wish to leave your car at either end of the track. Summer shuttle bus departure and pick-up times vary between the bus operators, but mostly depart 6 - 9 am and pick up 3  pm. Find commercial operators in Tongariro National Park.

In the winter season shuttle buses generally don't operate, but guided trips include transport.

There is a large parking area at Mangatepopo road trailhead, and a smaller parking area at Ketetahi road trailhead, if you wish to drive to either end of the track and do a shorter return hike.

Toilets

This is a sacred and fragile alpine area. Please use the toilet facilities provided.

Toilets are available at Mangatepopo and Ketetahi parking areas. There are also toilets at Soda Springs and Ketetahi shelter - with a 3 - 4 hour walk across open terrain in between.

2. Tell someone

Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned. To do this, use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process on the AdventureSmart website. It is endorsed by New Zealand's search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.

3. Be aware of the weather

New Zealand's weather can be highly unpredictable - expect weather changes and be prepared for them.

All people intending to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing should check the Metservice weather forecast for the Tongariro National Park. Check the weather forecast for Tongariro National Park

Met Service Weather Forecast Red Crater.
Sample MetService weather forecast for Tongariro National Park highlighting the Red Crater forecast.

Walkers should pay special attention to predicted weather conditions at the Red Crater. If any of the conditions below appear on the Red Crater forecast, the Department of Conservation advises walkers not to attempt the Tongariro Alpine Crossing due to an increase in safety risks.

  • Wind strength forecast to be 65 km/h or greater between the hours of 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
  • Wind strength predicted to be 50 km/h or greater and precipitation of 10mm or more in a 6 hour period (these conditions can lead to snowfall).
  • Wind chill on a fine day of -12 degrees Celsius or colder.
  • Wind chill on a precipitation day of 0 degrees celsius or colder.
  • Severe Weather Warning issued for Tongariro National Park.  

On the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, be aware that: 

  • The weather in Tongariro National Park is often more extreme than other places in the North Island. Be prepared for cold, wet, snowy/icy, or windy weather at any time of year.

For your safety, it is essential that you are properly prepared to walk the Crossing. It is not safe to go in poor visibility, heavy rain or snow, or strong wind. The walk to Tama Lakes from Whakapapa Village is a good alternative day walk in suitable weather conditions.

More information:

Summer - December to March
  • The track is normally clear of snow and the weather is less severe.
  • Daylight hours are much longer and daytime temperatures can get into the teens or 20s (celcius).
  • The weather can be warm and sunny with light wind - but it can also be cold, wet and windy with poor visibility. The Crossing is on open and high altitude terrain with no shelter until near the end, so you are exposed to whatever weather conditions exist. The clothing you have with you is what will keep you warm.
Winter - June to September
  • Snow/ice can cover all or parts of the track.
  • Avalanches are possible during and after heavy snow falls. Check the avalanche advisory before you go. If risk applies, know how to assess the snowpack, carry a transceiver, shovel and probe and know how to use them. If the risk is high, don't go!
  • Walking and/or navigation can become more difficult.
  • Alpine experience and equipment is normally required during this period (crampons and ice axe, possibly avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe). Guided trips are available.

More information:

Hiking up Red Crater with crampons and ice axe.
Hiking up Red Crater with crampons
and ice axe in winter

Spring - October to November / Autumn - April - May
  • Snow can cover parts of the track.
  • The track can be slippery and icy when the ground freezes - even when there's no snow.
  • Weather can change dramatically between cold and wintery, to warm and summery.

4. Know your limits

Challenge yourself within your physical limits and experience.

On the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, be aware that:

  • The Crossing is classed as a tramping track. It is a demanding one day walk and you need reasonable fitness. You walk 19.4 km over a mixture of formed track and rough volcanic rock at alpine altitude. Some sections are steep, rocky or muddy. The track however is well marked with signs, poles or markers.
  • Most stream crossings are bridged, however heavy rain can make unbridged streams difficult to cross safely.

You can expect:

  • To walk for 6 - 8 hours, possibly longer depending on your fitness and trip plan.
  • To carry a day pack for 19.4 km.
  • To walk up a total of 766 m and walk down a total of 1126 m. There are two challenging uphill climbs of 45 minutes to 1 hour each, and a steep descent of 20 minutes on a loose rock (scree) surface. There are sections of stairs going uphill and downhill.
  • Much of the track has a hard, rocky and uneven surface.

have enough food, clothing, equipment and emergency rations for the worst-case scenario.
Take enough food, clothing, equipment and emergency food for the worst-case scenario

5. Take sufficient supplies

You must be self sufficient: be sure you have enough food, clothing, equipment and emergency food for the worst-case scenario.

Take an appropriate means of communication such as a cellphone and/or personal locator beacon. Personal locator beacons can be rented from various outlets, check details on the Rescue Co-ordination Centre NZ website

On the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, be aware that:

  • Water is not available on the track. Bring at least 1-2 litres per person. 
  • Water from the Mangatepopo Stream, Emerald Lakes, Blue Lake and Mangatipua Stream (from Ketetahi Springs) is not suitable for drinking due to high volcanic mineral content, acidity and/or the risk of giardia.
  • Food is not available for purchase at the track. Bring high energy food and extra rations in case your trip takes longer than expected.
  • Cell phone coverage is reasonably good along the track, but there are sections that there is no coverage.
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