Introduction

Find out about walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in the winter season.

Walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in winter requires special skills and preparation. Additional hazards are present: snow and ice, avalanche risk, and subzero temperatures.

If you are well prepared with proper winter clothing, equipment and skills - it can be a fantastic experience. 

What to expect

Hiking up icy Red Crater.
Hiking up icy Red Crater with crampons

Walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in winter is a very different experience to summer.

  • Snow and ice cover a lot of the track. Alpine equipment and skills are required. If you don't have these, consider a guided trip with one of the guiding companies that operate in winter: 
  • There are limited transport services in the winter. Experienced independent walkers can drive to either end of the track, walk part way (i.e. to the snowline) and return to their vehicle. Guided trips include return transport.
  • Water is not available on the track - bring 2 litres per person. Water from upper Mangatepopo Stream, Emerald Lakes, Blue Lake and Ketetahi Springs is not suitable for drinking due to high volcanic mineral content, acidity and/or the risk of giardia.
  • Emerald and Blue Lakes are mostly not visible - they are frozen and covered by snow. However the thermal steaming and volcanic features of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe surround you.

Winter conditions and risks on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

  • The winter environment at Tongariro is frequently cold, wet and windy. For your safety, it is essential to be well dressed for winter conditions.
  • Daylight hours are short and temperatures are often below freezing.
  • Snow and ice is common in higher areas and sometimes on lower areas. Deep snow can hide track markers. At times surface conditions can be hard ice. Alpine equipment and skills are frequently required.
Avalanches

Parts of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing passes through avalanche terrain. You should be prepared for avalanche risk, and know when it's not safe to go.

Tongariro and Ngauruhoe in winter.
Tongariro and Ngauruhoe in winter

Most of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is simple terrain, however the section that crosses over Red Crater between South Crater and Emerald Lakes contains challenging and complex terrain. The section from Blue Lake to Ketetahi contains challenging terrain.

If you are going into places avalanches could occur, be sure you:

  • have checked the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) and the Avalanche Terrain Exposure scale system (ATES) for the area where you want to go
  • have the skills for the ATES class you are going into
  • have checked what avalanche advisory and alert information is available from the DOC visitor centre nearest the area where you want to go
  • take an avalanche transceiver, avalanche probe and a snow shovel. Know how to use these tools.

Avalanche terrain on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (PDF, 4084K) | Avalanche terrain ratings for Tongariro National Park

Volcanic risk

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.

Know the volcanic risks and what to do in an eruption.

Check the latest volcanic activity information before you go, at the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre and on the Geonet website.

What to wear and take with you

Frozen Blue and Emerald Lakes.
Frozen Blue and Emerald Lakes

  • Crampons and ice axe - and know how to use them
  • Snow gaiters 
  • Avalanche probe, snow shovel and transceiver
  • Sturdy hiking boots
  • Waterproof jacket and over-trousers
  • Warm thermal fabric under-clothing
  • Warm hat and gloves 
  • First aid kit
  • Sunscreen, hat and sunglasses
  • A map and compass or GPS
  • High energy food and water 

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