Introduction

Find out important safety information for hiking the Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk.

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 Northern Circuit, be aware that:

  • Most of the track is on rugged and exposed alpine terrain, although there are sections of formed track/boardwalk. There are only two sections of forest - near Whakapapa Village, and near Waihohonu Hut. The lowest altitude of the track is 1120 m, and the highest (at Red Crater) is 1886 m.
  • The weather can change suddenly - from warm and sunny to cold, wet and windy.
  • Most streams are bridged and there are no large river crossings, but heavy rain could cause flooded streams to become difficult to cross safely. Be prepared to wait for water levels to drop.
  • Major hazards are generally managed on the track during the summer (October to April), and in winter the main hazard is snow/ice on the track.
  • We recommend that you treat stream water to guard against risk of infection from giardia and other bugs.

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
 

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 Northern Circuit 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.

Vehicle parking

The main parking area is at Whakapapa Village, where the Circuit begins and ends. Parking is free and generally safe.

When leaving your vehicle at a parking area, take valuable items with you and lock your vehicle. There is a checked luggage service at Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre. We recommend that vehicles are not left overnight in the more isolated parking areas.

Toilets

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

Toilets are available at Whakapapa Village, at each hut, at Mangatepopo parking area, and at Soda Springs. There are also toilets at Ketetahi shelter and Ketetahi parking area.

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.

Fill in the visitors' book if you are staying in a hut.

In the Great Walks season, there are resident rangers at all huts, who can give weather and track information or assist should an emergency arise. Outside the Great Walks season hut rangers are not present, although DOC rangers do occasional checks on facilities (and hut tickets).

3. Be aware of the weather

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

On the Tongariro Northern Circuit, be aware that: 

  • The safest and most popular time of year to walk the Tongariro Northern Circuit is during the summer months (December to March) when the tracks are normally clear of snow and the weather is less severe. During this time, daylight hours are much longer and daytime temperatures can get into the teens or 20s (celcius).
  • 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.
  • Heavy rain can occur with little warning and even small streams are dangerous in flood.

More information:

Check the Tongariro National Park weather forecast on the MetService website.

Winter conditions

During winter months snow/ice can cover all or parts of the track, and avalanche risk may apply. 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).

More information:

Ngauruhoe from South Crater in snow conditions.
Ngauruhoe from South Crater
in snow conditions

Avalanches

Avalanches are possible during and after heavy snow falls. Check the avalanche advisory before you leave. If risk applies, carry a transceiver, shovel and probe and know how to use them. If the risk is 'considerable' or above - don't go!

More information:

Find out about the avalanche terrain ratings in Tongariro National Park

4. Know your limits

Challenge yourself within your physical limits and experience.

To do the trip you need to be reasonably fit and have good equipment to cover all possibilities.

Ngauruhoe viewed from Oturere valley.
Ngauruhoe viewed from Oturere valley

On the Tongariro Northern Circuit, be aware that:

  • The track is classed as a Great Walk/Easier tramping track, suitable for hikers with reasonable fitness.
  • The track is a mixture of well formed and rough/not well formed sections, and through the Oturere valley alpine desert there are just marker poles with no formed track. Some sections are steep, rocky or muddy. The track however is well marked with signs, poles or markers.
  • Most stream and river crossings are bridged but heavy rain can make unbridged streams difficult to cross safely.

You can expect:

  • To walk up to 6 hours a day and longer depending on your fitness and trip plan
  • To carry a pack of up to 15 kg for 43.1 km
  • For a 4 day trip, to walk up to 15 km per day
  • For a 3 day trip, to walk up to 20 km on one day, with 2 shorter days
  • For a 2 day trip, to walk up to 23 km per day
  • Most of the track has a hard, rocky and uneven surface. Forest sections can be muddy following rain.

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 provide increased personal safety. You can rent them from various outlets, check details on the Rescue Co-ordination Centre NZ website

On the Tongariro Northern Circuit, be aware that:

  • Food is not available for purchase at any of the huts
  • Cooking stoves are only at the huts in the peak season - during the off peak season, you need to bring your own
  • Cell phone coverage is reasonably good around the track, but there are sections that there is no coverage. Generally there is no or very limited cell phone coverage at Waihohonu Hut.
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