Introduction

Find out about walking the Tongariro Northern Circuit outside the Great Walks season.

Red crater summit in winter.
Red crater summit in winter

Snow covers the Tama Lakes track.
Snow covers the Tama Lakes track

Tongariro and Ngauruhoe in winter.
Tongariro and Ngauruhoe in winter

Outside the Great Walks season (1 May 2017 - 20 October 2017):

  • facilities are greatly reduced
  • there are additional safety hazards to consider.

Walking the track at this time should only be attempted by fit, experienced and well equipped people. 

Conditions and risks outside the Great Walks season

  • The winter environment and weather at Tongariro is frequently cold, wet and windy.
  • 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. 
  • DOC does not manage hazards such as flooding or avalanche.
Avalanches

Most of the Circuit is simple terrain, however some sections of the Tongariro Northern Circuit track pass through challenging and complex avalanche terrain - including where it crosses over Red Crater between South Crater and Emerald Lakes

Avalanches are most common during the winter and spring (July to October) but can occur before or after that period. The avalanche hazard can change with very little warning.

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.

See Avalanche terrain ratings for Tongariro National Park

Rivers

River/stream crossings may be hazardous during rainfall. Take all river crossings seriously. Never cross a flooded river. If in doubt, stay out!

Learn about river hazards on the Mountain Safety Council website.

Huts outside the Great Walks season

Fees are charged per person per night, and hut beds are on a first come, first served basis only. All huts require a Serviced Backcountry Hut Ticket, which must be purchased in advance. Alternatively, a Backcountry Hut Pass (valid for 6 or 12 months) may be used. See Fees and bookings.

Hut facilities are reduced:

  • Gas cooking stoves are not provided – you need to bring your own (and plate/mug/utensils).
  • Running water is turned off inside the huts. Water can be obtained from the outside water tank; if this is frozen, then from the nearest water course or by melting snow. We recommend that you treat all stream water in case of giardia or other bugs.
  • No emergency radio facilities.
  • There are no DOC rangers based at the huts although DOC staff do occasional checks on facilities (and hut tickets).
  • Heating is available (gas heater at Oturere and Mangatepopo, wood burner at Waihohonu).

What to take outside the Great Walks season

You need to be totally self-sufficient. It is essential to have the correct food, clothing and equipment for cold winter conditions. See What to take.

Outside the Great Walks season, you also need:

  • personal locator beacon
  • mountain radio (optional)
  • avalanche beacon
  • snow shovel
  • avalanche probe.

Take responsibility for your own safety - be prepared

Before you go, know the The Outdoor Safety Code – 5 simple rules 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

Walking the Tongariro Northern Circuit outside the Great Walks season should only be attempted by fit, experienced and well equipped people. Alpine skills, navigation and river crossing skills are essential for your survival. Visit or contact the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre for conditions and weather before your trip.

Find out more at Know before you go


Related links

  • Tongariro National Park weather forecast at MetService website
  • Webcams and volcanic activity at Geonet website
  • AdventureSmart website - for leaving trip intentions
  • Outdoor safety code - Mountain Safety Council website
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