Steep scree descent from Red Crater to Emerald Lakes

Image: Theo Chapman | DOC

Introduction

From November to April, trek across a volcanic alpine landscape of dramatic contrasts. From May to October, snow and ice means alpine skills and experience are essential - it's best to go with guide or choose another track.

Video

Track overview

19.4 km one way

Walking and tramping

Nov-Apr: 7-8 hr | May-Oct: 9 hr Intermediate: Great Walk/Easier tramping track

Seasonal restrictions

  • Labour weekend in October to 30 April parking restrictions (4 hr maximum) are in place at the road-ends – we suggest you book a shuttle.
  • Over winter, additional hazards are present including snow and ice, avalanche risk, and sub-zero temperatures.

Dog access

No dogs

About this track

Walking in November to April

Start by 8am to ensure you leave enough daylight hours but pack a headtorch just in case.

Trek across volcanic alpine landscape of dramatic contrasts – steaming vents, glacial valleys, ancient lava flows, alpine vegetation and vivid crater lakes, all with stunning views.

This challenging trip begins at 1120 m, climbs the Mangatepopo Valley to the saddle between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, through South Crater before climbing again to Red Crater, the highest point on the crossing at 1886 m.

You will then descend on a volcanic rock scree track to the vivid Emerald Lakes, known as Nga Rotopounamu (greenstone-hued lakes). After passing Blue Lake, also known as Te Wai-whakaata-o-te-Rangihiroa (Rangihiroa’s mirror), the track sidles around the northern slope of Tongariro, then descends in a zigzag track down to the road end at 760 m. 

Wear strong, rigid boots to prevent slips when descending the steep scree slope from Red Crater.

Be prepared for a long and challenging day out.

Getting there

The nearest towns are:

  • Whakapapa (10.4 km)
  • National Park (13.5 km)
  • Tūrangi (36.7 km)
  • Raetihi (47.6 km)
  • Ohakune (48 km)
  • Taumaranui (61.5 km)
  • Taupō (86.5 km)

Turn back if weather conditions are poor in the valley – conditions will get worse as you go higher up the mountain.

There is very limited parking near the access points to the track. From the beginning of Labour weekend in October to 30 April , parking restrictions will be in place at road-ends. Excellent shuttle services run from all local towns - arrange through the following i-SITEs:

  • Whakapapa i-SITE +64 7 892 3075, State Highway 48, Whakapapa Village
  • Tūrangi  i-SITE 0800 288 726, Ngawaka Place, Tūrangi
  • Ohakune i-SITE 0800 647 483, 54 Clyde Street, Ohakune
  • Taumarunui i-Site 07 895 7494, Railway Station, Taumarunui
  • Taupō i-SITE 0800 525 382, 30 Tongariro Street, Taupō

Know before you go

What to expect
  • Change in elevation: +/- 1196 m

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Hazards

Alpine environment with changeable weather conditions at all times of year. It is common to experience very cold temperatures, strong wind, heavy rainfall and poor visibility in summer – snow can fall at any time of year. Check the Tongariro National Park weather forecast before you go.

Volcanic risk. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing passes through volcanic hazard zones – even when the track is open, volcanic risk is present. Volcanic monitoring systems monitor activity and mitigate volcanic risk, but won't ensure your personal safety. If you are uncomfortable with this risk, choose a different track.

Te Maari, Red Crater and Ngāuruhoe vents have all been active within the last 100 years – the most recent eruption occurred from Te Maari in 2012.

Before you go:

Geothermal hazards. There is geothermal activity around the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – especially near emerald lakes. Steam vents (fumaroles) should not be approached – steam is very hot, the ground can be unstable and severe burns are possible. Stay on the marked track at all times to avoid injury.

Bad weather advisory



weather-advisory-220.jpg
Weather advisory sign at the start of the
‘Devil’s Staircase’ near Soda Springs

DOC will apply a 'Not Recommended Today' advisory on bad weather days. The advisory will be applied if any of the following parameters are exceeded at 12 pm or 6 pm for the weather forecast at Red Crater:

  • wind speed of 65 km per hour or greater
  • wind speed of 50 km per hour or greater, and precipitation of 10 mm or more
  • wind chill of minus 10 degrees Celsius or colder
  • wind chill of 0 degrees Celsius or colder with any amount of precipitation
  • precipitation of 13 mm or greater.

The assessment to apply the advisory will be made at 6am every day. If applied:

  • signage will be put at Mangetepopo and Ketetahi Road ends, and the bottom of the Devil's Staircase at Soda Springs
  • message signs will be used on highways at both road ends
  • transport and guiding operators, i-SITES and Visitors Centres will be advised automatically via email
  • an alert will automatically be placed on the Tongariro National Park forecast.
Alternative walks

If conditions are poor, try alternatives such as Taranaki Falls Walking Track or Tama Lakes Track.

Amenities
  • Toilets are every 1–2 hr along the track.
Be prepared

Ensure you take:

  • plenty of drinking water - water along the track is not suitable for drinking
  • a water/windproof jacket and pants, hat and gloves, sunscreen and wear warm, layered clothing
  • sturdy footwear such as tramping boots
  • head torch and mobile phone.

How to pack for a day walk

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.

Walking in May to October

You need special skills and preparation to complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in winter (May to October). There are increased risks from snow, ice, avalanche terrain and sub-zero temperatures.

Track standard: Route

Track surface: Track is covered in snow and very icy in sections.

Suitable for: People with alpine skills, equipment and experience. You must:

  • know how to navigate if cloud or snow covers the marker poles and you cannot see them
  • know where avalanches are a risk and be able to rescue someone if an avalanche occurs
  • have the equipment and skills to prevent a slide on icy terrain
  • have the clothing for sub-zero temperatures and be able to survive if the weather get worse.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing: winter brochure (PDF, 1,969K)

 

Prepare for a long, challenging day

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Allow 9 hours to complete the walk. There are between 9 and 11 hours of daylight in winter, so leave early enough to complete the trip before it gets dark. Always take a head torch.

Be prepared to turn back if conditions are no longer safe or if your progress is too slow.

Dress for cold, windy and icy conditions

On a calm day, Red Crater is at least 10°C colder than Taupō and 5°C colder than the start of the track – subtract another 2°C for every 10 km/h of wind:

Eg, when it’s 10°C (50°F) in Taupō, a calm day at Red Crater will be about 2°C (35°F). This feels more like -2°C (28°F) with moderate winds of 20 km/h (11 knots).

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Conditions can change quickly. Layer your clothes to trap warm air in and keep cold wind out. Start with a base layer of polypropylene/merino, add an insulation layer of fleece/wool and finish with a waterproof shell layer.

Expect ice on the track between April and October. A helmet, crampons and ice axe are essential, as is competency using them. 38% of tramping injuries are from slipping.

Be avalanche alert

Avalanches are a hazard. Know the avalanche forecast. Take an avalanche transceiver, avalanche probe and snow shovel, and be competent using them.

Avalanche hazard zones on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Take these essentials

  • Plenty of drinking water (water along the track is not suitable for drinking), food and toilet paper
  • Waterproof jacket and pants, hat, gloves, sunscreen, and warm, layered clothing
  • Sturdy tramping or mountaineering boots
  • Crampons, ice axe and helmet
  • Avalanche transceiver, avalanche probe and snow shovel
  • Mobile phone, personal locator beacon (PLB), head torch and spare batteries
  • Map, compass and/or GPS

Make a plan

Talk with someone at the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre who knows the current conditions.

Check the latest:

Know the route – deep snow can hide track markers. 

Shuttle buses generally don't operate during winter, but guided trips include transport.

Go with a guide

Know your limits. Have a memorable and safe experience with the following approved Tongariro Alpine Crossing guiding companies:

Boardwalk, Tongariro Alpine Crossing in winter
Mangatepopo Valley in winter
Image: Zhi Yuen Yap

South Crater, Tongariro Alpine Crossing in winter
South Crater in winter
Image: Zhi Yuen Yap

Nature and history

Nature and conservation

This is the perfect habitat for a variety of New Zealand’s native birds. In forested areas, you may see bellbird/korimak, tūī, New Zealand robin/toutouwai, tomtit/miromiro, fantail/pīwakawaka and maybe New Zealand's smallest bird the rifleman/titipounamu. Part of the shuttle fee of about $40 helps DOC with conservation projects.

History and culture

All waterways including the lakes on Tongariro and his peaks Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu are sacred to local iwi, Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro. Kaumātua Te Ngaehe Wanikau asks visitors to the area to respect the sanctity of the maunga tapu (sacred mountains) by not touching or entering any of the waterways including the alpine lakes. Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro places extreme importance on their guardian role in protecting Tongariro and his peaks.

Ngatoroirangi, the founding ancestor of Ngāti Tuwharetoa, the local iwi (Māori tribe), ascended the great mountains of the Central Plateau 30 generations ago. It was then that he named Tongariro and the many features of the surrounding landscape, declaring this area as home for his descendants. It is from these beginnings that Ngāti Tuwharetoa maintains its intrinsic responsibility to protect the mountainous area to which they belong.

The generosity and foresight of Ngāti Tuwharetoa saw the heart of the mountainous area made sacrosanct in 1887, with the intent that the Crown would stand alongside Ngāti Tuwharetoa to ensure the continued protection of Tongariro. This led to the establishment of the Tongariro National Park in 1894, a first for New Zealand, and fourth in the world. 

In 1993, Tongariro became the first property to be inscribed on the World Heritage List under the revised criteria describing cultural landscapes. The mountains at the heart of the park have cultural and spiritual significance to Ngāti Tuwharetoa and symbolise the spiritual links between this community and its environment. The park has active and extinct volcanoes, a diverse range of ecosystems and some remarkable landscapes. 

The continued occupation by Ngāti Tuwharetoa in this environment ensures the cultural, spiritual and environmental values are protected and shared with all those who encounter this dynamic landscape.

Contacts

Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 7 892 3729
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   tongarirovc@doc.govt.nz
Address:   Whakapapa Village
State Highway 48
Mount Ruapehu
Postal Address:   PO Box 71029
Whakapapa Village
Mount Ruapehu 3951
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