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 Ngarotopounamu (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.
Be prepared for a long and challenging day out.
You need special skills and preparation to complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in winter. An ice axe and crampons are essential, as is competency using them.
The nearest towns are:
- Whakapapa (10.4 km)
- National Park (13.5 km)
- Turangi (36.7 km)
- Raetihi (47.6 km)
- Ohakune (48 km)
- Taumaranui (61.5 km)
- Taupo (86.5 km)
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
- Turangi i-SITE 0800 288 726, Ngawaka Place, Turangi
- Ohakune i-SITE 0800 647 483, 54 Clyde Street, Ohakune
- Taumarunui i-Site 07 895 7494, Railway Station, Taumarunui
- Taupo i-SITE 0800 525 382, 30 Tongariro Street, Taupo
Nature and conservation
This is the perfect habitat for a variety of New Zealand’s native birds. In forested areas, you may see bellbird/korimako, 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 the Department of Conservation 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.