Introduction

One of New Zealand's best one day walks, the track climbs up and across some spectacular and unique volcanic scenery.

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



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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:

  • a water/windproof jacket and pants, hat and gloves, sunscreen and wear warm, layered clothing
  • sturdy footwear such as tramping/hiking boots
  • head torch and mobile phone
  • plenty of food and water (water along the track isn't suitable for drinking).

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.

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