Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Image: Graeme Murray | ©
It's one of most sought-after day walks in the world, but although beautiful, it can be dangerous if you're not fully prepared to enter an alpine environment.
Tongariro National Park is a UNESCO dual World Heritage Area and was the first in the world to receive cultural World Heritage Status.
19.4 km one way
Start by 8am to ensure you leave enough daylight hours but pack a headtorch just in case.
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.
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.
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.
Turn back if weather conditions are poor in the valley – conditions will get worse as you go higher up the mountain.
The nearest towns are:
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:
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.
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.
Ensure you take:
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.
You need special skills and preparation to complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in winter. There are increased risks from snow, ice, avalanche terrain and sub-zero temperatures.
If you’re a well-prepared, competent winter alpine tramper, it can be a fantastic experience. If you aren’t experienced and equipped for alpine travel, choose another track.
This page provides advice pertinent to winter crossings – see know before you go for other relevant advice about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
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.
On a calm day, Red Crater is at least 10°C colder than Taupo 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 Taupo, 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).
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.
Take an avalanche transceiver, avalanche probe and snow shovel, and be competent using them.
Talk with someone at the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre who knows the current crossing conditions.
Know the route – deep snow can hide track markers.
Check the latest:
Shuttle buses generally don't operate during winter, but guided trips include transport.
Know your limits. Have a memorable and safe experience with the following approved Tongariro Alpine Crossing guiding companies:
|Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre|
|Phone:||+64 7 892 3729|
|Fax:||+64 4 471 1117|
State Highway 48
PO Box 71029
Mount Ruapehu 3951
|Full office details|