One of the most popular day treks in all of New Zealand, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a 19.4 km (12 mile) one-way hike that traverses over four different types of terrain. This is everything you need to know about hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The best time of year to complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is between the months of December to March, when there is no snow. It still gets cold up there, so make sure to bring lots of layers and a warm jacket.
You’ll have to park at the end carpark (Ketetahi Parking Lot) and hire a shuttle to get from there to the beginning. Due to parking lot restrictions, you can’t park for more than 4 hours in the beginning lot. This means that it’s no longer possible to bring two cars and park one at the beginning and one at the end. The shuttle costs $30 NZD per person. I used Tongariro Crossing Shuttles, which was simple and easy.
It’s best to start the hike early. I opted for the 7 am shuttle. By the time we got to the start of the trail, used the restroom, and took photos, it was 7:40 AM. The sun was just coming up and it was COLD AF. I had all my layers on and was wishing I’d also brought gloves and a warmer hat.
I’d done loads of research on what to bring to the crossing, and I’d packed the following:
- Hoodie & Packable Jacket
- 3L of water (an insulated water bottle is helpful)
- Snacks high in sugar (date balls, fig cookies, peanut butter filled pretzels)
- Lunch (two hummus & veggie sandwiches)
- Hand sanitizer & lotion
- Toilet paper & Kleenex
- Lip Balm (bring one with SPF)
- Pain Reliever (Panadol is the NZ brand of acetaminophen)
- iPhone & Camera (learn about my photography gear here)
Starting early turned out to be a great idea, as we got to watch the sun rise through the mountains. Though the shady bits were cold, watching the sun come up while hiking is an incredible experience.
The beginning of the track is green and lush, filled with bushes and little streams. Keep an eye out for the tiny waterfall that looks just like a miniature Omanawa Falls.
The trail is very well marked and maintained. Though the trek is long, the upkeep of the trails made it enjoyable. The hike will take about 7-9 hours (depending how often you like to stop for photos and snacks). It seems super long, but most of the terrain is flat and easy to trek. There are a few steep uphill climbs and one very steep downhill climb. It is recommended that you be in moderately good physical shape to complete this hike.
Trekking up and down a volcano, seeing Mount Doom and those beautiful emerald lakes, and slipping on mud in the valley is a must-do experience in New Zealand. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing was definitely a highlight of my trip.
After years of seeing those stunning emerald blue lakes all over Instagram, I finally trekked my way there myself. After Mount Doom, after the Red Crater, and after the most intense uphill and downhill climb, we finally arrived to the famous Emerald Lakes. This is the perfect spot to stop for lunch. There are no bathrooms here, so if you have to go, you’ll have to find a big rock and have your friends keep a lookout.
The trek from the lakes to the end of the track is still about 10 km (6 miles), but it is flat, windy, and beautiful.
You’ll finish off the last few kilometers in a shaded forest. Taking a break from the sun and finishing off the trek on a smooth, shady path, is the best ending to a long day.
Things to Know About the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
These are a few helpful tips I wish I would have known.
- Apply sunscreen often, and make sure your lip balm has SPF (my lips got sunburnt)
- Bring toilet paper! Some of the bathrooms are not stocked
- There are no garbage bins on the track. Keep this park beautiful by bringing your trash with you. If you brought it in, bring it out!
- There are also no water stations. Bring enough water for the trip – I’d recommend about 3 liters. Pro tip: use an insulated water bottle to keep water cold (I’m obsessed with the hydroflask).
- Make sure your backpack is big enough to hold your layers when you take them off. I brought my CabinZero 28L backpack; it was the perfect size. The compartments inside made for easy storage for sunscreen and snacks.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is on many bucket lists – and should definitely be on yours!
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