If you visit Tongariro National Park, you must do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. New Zealand‘s most famous one-day hike, this is a long one, crossing Mount Tongariro, one of the 3 active volcanos in the area.
Remember to keep to the track, don’t disturb the vegetation and most important, this is an active volcano, so if evacuation siren goes off, get out of valleys and go downhill as fast as you can.
How long is the Tongariro Crossing?
It is a 19.4 kilometers trek, which according to guides, can be done in between 6-8 hours (it can be more or less depending on weather conditions and your fitness level).
It goes up and down mountains, with many, many steps. I’m thinking here: Devil’s Staircase – one hour of stairs.
How fit do you need to be to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?
I’m no fit dude, and, besides the family-friendly tracks, I rarely do any exercise at all. This is my experience. I’ve done in 7 hours, under fog and rain! I have no trek or physical preparation and I’m not near fit.
It is totally possible for most people, just take your time and you will be fine! Also, don’t be afraid to go alone, there are many others doing the same, so actually you won’t be alone.
Tongariro Crossing Altitude
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing altitude goes from 1100m to 1967m at Mount Tongariro or 2287m at Mount Ngaruhoe summit. Both summits are not part of the original track but can be done in additional 2h approximately, return trip, each from the original path.
You don’t need to do the “extras”, but if you do, plan it well, and check your time and conditions. I’ve done just the Mount Tongariro in 1.5h.
Tongariro Crossing Difficulty
I’d say the Tongariro Crossing difficulty is high, but what you’ll need most is determination. You can go as slow as you want, rest as much as you need, take 10 hours, and you’ll still be able to finish it.
It’s muddy, it’s slippery, it’s windy. And it’s on a mountain, so if you don’t really do well in altitude, in heights, in windy places, then maybe this is not the track for you.
Either way, this is not a simple walk, it’s a difficult one, and accidents occur often. Have someone know you’re there before you start the track, since there is no signal when you’re up and above.
Tongariro Crossing Accommodation Options
To do the Tongariro Crossing, you can stay anywhere. There are even shuttles from Taupo or Okahune. I suggest that you choose one of the places at the National Park Village. It’s the village closest to the crossing, and all of the hostels and hotels offer transport to and from the hike.
Find some on the box below!
Tongariro Crossing Transport
You’ll need to book a shuttle or have someone drive you to the start and pick you up at the end. It’s not a loop track, so if you leave your car at the beginning, you’ll need to go back all the way to get it.
The good news is that since this is the most famous of the Tongariro National Park walks, every commercial establishment provides that service. I’m serious. Ask at the convenience store, at the restaurant, at the hostels, anywhere. Also ask them about the time they go to pick up, and try to find one that will suit your needs.
Best Time to do: Tongariro Crossing
The best time is on a dry day. When it’s raining, the track is muddy and even more slippery. Plus, it’s very inconvenient. If there is fog, it’ll be hard to see any of the awesome sights. Any dry day is good for the Tongariro Crossing. Winter is a whole different matter.
To do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, winter hikers can only go accompanied by a guide and with special equipment, as the track freezes – yes – and it’s even more dangerous than usual. Not the whole winter, but if it freezes, you’ll need it.
Late spring, summer and early fall (from November to April) are the best times, but try to choose a dry day anyway.
The weather in Tongariro National Park is highly unpredictable. When I did it, it was supposed to be a sunny day, but it ended up rainy, and cloudy, and cold.
How much does it cost to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?
The Tongariro Crossing price is actually zero. It’s free. Access to the whole park is free.
BUT you’ll need transport. The start and the end of the track are on each side of the mountain (you can choose where you’ll start, actually) so you can’t drive there and get the car later – unless you want to walk all the way back.
If you have someone to do that for you, then it’s free for sure. But if you need transport for that, you’ll need to hire someone. It’s not hard. Just ask anyone – any of the locals – and they’ll know who does it, what time, how much, and when.
Can kids do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?
Well, yes. But they need to be able to walk a lot, through hard and difficult tracks. I suggest you wait until your kid is old enough to do it – for my kids, I guess they’d be able to do it at around 10 but we’re waiting until they’re around 15 so they can enjoy the track too.
My Tongariro Alpine Crossing experience
Just before the start, the driver gave us some instruction and advice, like where to decide to turn back if you see that won’t make to the end or time for each part of the track.
After that quick chat, I started my way on a Sunday at 7:30 am, around 10°C (50°F) and a bit of fog. I was alone, no Thais and no kids. Motivation starts as you put yourself in Frodo’s shoes, nerd moment, and imagine you doing the same journey to destroy *the* ring.
The first and easy part, under 5km, from Mangatepopo to Soda Springs. I did in just 1 hour and thought that would be easy to complete the others 14.4km at the same pace.
Once you reach Soda Springs, there is a sign saying to do not continue if you are not fit and etc. This is the place to turn back, as our driver told us, because the next step, or steps, are what they call the “Devil’s Staircase”. You will find out why it has that name. This is the hardest part – one hour of stairs! – and it brings you all the way up from Soda Springs to Red Crater (top of the track, excluding summit trek).
From the beginning to Red Crater, 3 hours nonstop, well, stopping at each step in the staircase, with a mix of pain, cold and ‘what am I doing here’ thoughts. I was beginning to doubt my decisions.
Unhappy and tired, from the Red Crater, since I was up there already, decided to divert for a 1.5-hour return trip to Mount Tongariro summit. Not bad, easy to moderate difficulty, but slippery. Fewer rocks and loads of mud.
From that part, it’s the beginning of the way down. My legs were not helping anymore. The ground was wet, steep and slippery. Both sides of the mountain are hills and I confess I was scared. That is, I believe, the part that took more time: I was going down very slowly, one tiny step at the time.
You will find that the Emerald and Blue lakes are a great and relaxing view of the green/blue colors while you head down.
The way down is longer, around 13km, it has a mix of rocks, dirt and then rainforest, closer to the end.
I would do all again, on a clear summer day, as you can see by the photos, had a pretty ugly day, but it was worth every raindrop and mud in my shoes.
As the trail is in a national park, it is free! You just have to arrange transport from the place you are staying or from the end of the trail back to the beginning. I’ve booked my transport at Macrocarpa Café (Tongariro National Park Village), and it cost me NZD30, which is for drop-off at the beginning, around 7 am) and pick-up at the end (around 4 pm).
What to bring to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- Water, water, and water – at least 2 liters, more if you can
- Food (I brought a sandwich)
- Fruit and Chocolate bar, as sugar gives you energy and also helps to comfort the soul
- Camera for photos / recording
- Plastic bag or a waterproof case for the camera like the one below
What to wear for the Tongariro Crossing
- Comfortable shoes. I recommend hiking or trail shoes
- Merino layers, as it keeps your body temperature and adapts to conditions
- Merino t-shirts or any breathable non-cotton t-shirt
- Pants or shorts, breathable and non-cotton
- Waterproof jacket in case of rain forecast. Well, even without the rain forecast, better bring it anyway
All photos were taken using a Polaroid Cube Action Camera, which you can find more about below: