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Guide to Hiking Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Emerald Lake Lookout

Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the top day hikes in New Zealand. This 19.4 km (12.1 miles) hike takes you through a volcanic alpine landscape with incredible views. The best time to hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing is between November and April, but even during these warmer months it is important to check the weather as conditions can vary widely at the alpine regions. In the winter this trail has snow and risk of avalanches and is therefore not recommended. Follow this guide to hiking Tongariro Alpine Crossing to ensure you are prepared and have an unforgettable day. 

How to Get to Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Emerald Lake Tongariro

Tongariro Alpine Crossing is located on the North Island of New Zealand in the oldest national park, Tongariro National Park. The hike starts from Mangatepopo car park in Tongariro National Park and ends in Ketatahi. In order to hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing in a day you only have time to go one way so you will need transportation to the beginning of the trail.

Make sure to book transportation online in advance so you don’t miss out! There are several shuttle companies that you can choose from. Most shuttles drop you off in the beginning of the trail at Mangatepopo and pick you up at Ketetahi to take you back to where your car is parked. It is best to find a transportation service that has parking near the end of the trail in Ketetahi so that you don’t have to wait on a shuttle after you finish the hike and can walk to your car from the end of the trail.

I recommend reserving your transportation ahead of time with National Park Shuttles which has a range of shuttle options. We booked the one way shuttle from Ketetahi Park and Ride so we didn’t have to wait for the shuttle at the end of the hike. The walk back to the parking lot from the end of the trail takes about 10-15 minutes and although it isn’t the most scenic walk (walking on the side of the road), it was nice to not have to wait on a shuttle.

Where to Stay for Hiking Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The most convenient places to stay to hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing is in the national park village, Turangi, or Taupo. Although closer to the start of the trail, the national park village has limited accommodations and food options. Also, you will still have to drive over 25 minutes back to the national park village from the end of the trail.

I recommend staying in Turangi which is located only about a 20 minutes drive from Ketetahi Car Park, the main parking lot for Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Staying in Turangi is convenient and there are more food options than in the national park village.

The third option is to stay in Taupo which is about one hour away from Ketetahi Car Park. The benefit of staying in Taupo is that it has has more accommodation options, restaurants, shops, and things to do. If you are coming from Rotorua it will be on your way to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing trail.

Tips for Hiking New Zealand's Best Day Hike

  • Don’t hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing when the weather is bad! If the weather is bad in Turangi, it is most likely worse at the alpine level. The hike is already difficult on a sunny day, bad conditions can make this hike extremely difficult and dangerous.
  • The shuttle companies may cancel their transportation service due to bad weather. Keep that in mind when planning your trip, and plan for an extra day near Tongariro Alpine Crossing just incase the weather requires you to reschedule.
  • Make sure to have a good breakfast before the hike and bring food with you for lunch. Most of the shuttle services are early and a lot of restaurants in Turangi and Lake Taupo aren’t open yet. Plan ahead and get food for breakfast at the grocery store the day before because you will need all the energy you can get for this hike.

What to Bring on Your Tongariro Alpine Crossing Hike

How to hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing
  • Daypack: Make sure to bring a comfortable hiking bag to carry all your food, water, and clothes for the day. I recommend this REI Co-op 25 pack because it’s the perfect amount of space for a day hike.
  • Food: Make sure to bring high protein snacks and a lunch to eat on the trail as it can be a long day.
  • Sun Protection: There is no shade on this trail so on a sunny day you definitely need sunscreen and a hat. I forgot to put sunscreen on my ankles and managed to get burnt on a 2 inch section of my ankle that was exposed. So don’t forget to bring sunscreen, and make sure to apply it.
  • Hiking Shoes: Shoes with traction are necessary especially for downhill parts where the gravel is loose. Boots aren’t needed but can help with ankle support. I wore hiking shoes similar to these Salomon hiking shoes on the hike which have great traction but are light and easy to travel with.
  • Water: The incline on this hike just keeps on going, so make sure you bring plenty of water.
  • Warm Clothes: Bring layers! The weather can change throughout the hike, especially at the alpine sections, so make sure you are prepared. A down jacket is a great option because it is light and compact.
  • Warm hat and gloves: It got very cold and windy when we hiked between the red crater and Emerald Lakes so I wish I had a hat and gloves! 
  • Rain Jacket: The weather can change quickly so bring a rain jacket to have just in case.
  • Camera: While your phone is always convenient, a camera can capture this place on another level. You can probably tell which photos on this guide were taken with a camera versus phone. I used the Sony A7RIII with the Tamron 28-75 lens.

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What to Expect While Hiking Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Mangatepopo Valley to South Crater

Tongariro Alpine Crossing Hike Begining
Hiking Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The trail starts 1120 meters above sea level at Mangatepopo Valley with a flat section. Next you will climb from the valley to the saddle between Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro. This part has incredible views, especially on a clear day. From here the hike continues to get steeper until you reach Red Crater.

Red Crater

Red Crater

Red Crater is the highest point on the hike at 1886 meters. After you pass red crater the trail will start going downhill. This section has loose dirt and it can get slippery so you need to be very careful and take your time. On the way down you will be able to see views of the Emerald Lakes and Blue Lake.

Emerald Lakes

Guide to hiking Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Emerald Lake Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Emerald Lakes are one of the highlights of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing track. The emerald color is caused by minerals from the thermal environment and on a sunny day the color is very vibrant. Due to the acidity level of the water you cannot touch the water.

Blue Lake

After Emerald Lakes you will walk past the beautiful Blue Lake. Remember that Blue Lake is sacred so you cannot touch the water.

Make Your Way Down With Lake Views

Views of Lake Tongariro Hike
Lake Tongariro Alpine Crossing

This section of Tongariro Alpine Corssing has downhill switchbacks that feel like they last forever. There are beautiful lake views of Lake Taupo on the way down to keep you motivated. In this area you will also see steam vents along the hills.

The Last Forest

The forest section is the last part of the hike. It is a beautiful rainforest, with lush green plants and ferns. We were very tired by this part but were pleasantly surprised by how pretty this last section was.

Shuttle or Walk to Parking

At the end of the trail you will see a waiting area for the shuttles. If you parked at Ketetahi car park you don’t have to wait for a shuttle! Instead, you will make your way straight down the road and take a right at the intersection. You will soon see Ketetahi Car Park on your left. The walk takes about 10-15 minutes, and there is no shade, but it is better than waiting on a shuttle after a long day.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links for products and services I recommend. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Reut and Zack Elopement-5

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