The Incredible Tongariro Crossing

The Incredible Tongariro Crossing

New Zealand
New Zealand

When Is the Best Time

Tongariro Crossing a Must-Do on the North Island of NZ. Enjoy the awe-inspiring hike the entire year. To master the once in a lifetime hike - Consider three simple rules: Read on for my insights to hike in your right season, be prepared for the elements throughout the year, and arrange your bus shuttle in advance.

Weather and Hiking Season

Blue Lake at Tongariro
Blue Lake

The best time for Tongariro with more stable weather for this inspiring hike is from November to April. In March, April, and November, crowds are bearable.

Summer is the busiest time with up to 3.500 hikers each day. Winter can be fantastic as well, but snow hiking experiences or a guide are essential.

Tongariro Track beginning - Mount Ngauruhoe in the back
Warm at the beginning at Mangatepopo Entrance

The official hiking season starts in late October and lasts until the end of April. Nevertheless, the weather at the Tongariro Crossing can change quickly. Be prepared for four seasons in one day on this Alpine Track. The trail is closed in very poor weather conditions. Rain occurs throughout the year, with its peak from May to September.

Tongariro Crossing Summit
Even summer can be cold and windy.

The hike starts at an elevation of 1100 meters and climbs up 800 meters. Temperature differences of ten degrees and more are not uncommon—the west part of Tongariro experiences more clouds. You may start with an overcast sky, and it improves during the walk after the red crater. You can walk the entire trail on your own during the hiking season.

Spring (September-November)

Emerald Lakes on a sunny day in spring

The official DOC hiking season starts late October, although snow and ice can occur until November. Temps can drop below zero quickly, even during the day. For September and October, be prepared for winter conditions. Mountaineering skills are essentials for these months. In November, morning temps at the Mangatepopo trailhead are on average below 10°C. The Red Crater's highest point experiences a maximum of 10°C during the day and minus in the night. Nevertheless, it’s incredible to hike here with fewer people.

Summer (December-February)

Tongariro in summer - view from the top of the Taranaki Falls

The best months with the most stable weather for hiking are during summer, from December to February. It is the driest time of the year, but these are also the busiest months. It’s often crowded on the track with up to 3000 hikers each day. In summer, the mean daily temp is around 20°C, which can drop to 10 °C, but it can be hot with 30°C as well. It’s much colder at the Red Crater, on average around 12°C during the day. Everything is possible in the summer, be prepared for intense sun, rain, and the cold, strong wind.

Autumn (March-May)

Tongariro in clouds
Mount Ngauruhoe an active Stratovolcano; last eruption 1977

The official DOC hiking season ends in late April. Increasing rainfall from May onwards. March and April are still pleasant for this remarkable hike and less busy except for the Easter holidays. However, expect one-digit temps – maximum 10°C until you get to Ketehahi, the end of the trail. Obviously, temps can climb up to 15°C, but that’s an exception.

Winter (June-August)

Mount Ruapehu in winter
Picture by Tim, the owner of the Wood Pigeon Lodge

Expect snow in June, July and at higher altitudes until spring. Snow hiking skills are essential; better take a guide. Winter is the wettest time of the year with more extreme weather. If you want to hike the track during the coldest time of the year, consider wearing different layers, carry additional clothes, crampons, and ice-axe. Monitor the forecast, spend a couple of days around Tongariro, and you may get rewarded with a blue sky and spectacular views. However, keep in mind it is an alpine terrain hike, not an easy walk. Snow and hail storms can occur, making the orientation difficult. Better book a guided hike which is mentioned below at our tour recommendations. During winter, skiing around Mount Ruapehu is common. There are two ski fields; Whakapapa and Turoa. Also, this is an awesome experience here.

Check the weather forecast for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing first!

Crowds 

A boardwalk almost at the beginning of Tongariro
Less busy early morning

Tongariro Crossing is known to be one of the most spectacular hikes in the world. Expect at least 600 hikers each day and 3.500 during the summer. The number of visitors is increasing by more than 15 % each year. It becomes overcrowded. Now it is discussed if a permit is required in the future. If the trails are widened, the experience and beauty get lost. The situation improves a little in November and March/April. Since October 2017, it is mandatory to book a shuttle for around $40 pp. The tiny car park was always full. Continue reading to get more information about the new restrictions.
 

The Best Tours

Huka Falls in NZ
The thrilling Huka Falls from the bridge

When staying in Taupo, don’t miss the turquoise blue Huka Falls and the awesome jet boat trip. They pick you up from Taupo via shuttle. Another excellent tour is the Hobbiton Tour. It's a must-do for every Lord of the Rings fan!! The Hobbiton Village is located in Matamata before Rotorua.

 

 

Accommodations Tips | Close to the Tongariro Crossing

Mt Ngauruhoe view from the distance at sunset
The view from our accommodation to Mount Ngauruhoe

Most visitors stay around the National Park, which is the most convenient way for a visit. It is possible to get here on a day trip from Lake Taupo, which takes less than 1.5 hours one way. From Auckland, it takes at least 4 hours to get to the National Park.

  • If you want to feel at home, the lovely Tongariro at Makotuku B&B is the right choice for you.
  • Perfectly located right inside the park with a spectacular view is the Chateau Tongariro Hotel.
    From here it is just a 3 km walk to the Taranaki Falls. Even during rain, you can get to this beautiful waterfall which is along the Northern Circuit; one of the Great Walks of NZ. The return hike takes a maximum of 2 hours.

    Taranaki Falls in the Tongariro National Park along the Northern Circuit.
    Taranaki Falls in the Tongariro National Park along the Northern Circuit
     
  • Low Budget, good location, and clean is the Tongariro Holiday Park.
  • For backpackers, an excellent choice is the National Park Backpackers. A shuttle to the Tongariro Crossing departs in the morning from 6 to 10 am every hour and back from 1.30 to 5.30 pm.

Best Months to Visit

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec

Location and Tips

Raurimu
New Zealand
New Zealand

Tongariro was the first National Park in New Zealand declared in 1887. Its dual World Heritage status is second to none. Three mighty active volcanoes, Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu, are part of the National Park. Mount Ruapehu is the North Island highest peak with 2.797 m.

The crater of Mount Ruapehu

The last eruptions of Mount Tongariro were in August and November 2012. Experience the dramatic volcanic landscape either in one day on the Tongariro Crossing or enjoy the whole World Heritage Side and follow the Northern Circuit in 3 to 4 days.

Tongariro Hike | Details and Facts

Tongariro Crossing Boardwalk

  • The trail is 19.4 km long and takes roughly 6 to 7 hours, but you can walk the trail easily in 5 hours with a high fitness level. However, enjoy the remarkable volcanic landscape. There isn't any National Park fee requested just for the bus shuttle.
  • If you want to climb to the top of Mt Ngauruhoe, famous for being the “Heart of Mordor” from Lord of the Rings, add 2-3 hours.  However, the peaks and alpine lakes are sacred to the local Maori. They ask that peaks are not climbed, and lakes are not touched. We decided not to climb to the top to respect the wish of the Maori.
  • The trail is well marked with signs and poles; nevertheless, it's hard to spot them in fog. The track is well prepared, and in some sections, you hike on boardwalks to protect the flowers and plants.
  • It's fascinating to walk through this moon-like landscape. You start at the Mangatepopo road. First, you climb all the way up for 800 meters to the south crater and continue to the red crater—the highest point of the hike on 1.886 m elevation. The walk then descends to the picturesque green Emerald Lakes. Now it climbs up a little again to the Blue Lake. From now on, it only descends zigzagging for more than 1000 meters. The last section leads to the beautiful forest until you get to Ketetahi car park and shelter the track's end. Your shuttle bus will pick you up here.
     

Tongariro Northern Circuit 

Hiking Map of the Northern Circuit
Tongariro and Northern Circuit Map

The Tongariro Crossing is a breathtaking hike, but the Northern Circuit is even better to experience this exceptional volcanic area. It is one of the Great Walks of New Zealand for backcountry hiking. It extends the Tongariro Crossing into a multi-day loop of 45 km and takes 3 to 4 days. Advanced booking during the peak season is essential. Outside the season, it is first-come, first-served. The track can be walked in either direction. During the Great Walks hiking season, is a high demand for overnight stays in the three different huts.

Tent and a clear night sky full of stars
Picture by Johannes

Book your bunk in advance or try to get one of the seven campsites. While camping, you can use the hut facilities, which is prohibited on other great walks. The fees for the hut and camping are higher in the hiking season.  The reason; for the rest of the year facilities are reduced. There is only limited water supply, no gas for cooking, no ranger is available, and even emergency radio facilities are not provided.

This track traverses exposed and open alpine terrain. Severe weather conditions can occur throughout the year! Warm clothing, different layers are essential. If you are not experienced, book a guided tour!  More information about the booking process and fees
 

Gear List | My Tips

Marked Trails at Tongariro

Good preparation is essential for this breathtaking hike. Always expect all seasons in one day, even on a perfectly forecasted day. It's an alpine hike in higher elevation.
 

  • Sunglasses and hat
  • Wind- and rainproof jacket
  • Fleece or wool layer
  • Hat and gloves even in the summer
  • Hiking poles are well needed for the steep ascent and descent
  • Bring plenty of food and water
  • Wear proper shoes for the hike; however, good trainers work as well
  • Crampons and ice axe during winter


Good to Know - Facilities Along the Hike

Nowadays, facilities are along the entire trail every 1 - 1.5 hours.

  • In the beginning - Mangatepopo parking
  • Mangatepopo camping and hut
  • Soda Springs
  • South Crater
  • Blue Lake
  • Ketehahi hut and camping
  • Ketehahi Road

Parking Restrictions - Shuttle Bus

Hikers waiting at Ketetahi Parking for the shuttle bus
Hikers waiting at Ketetahi Parking for the shuttle bus

The maximum time for parking at the end of the Mangatepopo road is 4 hours. If you plan to hike the Tongariro Crossing or the Northern Circuit, you have to arrange a shuttle to drop you off and pick you up. This is a new rule since the end of October 2017. A bus shuttle is offered in the morning, roughly from 6-10 am and back from 1.30-5.30 pm every hour from all villages around Tongariro. Price for the roundtrip roughly $40 pp. Tongariro became too popular. There is not enough space at the car parks for this high number of cars and campers.

Tongariro Trail Map and Altitude Profile

Comments

Johannes Ehrhardt

A fascinating natural habitat. Be sure to take the full 3 days 40km hike through the park. So much better than just the crossing. You'll likely meet nice people in the huts and experience great nights full of stars.

Rodrigo

Tongariro Crossing is incredible. Except for snow, I experienced all in one day in January. I started very early and hiked the trail in less than 5 hours, a bit fast ;). It was cloudy at the beginning, but it became foggy in higher elevation, so I even couldn’t see the red crater. The wind was strong up there. A wind- and rain jacket was needed. Later on, it cleared up a little on the trail to the Taranaki Falls. Overall a hike not to be missed on the north island.

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Created by
Micha Herber-Bleich
Micha Herber-Bleich
I love adventurous trips and my husband…