As dangerous as it is beautiful, here’s all you need to know about one of the world’s most popular day hike, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
The one-way hike will take you across a very dramatic landscape created by the inherent alpine conditions as well as the volcanic activity of the past.
Highlights include the film location for Mordor – a fictional place from J.R.R Tolkien’s fantasy trilogy Lord of the Rings brought to life by Peter Jackson’s film adaptation.
But the movie doesn’t show everything:
On this hike, you can also see the Emerald lakes, alpine vegetation, the craters, steam vents and more.
By the way, you can’t bring your dogs on this hike!
Table of Contents
- Weather in Tongariro
- Map of the Tongariro crossing
- Cost of Tongariro crossing
- Length (time) for the Tongariro Alpine crossing
- Track and terrain
- Shuttle service for the Tongariro crossing
- Tour service for Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- What to pack for the Tongariro crossing
- Tips for completing the Tongariro crossing
- Skotel Alpine Resort
- Other Tongariro accommodation
- Winter in Tongariro
- Other hikes in Tongariro National Park
- Facts about Tongariro National Park
- Free attractions close to Tongariro
Because of the alpine conditions, weather can be unpredictable here. Your best bet is to check MetService Website under “Tongariro National Park”.
By the way, we went towards the end of April. Which is the end of autumn in New Zealand.
Our friends who went the previous month, reported temperatures of below 5 degree Celsius and fog covering the lakes.
It took about an hour’s wait before they could see the lakes so make sure you pack enough clothes and food.
If you’re not sure what to bring, see the packing list further down this post.
This is not a loop track and you can start or finish at either of these car parks:
- Ketetahi car park
- Mangatepopo car park
Both car parks have toilets.
There is no entrance fee. But you might want to make a budget for an accommodation and the shuttle service. Because, this is not a loop track!
This is a 19.4-kilometer hike.
Depending on your fitness (or how long you take to ogle at the landscape and snap photos), it could take you 6-10 hours including breaks.
If you want to do this hike in a day, you should have at least moderate fitness.
There are two difficult parts to this hike – the Devil’s staircase (aptly named) and the slippery scree hill that is between the emerald lakes and Mt Ngauruhoe
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing trail
Here, we have marked Ketetahi as the end point.
Assuming you start from Mangatepopo car park:
- Not far from the beginning of the track (15 minutes in), is a side trail that will take you to Mangatepopo Hut and some toilets. But just keep going straight.
- This first portion of the track is a lovely flat boardwalk amid short tussock and small streams, with a little bit of ascent.
You will pass by Soda Springs.
- That later gives way to an uneven desert landscape. Less and less plants. More rock. You get the gist. You will approach Mt Ngauruhoe. And some long drop toilets. These are the only ones until Ketetahi shelter.
- The Devil’s staircase (~1500m above sea level)- take your time and let other people who are more fit pass you.
You will be rewarded with some incredible views at the top – you might even see Mount Taranaki in the west on a clear day!
- Next is an exposed ridge to the Red Crater (the highest point in the hike at 1886m). It is what it sounds like!
- And then, you will get your first look at the stunning Emerald lakes from the top.
- Getting down is tricky due to the scree (i.e. loose scoria). If it smells bad here, that would the sulphur from the steam vents around.
- You can get pretty close to the lakes but don’t touch the water – the lakes are sacred to the natives especially the Blue Lake.
- The rest of the hike is relatively easier than the previous terrains. Flat mostly with a bit of scrambling up to another crater (Northern slope of Tongariro).
- Then it’s a gradual descent back down as long as you stick to the track. Great views too. See if you can spot Lake Taupo and Ketetahi shelter!
- The track winds down in zig-zag fashion with some stream crossings thrown in, all the way back to Ketetahi car park.
You can get a shuttle service at i-Sites close to Tongariro National park:
|Town i-SITE||Driving Distance from Tongariro National Park||Phone #||Address|
|Whakapapa||23 minutes (30.4km)||+64 7892 3075||State Highway 48, Whakapapa Village|
|Turangi||20 minutes (24.7km)||0800 288 726||Ngawaka Place, Turangi|
|Ohakune||52 minutes (68 km)||0800 647 483||54 Clyde Street, Ohakune|
|Taumarunui||55 minutes (75.1km)||+64 7895 7494||Railway Station, Taumarunui|
|Taupo||1 hour (74.6km)||0800 525 382||30 Tongariro Street, Taupo|
Here are some other notable shuttle services (at a glance):
- Tongariro Expeditions (+64 800 828 763)
- Tongariro Crossing Shuttles (07 892 2993)
- Park Transport Service – National Park Shuttles (07 8922 998)
- Tongariro Track Transport (+64 800 842 258)
- Tongariro Volcanic Adventures (07 892 2870)
The cost is usually $35 per person (one way).
If you are looking for the best shuttle service for the Tongariro Crossing, it’s probably whichever one is the most convenient for you – location-wise.
But as a quick guide, any good shuttle service should have the following:
How to select the best shuttle service for the Tongariro Crossing
- Well-maintained fleet
- Experienced driver who has done the hike before and can give you a honest heads up on the weather
- Flexible cancellation policy (Sometimes, the weather is just bad)
- Punctual start times – Fixed pick up spots (i.e. not going to pick up other hikers along the way)
- Multiple pick up times in the afternoon (So you don’t have to wait around for the shuttle to take you back)
You can always call them and ask some questions before booking! Or your chosen accommodation might be able to suggest a good shuttle service.
Don’t want to spend that much?
Go in a group in one car. Assign a designated driver in the group.
Our designated driver took us to the starting point early in the morning (6.30am) and left for the end point (Ketetahi) where he parked OUTSIDE the main car park, to avoid the time limit.
We then waited for him to get a shuttle back to the starting point. His ticket cost was split equally among the four of us.
We just followed the people in front of us but if you would like a guided tour (especially during the winter or early morning hours for sunrise), here are some recommended tour companies:
- Adventure Outdoors Tongariro NZ (+64 7-892 2778)
- Adrift Tongariro (+64 7-892 2751)
- Flying Kiwi (0800 693 296)
- First Light Travel (+64 (9) 281 4481)
- Active Adventures (+64 3 450 0414)
- Socks (and an extra pair just in case) – thick wool ones
- Hat (beanie and cap) and gloves
- Bandaids (for blisters)
- Windproof and waterproof jacket and pants – Speaking of rain and wind proof jackets, we recommend the Uniqlo Blocktech Parka.
- Food (light and filling) – Prepare to bring your trash back with you!
- Lots of water (there is no drinking water in the whole park)
- Sunscreen and sunglasses (there will be no refuge from the sun!)
- Your phone and a map
- Camera (+extra batteries)
- REALLY good hiking shoes (you will be on your feet the whole day)
- Waterproof bag/ bag covers to keep your stuff dry if it rains
- Medicine and bandages – just in case
- Flashlight/ headlamp – just in case
- Lip balm to prevent chapped fingers and lips
- Face mask or scarf to protect your skin from the cold
What we wore to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
What we wore at the start of the hike at around 5 degrees Celsius in the early morning:
And this what we wore through most of the hike:
- Bra top (Airism) by Uniqlo
- Thermal long sleeve and leggings by Uniqlo
- Hiking pants (waterproof and fleece-lined) – by some unknown Chinese brand
- Pink wool sweater from my mum’s closet
- Winter fleece jacket by Uniqlo
- Beanie – bought this secondhand on Carousell
- Facemask – bought this in Vietnam
- Gloves – leather pair from dad’s closet
- Winter boots by Universal Traveller from my sister’s closet
- Scarf by MnG
- Wool socks
- Thermal long sleeve by Uniqlo
- Hiking pants (waterproof) by Uniqlo
- Blocktech parka (waterproof) by Uniqlo
- Thick hoodie by Uniqlo
- Gloves (woolen and frankly, not warm enough)
- Hiking shoes by Camel Active
- Wool socks
- The hike is a little bit easier if you start from Ketetahi car park instead of Mangatepopo car park.
- Safety should always be your priority! If there is strong winds (more than 60km/h), bad visibility or any sign of volcanic activity (like the ground shaking or rocks falling), head to the closest shelter/ car park. Check this site on the current volcanic activity before you go.
- Do not leave the track or litter – this is to preserve the park as much as possible
- Water from any of the streams have to be treated before drinking
Need a place to stay that’s not far from the crossing?
Cosy mountain lodge (complete with a hot tub and a fireplace) that overlooks Tongariro National Park?
Oh, the resort is in Whakapapa Village conveniently close to a sky resort too (at the foot of Mount Ruapehu). Which is open from June to October.
Address: Ngauruhoe Place,Tongariro National Park 4691, 3951 Tongariro, New Zealand
Price range: $90 NZD for a room for 2 people
Phone number: +64 7-892 3719
- Close to all the thing you will want to see in Tongariro National Park – Tama Lakes, Taranaki Falls, Tawhai Falls, and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
- You can also book a shuttle to and from the Tongariro Crossing from Skotel Resort upon check-in or you can arrange with them beforehand through a call
- No need to worry about food, there is the Skotel Restaurant and Bar
Book Skotel Alpine Resort here.
Here are some places that you can also stay at that are not too far from Tongariro National Park:
Tongariro Holiday Park
Address: 2091 47 State Highway, Tongariro National Park Tongariro Forest Park, Turangi 3334, New Zealand
Price range: $70+ NZD for 2 people per night (minimum 2 nights for the better rooms)
Phone number: +64 7-386 8062
- Tip: Check in before 7pm!
- Closest supermarket is 20 minutes’ drive
- Spa Pool is nothing to shout about but ok after a day of hiking
- Wifi is at extra cost
- Staff can help book your shuttle to/from the hiking track
- Self-contained units are nice – but you need to bring your own bedding, cutlery and plates
Book Tongariro Holiday Park here.
Address: 222 Te Rangitautahanga Rd, Turangi 3334, New Zealand
Price range: $70-90 NZD for 2 people a night
Phone number: +64 7-386 7004
- Dormitory style accommodation but they do have queen rooms
- Free Wifi
- Shared bathrooms so expect some noise during the night or other odd hours
- Clean and well equipped kitchen
- Helpful staff
- Deck and lounge for guest use
Book Riverstone Backpackers here.
Oasis Motel & Holiday Park Turangi
Address: 426 tokaanu rd Turangi, Tokaanu, Turangi 3381, New Zealand
Price range: $108 NZD for 2 people a night
Phone number: +64 7-386 8569
- Also known as “Oasis Motel & Caravan Park Tokaanu”
- Basic cabins available
- Good facilities that are well-maintained
- Well-equipped kitchen
- Friendly staff
- 24 hour access to hot mineral pools (including private hot pools)
- Dogs allowed
Book Oasis Motel & Holiday Park here.
Howards Mountain Lodge
Price range: It cost us $118 for two nights in a twin bedroom and we booked our room through Agoda.
- The big kitchen is clean and well equipped with cutlery and crockery available. There are two stove tops and two fridges available for public use.
- The barbecue grill outside is for guests to use too.
- Three cozy common rooms – one with a real fireplace and another with a TV, a chess set and many DVDs to choose from.
- There are hot showers and toilets to share per floor.
- The rooms themselves have heaters provided and extra blankets on the bed. Towels are included.
- Parking space is limited. We parked outside on the street since we checked in late.
Here’s how far the lodge is from our starting point, Mangatepopo:
What about a campground close to the starting point?
Our other option was to stay at a campsite (shuttle cost is still $35) that was closer to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing starting point but we are glad that we didn’t since it was 3 degree Celsius when we arrived at the lodge at midnight.
Can you stay overnight at Tongariro National Park?
There are some huts spread around the national park – we saw one near Ketetahi.
You can rent these for overnight accommodation for the longer hikes but in the day time, they serve as a place to shelter if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Bookings have to be made ahead online through the official website. The price per night is something like NZD $35.
There are chances of severe wind, sub-zero temperatures, ice, snow and even avalanches in May to October.
Do not attempt the Tongariro Alpine Crossing if you do not have:
- alpine climbing experience
- ice axes
A map of all the top hikes in Tongariro National Park:
Here’s a handy table so you can book an accommodation that suits your plan best:
|Hike||Area||Duration||One way/ Loop||Distance||Highlights|
|Tongariro Northern Circuit||Close to the Whakapapa Visitor Centre at Ngauruhoe Place||3-4 days (This is one of New Zealand’s great walks)||Loop||43.1km (Loop)|
|Tongariro Alpine Crossing||Same starting point as Tongariro Northern Circuit||6-10 hours (including stopping for photos!)||One way||19.4km|
|Round The Mountain||Same starting point as Tongariro Northern Circuit||4 – 6 Days||Loop||66.2km|
|Lake Rotopounamu||Te Ponanga Saddle Rd, Tongariro National Park 3382, New Zealand||2 hours (leisurely)||Loop||5km|
|Mount Ruapehu Crater (only if you have alpine climbing experience!)||Iwikau Village||7 hour return (5 hours if you take the chair lifts)||One way (backtrack the same way)||10km|
|Ridge track||150 metres above Whakapapa Visitor Centre, beside the public shelter||30-40 minutes||One way (backtrack the same way)||1.2km (including return)|
|Silica Rapids||250 metres above Whakapapa Visitor Centre||2.5 hour return||Loop||7km (including return back to Bruce Rd)|
|Tama Lakes||extension of the Taranaki Falls Walk||5-6 hours return (slippery after rain)||One way (backtrack the same way)||17km (return)|
|Taranaki Falls||100 metres below Whakapapa Visitor Centre at Ngauruhoe Place||2 hour return||Loop||6km (return)|
|Tawhai Falls (aka Gollum’s Pool)||4 km below Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre on SH 48; on the way to/from Whakapapa Village||20 min return from the carpark||n/a||n/a|
|Tupapakurua Falls||Fishers Road, National Park Village||4-5 hour return||One way (backtrack the same way)||11km|
|Whakapapa Nature Walk||250m above Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre||15 min return||Loop||n/a|
|Whakapapaiti Valley||Follow Silica Rapids Track for 45 minutes until the junction – Do not get confused – Whakapapanui vs Whakapapaiti track signs||4-5 hour return||Loop back to Whakapapa Village||16km (return)|
- New Zealand’s oldest national park with 3 volcanic peaks – Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro
- UNESCO dual World Heritage Site
- The last eruption from any of the three volcanoes was in 2012 (Mount Tongariro).
- Has a cultural World Heritage Status
Tongariro – Lake Taupo – Taupo town – Huka Falls – Spa Thermal Pools
Location: Lake Taupo Scenic Lookout, Wharewaka, Taupo 3378, New Zealand
The drive from Tongariro to this giant lake is worth seeing. Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe in plain sight provided the weather is clear. Great pine forests line either side of the road.
The lake is a spectacle to behold – waves (yes, waves due to its vast size) gently meet the shore. There are people lounging about, soaking up sunshine and having picnics when we were there. Ducks and seagulls wander about. You might notice people para-sailing or skydiving here.
You can then drive around the lake too – Rainbow Point Reserve is a beautiful park to stop and walk around for a bit.
The town Taupo seems a bit touristy but it was very busy during lunchtime. There are any places to eat. If you haven’t tried the MacDonald’s in New Zealand yet then you can have the novelty of dining in this particular restaurant too because it looks like a plane from the outside.
We chose to takeaway from one of our favorite chain stores in New Zealand, Noodle Canteen. The portions are large and the food is good. Fellow Malaysians, there is nasi goreng here (and most Chinese takeaways, for that matter). Alas, it is not halal.
Have a picnic by the lake and enjoy the views. If you feel inclined, there is a #lovetaupo sign that is very Instagram- friendly. It is situated across the road and shop lots, facing the lake.
Location: Huka Falls, Taupo 3377, New Zealand
This next place turned out to be an unexpected surprise for us.
We were expecting a waterfall in a forest much like the ones in Malaysia but this one was….it was gorgeous!
The powerful cascades of water are not white, but a very light turquoise hue. You simply have to see it yourself to understand how amazing it is. Not that we’ve seen any world-famous waterfalls before so this one really took our breath away.
Oh, and admission is free.
After you’ve seen the waterfall at all angles via the walkways, you can choose to walk to the natural hot springs further down (1 hour walk) or drive there.
Spa Thermal Park
Location: Public Top Pool, 281 Spa Rd, Tauhara, Taupo 3378, New Zealand
We drove to town again and reached the park where the springs were.
From the carpark, you have to walk to the other end of the park to get to the springs.
There are toilets at the carpark on the hill. Change there and make your way to the springs at the other side of the park.
Once there, you will observe that there are no toilet facilities. The springs are free for public use. Please don’t litter and take care of your belongings.
The thermal springs is not a very wide area. It’s right under a bridge. You will know it when you see the tuft of steam rising from the rocks.
Stay close to the springs to avoid the strong currents in the river. Just follow the locals if you have doubts.
If you go to the main pool, you will notice that the water below your torso can be ice cold while the water at your torso level can get pretty hot. It’s a strange experience.
Also, do not be alarmed if you see dogs soaking in the springs too. They too, enjoy the springs.
It’s not everyday that you get to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the most renowned hiking trails of the world. Here’s everything you need to plan out the perfect weekend in Tongariro National Park.
Actually, there’s no place that we’ve ever seen in New Zealand that even resembles Tongariro.
Don’t forget, Peter Jackson included it into his internationally famous Lord of the Rings triology because it made an ideal backdrop for the blacklands of Mordor.
Just be aware that the trail is challenging in summer and winter.
Is Tongariro in your New Zealand bucket list? Comment below.