OverviewThe Tongariro National Park is rich in dramatic scenery and unique land forms that foster the Tongariro Alpine Crossing as a world-renowned trek. In fact, it was rated as the best one day trek in New Zealand and listed by many in the top 10 day treks in the world (FYI, Kiwi's love Top 10 lists whereas Americans prefer to be #1. Not wrong or right, just different). Many who complete the 19.4 km journey will tell you that the climb can be steep and the weather can be unpredictable. You will need to arrange transport to the begining of the Crossing track and for a pick up at the end of the day. The Crossing spans the length of Mount Tongariro and takes about 7-9 hours. You start from the Mangatepopo Valley and walk east towards the end of Ketetahi road (this direction will minimise the vertical gain involved).
For directions to the park, see Tongariro National Park page.
[Editor's note]: In the spirit of full disclosure, most of the material used for this page can be found on the internet. The Kiwi sites are incredibly detailed and provide excellent information (and when "googling" things in New Zealand be sure to use Google New Zealand). In putting up this page up, im only trying to give this great "trek" some exposure on Summitpost and merely consolidate the information. Whenever possible, I interjected my own experience on the route and any information that might cater to an audience from out of town. As always, I used only photos I took personally. Please PM me if you would like more information or clarity on anything presented herein.
Essential GearThe weather in all of New Zealand and especially in the National Park can change very quickly. Cold Antarctic storms come from the south while warmer and wetter storms come from the west via the Tasman Sea. Rule of thumb is that if Mount Egmont has weather it will be in the Park two hours later. Always look over your shoulder to see what weather patterns are approaching. It is essential that you are prepared for all conditions. The weather in the car park can be totally different to what’s going on nearly 1000 meters higher and further up the track. Be prepared to change your plans and turn back especially when visibility is poor and in strong winds. It is recommended that you take transport to the beginning of the track so operators know when to expect you off the mountain. Have a cell phone for emergencies.
Below is the usual list of things to bring...
• Food and plenty of fluid, especially on hot days and if you are going to do any of the summit’s you will need extra water.
• Rainproof coat and over trousers
• Strong sturdy boots (You will be trekking on uneven volcanic terrain)
• Warm woolen or polypropylene clothing
• Sun protection
• Personal first aid kit
• Map and compass
Winter CrossingThe Tongariro Crossing can be done in winter and for the unfamiliar or inexperienced, it is recommended that you use a guide service. Weather on the Tongariro Crossing is subject to Alpine conditions and can be extreme, particularly on the “Red Crater” ridge. Snow, ice, and often strong winds are almost a constant concern (see photo). To attempt the Crossing, you should be in good health and medium fitness.
Below are the usual things to bring in winter...
• Crampons and ice axe
• Warm hat (beanie)
• Warm gloves
• 4 warm tops. (Thermal singlets and fleece are best. Brushed cotton sweats can make up 2 of the 4)
• Very good rain coat (can be a shell only)
• 2 warm long trousers. Either thermal longs to be worn under walking trousers or walking trousers under water-proof outer.
• Warm socks
• Walking boots with adequate tread - i.e. leather or Gore-tex
• 1 litre of fluid, Lunch …and some Gu or a snack
• Sunscreen and lip balm
• NO cotton tops (i.e. No T-shirts) or Jeans
• NO trainers, runners, gumboots, or slip-ons or any shoe or boot with mesh material
• NO hangovers
Route DescriptionA full day is required (7-8 hours) including rest stops. The track can be walked in the reverse direction but this requires more climbing so you would want to allow an extra hour. As this is not a round trip, visitors will have to arrange transport to the end of Mangatepopo road and back from Ketetahi road. Several local operators provide this service.
Mangatepopo Car Park to Soda Springs(Grade: Easy 1 – 1.5 hrs)
From the carpark at Mangatepopo Road, 6km off State Highway 47, the track makes its way up the Mangatepopo Valley. Your transport should drop you off at the Mangatepopo carpark and the first section you cover is fairly flat. The track is well formed and impecably maintained with boarded walkways in damper parts and poles to mark the way. About 15 minutes from the car park, the track to Whakapapa branches off to the right and about five minutes after that a side track leads left to the Mangatepopo Hut (with toilet facilities).
The main track continues up the valley following the Mangatepopo stream and around the edge of old lava flows. The porous surface of new lava, its blacker color absorbing much of the sun’s heat, is a harsh environment for plants. Simple colonising mosses and lichens are the first to establish followed years later by successively larger plants each taking advantage of the slow build up of precious soil. This succession of plant communities is evident on the lava flows of varying ages that have flowed from the crater of Ngauruhoe.
Near the head of the valley a short side track leads to Soda Springs. The springs are an oasis for the moisture loving yellow buttercups and white foxgloves. You should notice the change in plants as you climb in altitude; the last toilet stop unitl you get to the Ketetahi Hut is at Soda Springs.
Soda Springs to South Crater(Grade: Moderate to Difficult – 1 hr)
This section is steep (known as the Devil's Staircase) and can be climbed two ways. Most of the locals take the direct route straight up due east, but most tourists (and everyone else) just used the path that was put in 10 or 15 years ago that skirts around to the right. It's about a 600 - 800 vertical gain and takes about an hour. Take your time. On a clear day the view down the valley and out across the surrounding countryside is well worth it and you may even see Mount Taranaki, another volcanio on the western horizon.
The steep climb goes from Soda Springs in the valley to Mangatepopo Saddle between Mount’s Ngauruhoe and Tongariro and the views here should be breathtaking. Take care as you are walking over layers of lava flows as here, the track surface is not smooth. The track veers slightly to the left for about 5 minutes before reaching the South Crater. The South Crater is where the American's filmed the moon landing - HA!
To continue on the Crossing follow the marked route. If Mount Ngauruhoe is clear and you have a good weather day with plenty of time, you can make the decision to climb to the summit. Head for the old lava flow as the route is very difficult if you try to climb up the scree.
South Crater to Red Crater(Grade: Moderate to Difficult - 1 hr)
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing track continues along a poled route across South Crater to a ridge leading up Red Crater from where you can get your first views of the summit of Mount Tongariro (note there is a false summit on the ridge and the cairn is not the highpoint). Here too, you can smell the sulphur, evidence that Red Crater is still active.
It is great to be on the flat, but once you have crossed South Crater there is another short climb on an exposed ridge. The track follows the ridge to Red Crater and again if you have time, you can make the decision to summit Mount Tongariro. Just before reaching the crater, the summit route heads off to the left. The main track continues around Red Crater where you will have spectacular views over the Oturere Valley, Rangipo Desert, Kaimanawa Ranges and down to the Emerale lakes. Note the descent can be a little scary on a windy day.
Red Crater to Blue Lake(Grade: Moderate – ½ hr)
From the summit of Red Crater (1,886 metres), the highest point on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, the track descends down to three water filled explosion craters called the Emerald Lakes. Their brilliant greenish colour is caused by minerals which have leached from the adjoining thermal area. Be careful on the descent as the track has lots of loose stones and gravel on the surface.
Care is required with the descent from Red Crater, as this part of the track is steep and you are on loose scoria which can move under foot. To the left you will see an old lava flow from Red Crater spreading out across the floor of central crater. To the right are the Emerald Lakes. The colour is caused by minerals leached from the surrounding rock. The steam vents above the lake are responsible for the sulphurous smell. You will notice the Track to Otureree Hut, part of the Tongariro Northern Circuit, branches off just past the lowest lake. The Tongariro Crossing track follows around the edge of Central Crater then climbs up to Blue Lake (A cold acidic lake). The lake is tapu (sacred) and it is disrespectful to eat or drink around its shores.
Blue Lake to Ketetahi Hut(Grade: Moderate - 1 hr)
The Tongariro Northern Circuit track to Oturere Hut branches off to the right at the lowest lake, while the Tongariro Alpine Crossing continues over Central Crater to Blue Lake. From Blue Lake the track skirts around the flanks of North Crater, descending to Ketetahi Hut.
A short easy climb to the edge of North Crater, this was once filled with molten lava and then cooled and solidfied to give an level surface more than 1000m wide. There are spectacular views out over Mount Pihanga and Lake Rotoaira to Lake Taupo (see photo). You then zigzag your way down to the Ketetehai Hut.
Ketetahi Hut to Ketetahi Car Park(Grade: Moderate - 2 hrs)
The Ketetahi Springs are on private land. Trekking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing does not convey any right of access to the springs. The Ketetahi Trust, representing the landowners, has given permission for trekkers to cross part of their land but this does not include access to Ketetahi Springs. Please respect this restraint and follow the poled route. Below Ketetahi Hut the track continues down through tussock slopes to the forest bushline. The cool podocarp-hardwood forest provides a final contrast on the long descent to the end of the road. At two points the track passes over the tongue of a lava flow from Te Maari Crater and for a distance, travels alongside a stream polluted with minerals from Ketetahi Springs.
Summit Side Trips on the Tongariro CrossingMount Ngauruhoe - 2,287m - allow 1-2 hours up and ½ hour down (from the saddle)
For the fit and enthusiastic, Mount Ngauruhoe can be climbed as a three-hour return side trip from the South Crater. A poled route leads off the main track to the base of Ngauruhoe and from here the route follows a rock ridge directly uphill toward the summit. This route is not marked. If you want to climb Mt Ngauruhoe and complete the Crossing in one day - ensure you allow plenty of time as this is a strenuous side trip. Look for the old lava flow or the rocky ridge to the left of the scree slopes. Then pick your own route up. The summit area can be dangerous and should be avoided if there are any signs of volcanic activity. The descent can be made relatively quickly but it is easy to lose control on the free-flowing scree.
Mount Tongariro - 1,967m - allow 2 hours roundtrip
From the top of Red Crater, a side trip can be taken along a poled route leading to the summit of Mount Tongariro as it follows a ridge that can be cold and exposed in poor conditions, so make sure you have time and good weather in order to enjoy this side trip.
External Links, Sources, and Additional InformationDOC Brochure: http://www.doc.govt.nz/upload/documents/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/tongariro-taupo/tac-web-brochure-2010.pdf
DOC Factsheet: http://www.doc.govt.nz/upload/documents/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/tongariro-taupo/tongariro-alpine-crossing-factsheet.pdf
Guides – Adrift Outdoor Adventures – http://www.adriftnz.co.nz/walks.htm#alpinecrossing
Guides – Tongaririo Expeditions - http://www.thetongarirocrossing.co.nz/tongariro.htm