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Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Named a Dual World Heritage Site, The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a 19.4 km volcanic terrain day hike and is thee most popular hike in New Zealand with over 100,000 visitors each year.

How to get to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing:

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing located in Tongariro National Park. You can drive there but parking is limited to 4 hours and as the hike starts and ends in different locations, I highly advise you look to use a shuttle service to complete the hike. We used Tongariro Expeditions which picked us up at 5.30am in Taupo and returned us for 4.30pm.

Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing:

October to April is the best time to hike. Outside this season the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is covered with ice and snow and is deemed extremely dangerous. We completed this hike on 21 March 2020 – days before the nationwide lockdown! #Covid-19

The average temperatures during the season are 5-12 degrees, so pack accordingly with lots of layers. There is also no water along the crossing, so take at least 3L per person.

Toilets are located every 1.5 hours along the track. I would suggest you bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer as there are none to be found on the hike.

The average hiker takes 6-8 hours to complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It took use 5.5 hours from start to finish. We started at 7am on the dot completing 30,000 steps by the end of the 19.4km hike.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing starts on tussock ground and soon heads onto boardwalk. The start of the hike is relatively flat and easy going and is the most sheltered part of the hike. Please ensure you keep to the track to protect the fragile environment.

Once you get to the end of boardwalk the hiking difficulty increases and you will start to climb the Devils Staircase. You will climb 300m in 2kms, so prepare for some leg and lung burn. There are places you can pull over for a short rest if need be.

At the top of staircase, you will be provided with stunning panoramic views over the volcanic terrain. This is the South Crater and the saddle between Mount Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. On a clear day you can even see as far as Mount Taranaki.

Once you walk through the saddle you will start the climb to the red crater. This proceeds up a steep ridge line. There are chains to assist in the steepest areas. The Red Crater is the highest point of the climb. Make sure to stop and take it all in. It is a Dual World Heritage Site after all.

From the top of the Red Crater you will start the descend to Emerald Lakes. This is where you are meet with lots of scree. This is a ‘dangerous’ part of the hike with majority of injuries occurring in this area. The Emerald Lakes are something magnificent to admire along your descend. Make sure you do not touch the lake or throw things in it. It is sacred.

The hike then gets relatively easy and flat for a while as you cross the Central Crater before climbing again up to the Blue Lake.

From here you start the descend. But don’t be fooled – you are still a good 8 kms from the end!

The descend starts on rough terrain and winds around tussock slopes before heading into the forest. It is quite a long stretch to the end and the legs will be feeling it. Stay in the moment and keep enjoying the hike as before you know it the Tongariro Alpine Crossing will be ticked off your bucket list.

At the end you will be meet with a nice grass patch and a bit of shade to sit and relax whilst you wait for the shuttle. There are toilets located at the end of the hike as well.  

This was the second time I completed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The first time was back in 2014 and I had blue bird skies. Second time around was cloudier however, I was by far much fitter this time round.

If you have considered this day walk but haven’t completed it yet, then get going. It is well worth the 30,000-step count. Make sure you check the forecast before heading out.

Good luck and enjoy.

Much love,
Sez x

P.S. – you can always check out my Instagram page or Facebook. I post regularly on Instagram.

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