The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the best one day hikes, if not THE BEST one day hike, in all of New Zealand! It is an absolute must do on your tour of New Zealand. From Mount Ngauruhoe to the Emerald Lakes, and all the way to the Ketetahi carpark where you’ll finish this beautiful hike. You will see incredibly unique landscapes, beautiful blue and green lakes, volcanoes, mountains and have conquered a challenging hike! The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a 1 way track so there is some essential planning that needs to be done before you hit the trail. We will go over everything you need to know to have an awesome and enjoyable trek. Also, we will go over everything you’ll need for your Tongariro Crossing packing list, plus some additional helpful information!
Tongariro Alping Crossing Stats
- Distance – 19.4 km hike (about 12 miles)
- Time – 6 to 8 hours
- Elevation Gain – 736 meters
- Elevation Loss – 1,236 meters
- Trek start is at 1,150 meters elevation
- Highest point on trek is at 1,886 meters
- Trek end is at 650 meters
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is usually done in one way, beginning at Mangatepopo and ending at the Ketetahi carpark. Doing the trek in the other direction will add an additional 500 meters in elevation gain to your trek.
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Tongariro Crossing Shuttle
Since this is a long point-to-point one way hike, you are going to want to get a one way shuttle. It’ll work like this: you park your car at the end of the hike at the Ketetahi carpark, where you will catch a shuttle to the beginning at Mangatepopo. Then you’ll be able to hike as fast or slow as you’d like to, taking time to enjoy the full spread of the Tongariro crossing hike. Then at the end of the day, you’ll be right at your car/van at the Ketetahi carpark and you’ll be on your way!
If you don’t have access to a car, many shuttle companies provide round trip services as well. We found round trip shuttles from the Taupo area, Turangi area and even local hotels/hostels all around the Tongariro area! There are many different tour companies that offer both round-trip and one-way shuttle services.
We used Tongariro Expeditions because it was the cheapest option we could find and we liked the early morning time options they had. We wanted to begin the hike early to try to beat the crowds and beat the heat (we hiked the Tongariro crossing in the NZ Summer). Also, we wanted to guarantee we could get a parking spot at the end of the trek, however there were many spots available along the road throughout the morning.
Here are a few companies that provide Tongariro crossing shuttles. Shuttles are running a majority of the day so you can find a time that works best for you. Remember it will take you 6-8 hours to complete the hike.
To save money, we took advantage of a little loophole. Julie dropped Zach off at the start of the trek, drove to the end of the trek and then took the shuttle to the start of the hike to meet back up with Zach. This way we only needed to pay for one shuttle. $35 for a one way shuttle is not cheap when you are travelling on a very tight budget like we were, so we had to do it!
Parking at Ketetahi Carpark
If you are driving your own car to the hike you will need to know where to park. Like we mentioned earlier, we recommend parking at the end of the trek to complete this hike. At the end of the trek there is plenty of free parking space on the road or you can pay $15 to park in a parking lot.
If you do park here at the Ketetahi carpark, this will add an additional 1,500 meter flat walk from the end of the hike to your car, or some shuttle services will offer to pick you up at the end of the hike and shuttle you to the road.
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Unfortunately all parking at the start of the trek has a 4 hour limit, which isn’t an option if you plan on hiking the whole trail, unless you are Flash Gordon. This time limit also really eliminated the previously popular option to do the trek with someone you know and park one car at the start and one car at the end. That way you could be each other’s shuttle service, however that was shut down with the 4 hour parking limits. Therefore, a shuttle is your best option!
Tongariro Crossing Packing List
Since the Tongariro Crossing hike will take a good portion of your day, we recommend you pack the following items to be prepared for an awesome adventure.
- Lunch – We brought sandwiches, fruit, granola bars, and trail mix.
- Water – There are no water fill up stations on the hike so make sure you have enough with you. At least 2 liters per person! There are no places to safely fill your bottle along the hike.
- Sweatshirt or jacket – If you begin early in the morning it will be chilly out. Also near the top of the hike it gets cooler and very windy. Always check the weather before you begin the hike and make sure you have the appropriate clothing on or packed.
- Sunscreen – Apply and reapply in that scorching New Zealand sun!
- Toilet Paper – There are toilet stations a few places along the hike, however never trust a toilet on a trail to have toilet paper. Carry some with you just in case.
- Camera – There are TONS of awesome photo opportunities on the Tongariro Crossing, bring along a camera to capture them!
Tongariro Trek Rules
It is best to follow the posted rules along the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Here is a summary of all the rules you need to know.
- The summit of Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro are considered sacred. Please keep to the main track and do not touch the top of these sacred areas.
- The pristine mountain lakes are also sacred. Same rule applies about touching the water! This includes washing hands and paddling feet.
- Take your rubbish with you! What you take in you MUST take out with you! We found the trail to be extremely clean. Let’s keep it that way.
- Drones are not allowed.
- Please don’t shit behind the rocks – no kidding! That was word-for-word in a track information pamphlet we received from our shuttle company. We laughed out loud over it!
The Tongariro Crossing Hike
The track has 8 sections for you to conquer. Some are easier than others but we are here to properly prepare you for each section so you know what to expect along your hike!
Mangatepopo to Soda Springs
The shuttle will drop you off at the Mangatepopo starting point where you will begin the hike at 1150 meters elevation. This part of the hike will take you roughly 1 hour. It is a very easy, flat walk along a boardwalk where you can enjoy a magnificent view of Mt Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings) in the background. There are bathrooms at the start, middle and end of this section on the track.
After a bit of walking you’ll reach a fork in the road, where you have the option of taking a very quick 300 meter detour to see Soda Springs up close. The Soda Springs waterfall is very pretty, and in our opinion worth the short detour. However, you also have the option to stay on the main track and enjoy the view from afar. We recommend taking the detour. It’s very short and easy and the waterfall is beautiful up close.
Soda Springs to South Crater
Here is when you will begin your ascent. This section of the track will take you about 1 hour and you will climb 510 meters. This section is also known as the Devil’s Staircase and we know exactly how it got its name. It starts by going up a few sections of stairs and you’ll be thinking to yourself ‘oh that wasn’t too bad’. Unfortunately, it does get harder. The stairs seem to go on for quite some time with a few false summits along the way.
YOU CAN DO IT! Take your time, and take plenty of breaks during this section. You still have a majority of the hike in front of you. Once you finish, you’ll look back on this section and be proud at your accomplishment! When you get to the top you are at the entry to the South Crater.
Also near the start of this section is your last chance to use the bathroom for a while. Take advantage!
South Crater to Base of Red Crater Ridge
YAY you’ve made it through the Devil’s Staircase and now you can enjoy a 15 minute easy flat walk from the South Crater to the base of the Red Crater Ridge. Enjoy the scenery here. It is extremely unique and beautiful!
Here is also your last chance to turn around for any reason. If you are feeling cold, extremely tired, out of water, physically feel like you can’t go on, or are stuck in bad weather, turn around now! Don’t risk it!
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The shuttle companies are very understanding about turnarounds and will provide you with a number to call if you need to turn around for any reason! If you turn around they will pick you up at the start and take you back to the end. Your safety is the biggest priority here!
Red Crater Summit
It’s time for the difficult ascent and the steepest ascent of the track! Take caution as you put one foot in front of the other because this section of track is steep and has a big drop off on either side. It can also get rather windy during this section.
Make sure to stick to the track and don’t wander too close to the edge of the crater. Going from the Red Crater Ridge to the Red Crater Summit will take you about 30 minutes and will bring you to the highest point along the track. That’s great news because once you get to the top, it’s all down hill from there!
You will climb 226 steep meters on loose rocks, making this section the most difficult part of the entire track in our opinion. Every step you take forward, it seems you slide 1/2 a step back down. But it is only a short section and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Once you hit the top you are rewarded the most amazing view on the whole track!!
At the summit you get your first glimpse of the Emerald Lakes and Blue Lake. Sit here for awhile and enjoy the view! You deserve it.
Red Crater Summit to Emerald Lakes
At the top of the Red Crater you are at the summit of the main track. This is a great place to stop and have your lunch before continuing. Now it is time to begin your descent and this track doesn’t waste anytime!
This part of the trek is a very steep descent to the Emerald Lakes. It will only take you about 15 minutes but this part of the track is very steep and covered in loose rocks. You will basically be skiing down the mountain (it isn’t that bad…). If you have poles, they will definitely come in handy during this section, but if you don’t just take your time. You are more than likely to slip and fall on your butt a few times (we both did) so just take your time and stay safe.
At the bottom take some time walking around and exploring the Emerald Lakes. The color of these stunning alpine lakes is drop dead gorgeous!
Emerald Lakes to Blue Lake
On this section you’ll enjoy a 20 minute easy, flat walk from the Emerald Lakes to Blue Lake. Blue Lake, the third gorgeous lake on the track, will absolutely blow your mind! As inviting as the color may look, remember the water is sacred and not to be touched.
When you get to the bottom you will be inside the Central Crater. The walk is flat and easy with a mini climb at the end to Blue Lake.
Who doesn’t love camping?? Getting out into the great outdoors, enjoying Mother Nature’s beauty, it is the best! We love waking up with a cup of coffee after camping by the lake under the stars. Here is all the camping gear we use and love!
Blue Lake to Ketetahi Shelter
And now we continue our descent. This section will take you down to 1454 meters elevation, meaning you descend about 432 meters over about 1 hour of hiking. The track takes you through the Rotopaunga Valley down the North face of the Tongariro Crossing to the Ketetahi Shelter.
The views on the way down are incredible and seem to go on forever. There will be 2 chances to use a bathroom during this section of the hike. Again, take advantage when you have a bathroom. Don’t shit behind the rocks!
Ketetahi Shelter to The End at Ketetahi Carpark
The grand finale! The last part of your descent is quite long and will take you about 2 hours. The last section of the hike takes you through the wild New Zealand bush and across a river. Unfortunately there really isn’t too much to see in this section, other than the beautiful forest and enormous ferns.
Soon enough you will get to the end and your vehicle will be waiting for you! If you are like us and are camping in a campervan across New Zealand, then you can enjoy a nice nap right in your campervan as soon as you finish.
There you have it. We hope our Tongairiro Alpine Crossing Track guide has helped you prepare for your trek of this beautiful place. This hike was one of our favorite hikes we have ever done, and we hope you love it as much as we did!
If you have any questions or comments we’d love to hear from you in the comments below. If you enjoyed this blog and found it helpful, please use the below images to Pin It and save it for later!
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