What you need to know about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is undoubtedly one of the most popular attractions in our region. Tens of thousands of people hike it every year and it is deservedly rated as one of the best day hikes not just in New Zealand, but in the world.

But it is also a very challenging and, at times, dangerous hike - literally taking you over and across an active volcano and through mountainous terrain in an alpine environment where weather conditions can change rapidly any time of the year.

To ensure you are well-prepared and know what to expect before you go, we've collected these answers to some of the most common questions our guests ask us about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing:

How difficult is hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?

With a distance of 19.4 km or 12 miles, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing requires a moderate to good level of fitness and a fair amount of preparation to enjoy safely. So be prepared for a long and challenging day out. It features two steep climbs with an overall change in elevation of about 1196 m or 3923 ft, with the highest - the Red Crater at 1868 m / 6128 ft above sea level. However, the climbs are not the only tough part of the hike - you need endurance too to cover the distance - especially the last half, which is mostly downhill to 760 m/2493 ft above sea level. You will need to be able to walk for 6 to 8 hours to complete the hike. Since the Tongariro Alpine Crossing travels across and over an active volcano, the terrain can also be challenging - particularly descending the steep slope covered in loose scoria from the Red Crater to the Emerald Lakes. The alpine environment can also add to the difficulty as strong winds, rain and cold weather can suddenly roll in, so be prepared to turn around.

How long does it take to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?

This depends on your level of fitness, but most people complete the hike within 6 to 8 hours. However, it is not a race - take your time and enjoy the scenery! Go slow when the terrain is tricky and make time to rest to reduce the risk of injury due to fatigue.

When does the Tongariro Alpine Crossing open?

Technically, Tongariro Alpine Crossing is open year-round. However, unless you have the right skills, experience and equipment, it is only safe to hike unguided from November to April - depending on the weather. Poor weather can cause dangerous conditions on the track any time of the time which will result in shuttle services being cancelled. Winter conditions exist on the hike from May to October with the track covered in snow and ice, along with increased risks of avalanches and sub-zero temperatures. You need special skills, preparation and equipment to complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing at this time, or go with an experienced guide. For the latest alert on the track restriction check this website: https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/central-north-island/places/tongariro-national-park/things-to-do/tracks/tongariro-alpine-crossing/

Can I park at the trail start or end?

Parking at either end of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is restricted to four hours during the summer season (November to April), which is not long enough to complete the hike and return to your vehicle. The best way to travel to and from the hike is to book a return shuttle.

Can I book a Tongariro Alpine Crossing shuttle with Tongariro Crossing Lodge?

Yes! Tongariro Crossing Lodge works with local shuttle operators to provide transport to and from the Tongariro Alpine Crossing for our guests. Depending on the service you choose, the shuttle will collect you from the lodge or from a departure point a short walk from the lodge. The shuttle fares can be charged to your account with us, so there's no need to pay on the bus.

How much does the Tongariro Alpine Crossing shuttle cost?

The rate for the 2022/25 hiking season is $50/person for the return trip.

How far in advance do I need book a shuttle?

You can book your Tongariro Alpine Crossing shuttle with us the day before the hike. There is no need to book far in advance - expect for special days such as Christmas Day, New Year's Day and at Easter. You can also book the shuttle directly with us when you book your accommadation.

What times do the shuttle leave and return?

Shuttles run from as early as 5.45 up to 9.30am, during peak seasons. We recommend you start early to ensure you leave enough daylight hours to reach the end, but pack a headtorch just in case. Return shuttles depart regularly during the afternoon until 6pm. There is no need to book a return time - just hop onto the next departing shuttle.

What should I wear/pack?

Wear sturdy footwear such as hiking boots; warm, layered clothing (a thermal and fleece); a waterproof/windproof jacket (even on a sunny day as the weather can change very suddenly); and hiking pants (avoid cotton, especially denim jeans). Waterproof pants are useful if rain is the forecast.  Also bring a hat, gloves, sunscreen, mobile phone, torch, spare batteries and toilet paper. Plus, plenty of drinking water and food/snacks.

Is there water on the track?

No. You need to take all your own water with you. It is recommended you take at least 2 litres (67.6 oz) of water per person - or more on a hot summer's day. You can fill reusable water bottles at our lodge as the tap water is safe to drink. 

Are there toilets along the track?

Yes - there are toilets about every 1 to 2 hours along the track. But take your own hand sanitiser and toilet paper.

Are there rubbish bins along the track?

No - since the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is within the Tongariro National Park, you need to carry out all of your rubbish, including organic waste like fruit peels and cores. Pack accordingly.

Is there any food along the way?

No - you need take all the food you'll need with you. We can provide you with a delicious and energy-filled packed lunch for just $15/person.

Do you offer a packed lunch for the hike?

Yes, we offer an energy filled and tasty packed lunch for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing at Tongariro Crossing Lodge. Our lunch included a scrumptious sandwich with a choice of meaty, vegetarian or vegan fillings, as well as a nut bar, dried fruit and nut mix, fresh fruit and a chocolate bar, plus water if needed - ideally, we ask that you take your own refillable water bottles to reduce waste. Plus, our tap water is not just drinkable, it's fresh and tasty.

Can you do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in winter?

You can complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in winter - from May to October. But only if you are prepared for an extreme alpine environment and extreme weather such as severe wind and snow. You need to be experienced in hiking in winter alpine conditions and have the right gear including crampons and an ice axe. The safest option is to go with an experienced guide to guide you in winter. We are more than happy to help you book a trip with a trusted local guiding company - just get in touch and we will provide you with all the details. 

Where can I find a weather report for the hike?

Visit www.metservice.com/mountain/tongariro-national-park before you make the decision to go on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. If the forecast is for winds 60 km/h or more, the trip is not recommended. Also, if the forecast is for rain or snow, you must be appropriately dressed for the conditions and have sufficient food, water, equipment and even shelter in case you are caught out up there.

How do I reach the lakes? Can I drive there?

The Emerald Lakes are about halfway along the hike - 9 km / 5.6 miles from the start at Mangatepōpō and the Blue Lake another 1.5 km / 0.9 miles further along. So, the only way to reach the lakes is to walk to them.