Mountain Top Goat

How To Master Tongariro Crossing, NZ’s Best 1-day Hike

by Mountain Top Goat

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the best 1-day hike in New Zealand and is among the top 10 best single-day treks globally.

It’s a 19,4km (12 miles) hike, estimated to take anywhere between 6-8 hours. Depending on your degree of fitness and, of course, your speed. Also, my advice for the ones with a good level of fitness is – don’t rush to finish the trek as fast as possible.

Give yourself time to take pictures and enjoy the scenery of Tongariro National Park, especially from the highest point of the hike. The views are just fantastic.

tongariro alpine crossing starting point
Tongariro Alpine Crossing starting point – let’s do this!

Tongariro Alpine Crossing – My Experience

Mangatepopo Parking Lot – Soda Springs (1-1,5 hours)

The shuttle bus picked me up early in the morning and transported me to the Mangatepopo parking area, where the hike began. At 8 am, I was ready to roll.

We received some safety instructions from the bus driver during the bus ride. I also got a paper form to fill out with personal info and my planned hike. The paper form is to check if all the hikers arrived at the endpoint of Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The final bus leaves at 5:30 p.m., and if somebody’s not on it, they’ll organize the search.

The first section of the route is a gentle stroll over boardwalks and wooden stairs that follow the Mangatepopo creek as it runs down the valley. Moreover, a great view of the alpine mountains and the impressive Mount Ngauruhoe towers up on my right. Amazing!

For those who aren’t familiar with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Mt. Ngauruhoe is the famous Mt. Doom.

Here you can get the first impression of the lava flows and the volcanic landscape that awaits. It takes 1-1,5 hours to reach the Soda Springs.

The notorious “Stop! Consider turning back” sign is behind Soda Springs. Questioning: Are you prepared to continue?! Do you have the necessary equipment?! Are you in good enough shape? You should consider turning around if you’ve answered NO to any of these questions. Well, that’s what the sign says, and I was confident that I had my three yeses!

A wooden path with Mount Ngauruhoe in the background
A wooden path with Mount Ngauruhoe in the background
soda springs on tongariro alpine crossing
Soda Springs and first break-time

Soda Spring – Devil’s Starcase – South Crater (1 hour)

Three times YES, and then it finally hit me. The “consider turning back” sign was at the right spot… When I looked up, I could see a very steep 2km part of the hike, with a 200m elevation gain that has to be overcome, called “the Devil’s Staircase.” To me, it looked more like 2000m at that point. In other words, the climb does live up to its name.

After an hour of torture, it is now only a short way to the South Crater, a large plateau surrounded by mountain slopes.

Devil’s Staircase

South Crater – Red Crater (1 hour)

When I started to think that I could finally stretch my calves and relax again, the most challenging part of the trek came—the short but strenuous ascent from the South Crater to the Red Crater of Mount Tongariro.

And then I was finally up! The ridge of the Red Crater is the highest point of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing at 1886 meters (6187 feet). Hallelujah!

From this point, you can enjoy spectacular views out over the Rangipo Desert, Oturere Valley, Kaimanawa Ranges, and the majestic Emerald Lakes.

It is also the first time that you can smell active volcanic terrain. The Sulphur smell is pretty intense here.

Red Crater

Red Crater – Emerald Lakes (10min)

The path goes down steeply over gravel, consisting of ash and sand leading to the Emerald Lakes. It takes about 10min. However, please walk with caution, and try not to run down. I’ve seen quite a few landing on their bottoms here.

Blue turquoise lakes are the perfect spot for a short break. After I regained some energy and made some nice shots, it was time to continue—10 km (6.2miles) more to go.

The Emerald Lakes

Emerald Lakes – Blue Lake (15min)

From now on, the track is relatively flat. I continued to walk from the lakes through the Center Crater. I passed a large black lava field on my left, showing traces of volcanic eruption.

After that, a short ascent, and I found myself looking and the largest of the crater lakes on Tongariro Alpine Crossing called the Blue Lake.

Blue Lake, or Lake Tapu (Sacred), as Maori call it, is the holiest of lakes, and touching, entering, eating, or drinking on its shores is considered disrespectful.

The Blue Lake

Blue Lake – Katetahi Shelter (1 hour)

Last but very short climb to North Crater, from which the path leads down the mountain in long, wide serpentines to Katetehi Shelter. It takes about an hour to walk—an ideal place for one final break.

Katetahi Shelter – Katetahi Parking Lot (1,5 – 2 hours)

The last section of the hike goes further down the mountain along grass-covered slopes. Finally, I reached the forest and left the alpine terrain and active volcanic danger zone of Tongariro Alpine Crossing behind me.

After the last 2km (1.2miles) of hiking between the trees, finally, I found myself at the Katetahi parking lot. It was 2:10 pm, which means it took me a bit over 6 hours to complete the hike.

Important Tips For Hiking The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

  • Before you head out, double-check the conditions of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
  • If you are planning to go alone, let someone know your plans before you go.
  • Bring enough water with you, at least 2-3L. You won’t be able to get water along the trek.
  • Make yourself some lunch, and bring some snacks, because it’s going to be a pretty long day.
  • Pack clothes for warm and cold weather. Weather in New Zealand can rapidly change. Therefore from T-Shirt to long sleeve shirts to a hard-shell jacket, pack it all.
  • Wear sun cream and sun hat. Bring gloves (even in summer), it can get pretty chilly high up.
  • Take some toilet paper, there are toilets at the beginning at the end of the hike and 4 along the trek. At Soda Spring, South Crater, just after Blue Lake and just before Katetahi Shelter.
  • Bring hand sanitizer and a disposal bag, where you’ll put all of your trash in.
  • Take some kind of map with you, especially if you are going alone. Although the trek is pretty clearly marked, and you can take side trips along the way, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing walking times
Tongariro Alpine Crossing walking times

Transport For Tongariro Alpine Crossing And Where To Book One

You will have to arrange your transport. Since it is not a circuit trail, the starting and ending point of Tongariro Alpine Crossing are at two different places.

You can arrange transport through Tongariro Crossing Shuttles – Tongariro Alpine Crossing Shuttle Service, Tongariro Crossing Shuttle | Tongariro Expeditions, Tongariro Crossing – Your Starting Point To Your Alpine Crossing.

Starting Point/s Of Tongariro Alpine Crossing

As I previously stated, this is not a circuit hike so you can begin either way. The Kathetahi parking lot is on the northwest end, starting at 760m (2493 feet). It is favorable to begin at Mangatepopo Car Park on the southwest end (1120 meters/3674 feet).

Tongariro Alpine Crossing map
Tongariro Alpine Crossing map

Difficulty Of The Hike

While it is challenging, you don’t have to be a professional hiker to complete the hike. However, you have to walk for 6-8 hours, with a backpack on your back, so keep that in mind. The experience is different for everyone, but one thing is sure, the better prepared you are, the better time you will have.

Thumbs up! Tongariro Alpine Crossing finished with the smile

Best Season for Hiking The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

All year round! You can hike the trail in summer when it’s the busiest but with the most stable weather conditions, or in winter when the world-famous walk is wearing its winter coat. However, it would be best to prepare for an extreme alpine environment. It can be a spectacular experience but do organize an expert mountain guide.

Have fun!

Check out my other one-day hike in New Zealand here, and write me a comment if you’ve done Tongariro Alpine Crossing; how was your experience?!

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