Tongariro Alpine Crossing Hiking Trail
Hike across a volcanic alpine landscape of dramatic contrasts
- Destination: Tongariro National Park
- Season: October-April
- Difficulty: Demanding
- Distance: 19.5 kilometers (point‑to‑point)
- Elevation Gain: 950 meters
- Duration: 7-8 hours
About Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Tongariro Alpine Crossing takes you through a stunning volcanic alpine landscape with steaming vents, alpine vegetation, and vivid crater lakes. This trail is New Zealand's most famous and iconic hike.
The trail goes through Tongariro National Park which is the oldest national park on New Zealand and the sixth national park established in the world. It has been acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it was first in the world to receive the cultural World Heritage status, in 1993.
The trail takes you through an area of the two active volcanoes Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, where the former had an eruption as late as in 2012.
You will find this trail on the North Island of New Zealand in Tongariro National Park. The trailhead is located at the end of Mangatepōpō Road. From National Park (the town) drive 13 kilometers north along State Highway 47 and take a right onto Mangatepōpō Road. From Turangi it is a 37-kilometer drive to the start of Mangatepōpō Road. At the end of Mangatepōpō Road, you will find the Mangatepōpō carpark where the trail starts.
Alternatively, you can also hike the trail the other way and park your car at Ketetahi carpark along State Highway 46 on the north side of the mountain. Mangatepopo carpark sits at a higher elevation than Ketetahi carpark so it is usually recommended to start at Mangatepōpō to eliminate about 200 meters of climbing.
There is a 15 kilometers drive between the two carparks so you probably want to plan for a way to get back to your car. A budget-friendly option is to exchange your keys with other hikers on the trail. Make agreements with friends or other hikers to hike the trail in the opposite direction. You can switch the car keys on a meeting point along the trail and meet each other again after the hike and switch cars.
In the Great Walks season ( October to April ) there is limited parking and there will be parking restrictions. There is a max limit of 4 hours parking in the carparks during the Great Walks season so a shuttle service is definitely recommended.
By shuttle service
There are several shuttle services from Taupo, Ohakune, Raetihi, Turangi, Taumarunui, National Park (the town) and from Whakapapa Village which will take you to either of the two carparks.
The best hiking direction is to start at Mangatepōpō carpark and end up at the Ketetahi carpark.
Starting at 1120 meters above sea level you will climb the Mangatepōpō Valley and up to the saddle between Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro. The hike continues to climb up to the highest point of the trail at 1886 meters above sea level by Red Crater. The view up here is amazing, the Red Crater and Mount Ngauruhoe on the right-hand side and the Emerald Lakes on the left-hand side. The steaming vents let you know you are in a volcanic area.
After staying flat for a little while the trail descends throug volcanic rock and sand down to the Emerald Lakes. Just after the lake, you reach another flat area before you head up the small hill to the Blue Lake. The area around Blue Lake is perfect for a break and some relaxation.
After the Blue Lake, the trail takes you to the northern slope of Tongariro and descends down the zigzag trail to the Ketetahi carpark at 760 meters above sea level.
The trail is very well marked. Some parts of the trail can be rough and steep and may be muddy and slippery. The weather can make this trip really hard, even in the Great Walks season ( October to April ). Be prepared to spend the entire day when hiking this trail.
If you want to do a shorter alternative then a good tip is to hike the trail up from Mangatepōpō Road and up to the Blue Lake and return the same way back to your car.
- During the Great Walks season ( October to April ) it can be very busy on the trail so start as early as possible (just before the sun comes up).
- The trail can also be walked in wintertime, but you will need additional gear like ice axe and crampons.
- Start on time, because it will be a long and challenging day.
- The weather can change quickly, even in summer hypothermia is a real risk.
- No dogs allowed on the trail.
- Hiking the trail does not require a permit.
- Make sure to bring enough water for the entire day as water along the trail is not suitable for drinking.
- There are toilets at the start and end of the trail. There are also public toilets every 1-2 hours along the trail.
- You will find shops in National Park ( the town), Turangi, Taupo and the Whakapapa Visitor Centre also sells hiking necessities.
Where to stay
There are many places to stay in surrounding towns. Hotels, hostels and campsites. Book on time, it can be very busy. There are also some free campsites, download the app Wikicamps New Zealand.
Questions or comments? Let us know.
By Nadja Kroon
World traveler originally from the Netherlands.