Travels diaries

New-Zealand: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the most famous 1-day trek of New Zealand. Some people told me it’s also one of the most beautiful 1-day treks of the world. Thus, if you like hiking and you’re in the North Island, it’s impossible for you to miss it!

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The first question you wonder when you heard of this trek for the time: “Is it really the most beautiful trek of New Zealand?”. Well, I haven’t done all the trek in New Zealand, but the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is definitively one of the most beautiful treks I’ve done in this country. What I loved about it, is all the different sceneries I saw in one day: lakes, volcanoes, craters, plains, etc. I will describe everything further in this article. Anyhow, in one day, you will see and discover almost all type of landscapes you can have in the North Island.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is located in the Tongariro National Park and registered on the UNESCO world heritage since 1993. The park entrance is free. The three summits (Tongariro, Ngauruhoe et Ruapehu) are sacred for the Maoris. Thus, it is strictly forbidden to climb them. In the same time, it is also strictly forbidden to touch, to swim or just eat next to the lakes.

The trek is 19,4km long and you can hike it in 5h if you’re fast or 7h if you’re not used to hiking. There is also a high difference to consider: + 700m and – 1 200m if you leave from Mangatepopo. For those who decided to leave from Ketetahi, it’s the opposite: + 1 200m and -700m, and it may take one more hour to hike. You easily understand why people choose to leave from Mangatepopo: faster, “easier” and the sceneries are magnificent both sens.

Concerning the markings and the track, there are everywhere and visible. It’s impossible to get lost. The track is clear and for each intersection, signs indicate the track to follow. You can also easily check the distance and time left thanks to the signs. Each kilometer, there is another sign which indicates how many kilometers you’ve already walked too.

carte tongariro alpine crossing
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The preparation

The first thing to know about this trek is that it is not a loop. This means the departure point and the arrival point are different. Thus, you need a shuttle to bring you back to the departure point. If you don’t have a car, it’s also possible to have a shuttle from your accommodation. I choose this solution and a bus came to Taupo and brought me to the departure point (Mangatepopo) and drove me back to Taupo from my arrival point (Ketetahi).

The second important information to know is to bring all the water and the food for the trek. At the departure or arrival point or even during the trek, there is no shop to buy food or water. Moreover, the lakes are sacred for the Maoris. So, it’s strictly forbidden to drink this water (or even just to touch it). And even if you want to drink it, the water is toxic because of the mineral from the mountains.

The last important point is the weather. During my trek, it was very cold because it was cloudy. Then, when the sun gets out, I sweated a lot. After that, it started to be very windy. That’s why I advise you to take a wind jacket and a sweater against the wind and the cold. But, take sunscreen, a cap, and sunglasses to protect you from the sun too.

All the steps for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The advantage of this trek is that there are lots of things to see and the steps are short, between 15min and 1h. These are good reasons to have regular breaks while you admire the sceneries.

1. Mangatepopo – Soda Springs

Estimated time: 1h

Real-time: 1h

This first step is easy and flat. You will cross plains and start to see mountains more or less far. Soda Springs is a little waterfall, not really impressive but still very nice. If walking 600m more don’t affray you, you can walk (following the track) to get closer.

Tongariro Alpine crossing

2. Soda Springs – South Crater

Estimated time: 1h

Real-time: 40min

The climbing until the crater is named the Devil’s stairs. And quickly, you understand why. The climbing is long and the stairs seem endless. Yet, even if you don’t believe it anymore, after a while, you will reach the summit. Once you’re on the top, you will admire the sceneries from both sides: the valley where you come from and the crater you’re going to cross.

3. South Crater – Red Crater Ridge Base

Estimated time: 15min

Real-time: 15min

After this hard climbing, walking on flat ground is so easy. Just before the next climbing, on your right you can make a small detour, around 100m, to see the crater.

4. Base Red Crater Ridge – Red Crater Summit

Estimated time: 30min

Real-time: 25min

This is the last climbing of this trek. It is steep, and when the wind blows, it gets harder. However, half-way, there is a nice viewpoint where you can also rest. From there, you can admire the other side where you’re going, but also where you come from.

5. Red Crater Summit – Emerald Lakes

Estimated time: 15min

Real-time: 15min

This place is the perfect spot to eat lunch. From here, you have a very nice view of the three lakes. However be careful with the wind, it could blow strongly here. The descent is short but a bit difficult. The ground is soft and you have the feeling to walk on the sand. This is why the descent is hard and you might fall sometimes (like me!). Yet, the view is beautiful and getting closer to the lakes is a good motivation to go on.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

6. Emerald Lakes – Blue lake

Estimated time: 20min

Real-time: 15min

Now, this part is flat. You may feel like you can rest while you are walking. The walk is along the lake and allows you to enjoy the lake before you start to go down.

7. Blue Lake – Ketetahi Shelter

Estimated time: 1h

Real-time: 55min

The real descent starts here. This part is easy and offers a view of the valley. Quickly, you will see the shelter (Ketetahi Shelter). Once you’re there, enjoy this place to rest and admire the landscape one last time. However, don’t stay too long there, because there is still a long distance before the arrival point.

8. Ketetahi Shelter – Ketetahi Car Park

Estimated time: 2h

Real-time: 1h30

The last step is boring and long. The descent can be divided into two parts: the first on the mountainside in the sun, and the second part in the forest. I have to admit, the last moments were long and difficult. You are tired, you just want to reach the car park and you can’t see it. The only thing to do is to keep to go on. And suddenly, you reach the car park. At this moment, you are so proud of you: you did the crossing! You finished the Tongariro Alpine Crossing!

I hope this article gave you all the information and the motivation to do the trek. For me, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing will be one of the best moments in New Zealand. If you want to discover other places to see in Northern Island, I invite you to read my article about it.

And for those you did the trek, what memories do you keep?

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