Crossing Tongariro: Everything You Need to Know

One of the most iconic New Zealand walks is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. And for good reason.

If you’ve ever seen photos, you know its beauty is dramatic – and completing ‘The Crossing’ will immediately go to the top of your bucket list. However, Tongariro is notorious for its wild weather and overall difficulty for a day walk.

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It’s a full 7 to 8 hours of walking, but the scenery is so varied that you’ll never be bored. One minute you’ll be crossing a moonscape-like desert, and the next you’ll be climbing a rock face in a single file line – with the help of a chain! And after you’ve scuttled up, you’ll soon be shuffling and sliding down a steep black sand hill – barrelling towards the most vivid turquoise hot pools.

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Before anything else, here are some stunning photos of the track’s highlights:

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Here are my top tips for planning!

  • Plan around the weather: If you have any flexibility in your New Zealand trip itinerary (or if you live here!), wait to book your walk for a clear day. The weather can change quickly so you’re never guaranteed a perfect day, but better to have a clear forecast! This MetService forecast will be your best friend – check it often the week of your trip. Even in the summer, it will be chilly in the morning due to the elevation, so pack layers and rain gear. DOC has seasonal restrictions, so be sure to check their site.
  • You must book a shuttle! You can’t drive to the start of the trail. It’s a one way walk, so you’ll have to book a shuttle at least one way. You can park at the end of the trail in the morning, and take a shuttle to the start – so your car will be waiting for you. But really, it’s just as easy to book from National Park or even Taupo. It just depends on your plans after the hike. We booked with Tongariro Expeditions, from Base Camp. Once you book, they advise you to call the day prior (before 4pm) to confirm the pick up time based on the weather forecast. Pro tip: book accommodation with a hot tub!
  • Expect crowds: Up to 2,000 people walk the Crossing on a good day. It will be crowded, and you will have other people in the background of your photos. It’s just part of the experience. Plan for mid-week if possible.
  • Pack a bag of tricks: Take everything you need to survive a whole day of walking – including plenty of water, snacks and lunch. Plus, bring a rubbish bag so you can bring all your trash out of the park with you. There are toilets along the walk, but TP and hand sanitizer would be wise. Again, layers and rain gear are a must. I changed from hiking boots to running shoes before the long descent at the end of the hike – my toes needed a break from jamming against the front of my boots.

Even as a “keen tramper” (as they say here), I did find the Crossing challenging. However, I think it’s mostly because it’s a long day. There were some steep climbs and some even more treacherous downhill portions. Anyone who has hiked with me before would know that loose footing on steep descents is one of my biggest fears!

All in all, it was an incredible experience. We got so lucky with the weather, and felt super accomplished at the end. Very rewarding!

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