Tongariro Alpine Crossing {Tongariro National Park}

Tongariro Alpine Crossing {Tongariro National Park}

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

  • Distance – 19.4 km
  • Elevation – 1190 meters
  • Difficulty – Medium
  • LogisticsShuttle Required
  • Trailhead Location -Mangatepopo Car Park

Tongariro Alpine Crossing is touted as the best day hike in New Zealand. Whenever I read these sorts of things, my skepticism kicks in.  I hate spending my precious hiking time with too many people trying to see something that is just ok. But the pictures looked amazing, and so I put it on my list of things to do while in New Zealand celebrating my 40th birthday.

As you may know, I live in Alberta and am completely spoiled by having the Canadian Rockies in my backyard. Not only am I skeptical, but I am also hard to impress.

After doing the crossing, if you were to ask me if Tongariro Alpine Crossing is worth doing, the answer is, “Yes! A million times, YES!

This winter, we spent three weeks in New Zealand escaping the -45 Celcius Canadian winter and saw so many beautiful and amazing things. We put over 6,000 kilometres on our rental cars and did all the highlights and beautiful things that we could squeeze in.

  • Tongariro Crossing is firmly on my Top 10 List of things to do in New Zealand.

Put this hike on your hiking bucket list!


Due to a high volume of visitors, the park only allows you to park at either end of the trail for a maximum of 4 hours from October to April 30 – basically, the only times you will want to hike it due to snow and ice during the other times! Even if you are there with someone else who has a car, you won’t be able to do the crossing in time to get back to your car and move it within the four hour time restriction.

The hike is a crossing, so a shuttle is required. We took Tongariro Crossing Shuttle and found them very easy to use. You can book in advance online and can change your date if you need to based on the weather or your travel schedule. With five departure times in the morning, you are sure to be able to get on the hike without difficulty. When you are done the hike, you relax at the parking lot until your shuttle company arrives and drives you 25 minutes back to where your car is in the Tongariro National Park town.

The hike.

The first few kilometres are a slow incline through a volcanic valley with Mount Ngauruhoe, aka Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings, on your right and Mount Tongariro on your left.

Soda Springs
Just past Soda Springs, looking back towards the start of the hike. The foot of Mount Ngauruhoe is on the left.

South Crater is your first summit. It is worth taking the time to take pictures and enjoy the few kilometres of flat before you have to ascend again.

Tongariro volcanic valleys
The volcanic valleys demand your attention.
Mount Ngauruhoe
Me and Mount Doom!

The final climb lands you at Red Crater with amazing views of the most gorgeous volcanic valley I have ever seen.

The craters, tarns, and volcanic flows are stunning.

Take a million pictures here.

Red Crater Tongariro
Red Crater with Mount Ngauruhoe in the background.

The descent requires patience or a surefooted screeing down the extremely steep hillside.

Either way, stop to take pictures on the way down, the views keep changing and climbing back up to see them is a lot of work. I know, because I did it!

Tongariro Alpine Crossing
One of the most beautiful places I have ever been! But the descent from here is STEEP.

Once you reach the valley with the volcanic tarns, the hike flattens out for a few kilometres. Views of the other side of the volcanic valley are now behind you – don’t forget to turn around and take it in!

 Nga Rotopounamu
The last look of the tarns before heading down the backside of the mountain and through the trees.

A well-built trail takes you the remaining 8 km to the parking lot, but most of it is in the trees. If you are also a runner, this makes for a good run. Speedy and I jogged most of these kilometres through the trees and enjoyed the views and were glad to cut some time off our day as we spend hours at the top taking pictures. All of these kilometres are in the trees; after the amazing volcanic valley, the trees seem a slight letdown.

Within moments of us finishing the hike, our shuttle was there, and we were back on the road looking for our next Kiwi adventure.

As I said before, put the Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike on your list!

Some helpful links.

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