Trail Info


Trail type: Walking
Direction: One way

Walking Duration: 7 hrs - 8 hrs
Allow a full day for this trail
Distance: 19.4 km

Fitness: High
Walking Difficulty: Advanced
Gradient: Moderate

Dog Friendly: No

Things to know:
From the beginning of Labour weekend in October to 30 April parking restrictions (4 hr maximum) are in place at the road-ends - book a shuttle. Over winter, additional hazards are present: snow and ice, avalanche risk, and sub-zero temperatures.

Trek across a volcanic alpine landscape of dramatic contrasts – steaming vents, glacial valleys, ancient lava flows, alpine vegetation and vivid crater lakes, all with stunning views.

Tongariro National Park is a UNESCO dual World Heritage Area and was the first in the world to receive cultural World Heritage Status.

This challenging trip begins at 1120 m, climbs the Mangatepopo Valley to the saddle between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, through South Crater before climbing again to Red Crater, the highest point on the crossing at 1886 m.

You will then descend on a volcanic rock scree track to the vivid Emerald Lakes, known as Ngarotopounamu (greenstone-hued lakes). After passing Blue Lake, also known as Te Wai-whakaata-o-te-Rangihiroa (Rangihiroa’s mirror), the track sidles around the northern slope of Tongariro, then descends in a zigzag track past Ketetahi Shelter and down to the road end at 760 m. 

Be prepared for a long and challenging day out.

Nature and conservation

This is the perfect habitat for a variety of New Zealand’s native birds. Part of the shuttle fee of about $40 helps the Department of Conservation with conservation projects.

History and culture

All waterways including the lakes on Tongariro and his peaks Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu are sacred to local iwi, Ngati Hikairo ki Tongariro. Kaumatua Te Ngaehe Wanikau asks visitors to the area to respect the sanctity of the maunga tapu (sacred mountains) by not touching or entering any of the waterways including the alpine lakes. Ngati Hikairo ki Tongariro places extreme importance on their guardian role in protecting Tongariro and his peaks.

Ngatoroirangi, the founding ancestor of Ngati Tuwharetoa, the local iwi (Maori tribe), ascended the great mountains of the Central Plateau 30 generations ago. It was then that he named Tongariro and the many features of the surrounding landscape, declaring this area as home for his descendants. It is from these beginnings that Ngati Tuwharetoa maintains its intrinsic responsibility to protect the mountainous area to which they belong.

The generosity and foresight of Ngati Tuwharetoa saw the heart of the mountainous area made sacrosanct in 1887, with the intent that the Crown would stand alongside Ngati Tuwharetoa to ensure the continued protection of Tongariro. This led to the establishment of the Tongariro National Park in 1894, a first for New Zealand, and fourth in the world. 

In 1993, Tongariro became the first property to be inscribed on the World Heritage List under the revised criteria describing cultural landscapes. The mountains at the heart of the park have cultural and spiritual significance to Ngati Tuwharetoa and symbolise the spiritual links between this community and its environment. The park has active and extinct volcanoes, a diverse range of ecosystems and some remarkable landscapes. 

The continued occupation by Ngāti Tuwharetoa in this environment ensures the cultural, spiritual and environmental values are protected and shared with all those who encounter this dynamic landscape.

How to get there

This challenging trip begins at 1120 m, climbs the Mangatepopo Valley to the saddle between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, through South Crater before climbing again to Red Crater, the highest point on the crossing at 1886 m.

You will then descend on a volcanic rock scree track to the vivid Emerald Lakes, known as Ngarotopounamu (greenstone-hued lakes). After passing Blue Lake, also known as Te Wai-whakaata-o-te-Rangihiroa (Rangihiroa’s mirror), the track sidles around the northern slope of Tongariro, then descends in a zigzag track past Ketetahi Shelter and down to the road end at 760 m. 

Be prepared for a long and challenging day out.

Winter conditions

You need special skills and preparation to complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in winter. An ice axe and crampons are essential, as is competency using them. 

The nearest towns are:

  • Whakapapa (10.4 km)
  • National Park (13.5 km)
  • Turangi (36.7 km)
  • Raetihi (47.6 km)
  • Ohakune (48 km)
  • Taumaranui (61.5 km)
  • Taupo (86.5 km)

There is very limited parking near the access points to the track. From the beginning of Labour weekend in October to 30 April , parking restrictions will be in place at road-ends. Excellent shuttle services run from all local towns - arrange through the following i-SITEs:

Whakapapa i-SITE +64 7 892 3075, State Highway 48, Whakapapa Village

Turangi  i-SITE 0800 288 726, Ngawaka Place, Turangi

Ohakune i-SITE 0800 647 483, 54 Clyde Street, Ohakune

Taumarunui i-Site 07 895 7494, Railway Station, Taumarunui

Taupo i-SITE 0800 525 382, 30 Tongariro Street, Taupo

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Content and photo credited to the NZ Walking Access Commission

View official site


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