The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is described as one of the best single day hikes in Aotearoa New Zealand. With 20km of hiking over an active volcano, you’d be hard pressed to find a more unique hike on the North Island.

Quick Overview

Tongariro Alpine Crossing trail is a 19.4km one-way, Grade 3 hike located on Aotearoa New Zealand’s North Island in the Ruapehu region. The hike should take around 6-8 hours to complete and is prone to alpine weather.

Tongariro Crossing Highlights

  • Mangatepopo Valley
  • Red Crater
  • Emerald Lakes
  • Blue Lakes
  • Te Maari Crater
  • View of Mt Ngauruhoe

Early Bird Gets The Worm

We woke up before the sun had a chance to gain the sky and the air was still in the single digits. We weren’t brave enough to face the cold so we just crawled from the back of our van to the front seats and just like that we were out of that freedom campsite by 5:30am.

After about a 25 minute drive, we found ourselves in a security parking lot where a bus we’d pre-booked took us to the trailhead. With our breath materializing in front of us we all got on our 6am bus and made our way to the start of our hike.

During the drive, we were properly welcomed by our Māori driver onto the land of his people, a fresh reminder of the beautiful history of our surroundings. Even with an early start, we found ourselves amidst a large crowd all eager to start this unique 20km adventure.


Cherihan Hassun tongariro alpine crossing nz new zealand mountains snow


As the sun rose and the blue sky above us illuminated we started the hike with an easy walk through Mangatepopo Valley with a sight that only belongs near volcanoes. As the elevation gain started increasing there was a ‘warning’ sign asking you to think twice about this hike and your fitness level. Although the hike is hard, don’t let this deter you, take your time and always think a step at a time.

Mount Ngauruhoe

After a hard incline we were greeted with an astonishing view of Mount Ngauruhoe and with visibility on our side we could see all the other mountains and lakes in the surrounding area. We paused here to rejuvenate on snacks and enjoy the well earned view.


Mt.Ngauruhoa Cherihan Hassun tongariro alpine crossing nz new zealand mountains snow

Red Crater and the Emerald Lakes

After a quick break, we made our way towards the fuming Red Crater and the Emerald Lakes, making this one of the most colourful hikes I’ve ever done. Emerald Lakes have gained their brilliance partly from dissolved minerals that have been washed down from a thermal area nearby. These minerals have created deep green water surrounded by soil streaked with colour.

Our walk continued over a long desert-like field with the track stretched out in front of us, at this point we were about halfway and unsuspecting of what was yet to come. The trail wound its way around Blue Lake, past black streams from the Ketetahi thermal springs and tall grasses. Eventually, we crossed paths with a tiny overnight hut, where you can see the clouds coming out of Te Maari Crater that last erupted in 2012.

The Home Stretch

After another quick rest with a phenomenal view, we got back on our path and headed towards the parking lot. Focusing on my feet I hadn’t realized until I looked up at how quickly the landscape around us changed. Within an hour we were now immersed in a rainforest with cooling streams running through it.

This might have been mentally the hardest part, we knew we were close to the end but with every turn we made all we saw was the trail stretched out in front of us.

Thankfully with great company and interesting surroundings, time passed quickly enough and finally after what I thought was just another turn, we stumbled across a parking lot full of tired hikers and campervans.

With a smile stretching from ear to ear, we’d made the trek in 6.5 hours. Resting in our colourful van, we enjoyed a coffee and sat around mapping our way to Wellington. With time on our side, we decided to take the scenic route through Desert Road.

As the sun was setting over this exquisite landscape I couldn’t help but smile knowing that this was just the beginning of an amazing road trip.


Desert Road Cherihan Hassun tongariro alpine crossing nz new zealand mountains snow

Essential Gear for Tongariro Crossing

  • Warm woollen or polypropylene pants (during all seasons)
  • Backpack with lots of energy-full snacks
  • At least 2.5 litres of water
  • A waterproof outer layer (weather is subject to change quickly)
  • Good hiking boots
  • Sun protection (during all seasons)

How to Get to Tongariro Crossing

The beginning of the Tongariro Crossing track finds itself on Mangatepopo Road off Highway 47 and the end is on Ketetahi Road off Highway 46. You can park in one of the car parks and have a shuttle drive you to either the beginning or the end. This needs to be pre-booked!

It’s best to sleep close by the night before to get an early start. Using WikiCamps we were able to find a Freedom Campsite less than 30 minutes away. Tongariro National Park Village also has viable options.

Skill Level


Distance / Duration / Elevation Gained

19.4km from car park to car park / 6-8 hour hike / Approx. 700m


Don’t forget! Always check the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) website when planning any trip to make sure conditions are safe and routes are open.