Tongariro Alpine Crossing

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Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Tongariro Crossing Emerald Lakes Blue Lake.jpg
View from the summit over the Emerald Lakes, across the Central Crater, to Blue Lake. Autumn 2004.
Length 19.4 km (12.1 mi)
Location Tongariro National Park, North Island, New Zealand
Trailheads Mangatepopo Carpark
Ketetahi Carpark
Use Hiking
Highest point Red Crater, 1,886 m (6,188 ft)
Lowest point Ketetahi Carpark, 760 m (2,490 ft)
Hiking details
Trail difficulty Moderate
Tongariro Alpine Crossing from Central Crater in Summer
Panorama view from Mt Ngauruhoe in Tongariro National Park.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing in Tongariro National Park is one of New Zealand's most spectacular tramping tracks, and is considered the most popular[1] one-day tramp in New Zealand. The Tongariro National Park is a World Heritage site which has the distinction of dual status, as it has been acknowledged for both its natural and cultural significance.[2]

The crossing passes over the volcanic terrain of the multi-cratered active volcano Mt Tongariro, passing the eastern base of Mt Ngauruhoe which can optionally be climbed as a side trip.

The full distance of the track is usually 19.4-kilometre (12.1 mi).[3][4]

Walk details[edit]

Although the track can be walked in either direction, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is most commonly walked from Mangatepopo to Ketetahi Hot Springs, due to the Mangatepopo end being higher in altitude (1,120 m or 3,670 ft) than the Ketetahi Hot Springs end (760 m or 2,490 ft), therefore requiring less climbing.[5] The crossing takes about seven hours of steady walking to complete in good weather, with an hour extra required if walked from the Ketetahi end to allow for the extra climbing, and more time required in winter (April to October) or in bad weather. A reasonable level of fitness is required, and trampers are advised to carry a day bag with water, food, torch and a waterproof jacket.[5]

The crossing is a one-way journey, starting on the west side of Mount Tongariro and finishing on the north side. As a result, returning to the western end requires either retracing the entire 19.4 km crossing, or walking 26 km via State Highways 46 and 47 back to the other trailhead. Trampers therefore need to arrange transportation back from one trailhead back to the other. A number of bus and coach companies offer transport services catering to the walk, collecting trampers from hotels and hostels in the surrounding towns and dropping them at the Mangatepopo trailhead in the early morning. The same vehicles then meet the walkers in the late afternoon at the Ketetahi trailhead to transport them back to their accommodation. If you have a car the best option is to arrange for you to be collected by the bus from the Ketetahi car park to take you to the Mangatepopo car park as the buses stop there on their way. Then you do not have any time pressure to complete the tramp - those with pre-arranged buses are often running the last few km. A group of trampers with two vehicles can easily arrange transportation themselves by parking one of the vehicles at the Ketetahi end of the crossing before commencing at the Mangatepopo end, returning to Mangatepopo end by road after completing the crossing to pick up the other vehicle.

The track begins at the western end near the Mangatepopo Hut with a gentle 60 to 90 minute valley walk to the foot of the steep Tongariro saddle. This part of the crossing is the only part suitable for younger children or older mobile people who do not want to walk the entire track. People with their own transport can drive to the Mangetepopo end car park and do a "there and back" valley walk, in about 2–3 hours. This valley walk leads to a steep 60-minute ascent and the most difficult part of the track. Further, smaller descents and ascents into and back out of two different craters, passing the Emerald Lakes and along the edge of the Blue Lake. Ketetahi Hut gives a good view of the Plateau to the north on a clear day. The last two hours of the walk involve a long descent down the northern flank of the volcano, passing the Ketetahi Hot Springs.

Point Distance Time Altitude Coordinates
Mangatepopo Carpark 0.0 km (0.0 mi) 0h 00m 1,120 m (3,670 ft) 39°08′40″S 175°34′52″E / 39.144486°S 175.58106°E / -39.144486; 175.58106 (Mangatepopo Carpark)
Mangatepopo Hut 1.5 km (0.9 mi) 0hr 25m 1,190 m (3,900 ft) 39°08′41″S 175°35′48″E / 39.144673°S 175.596638°E / -39.144673; 175.596638 (Mangatepopo Hut)
Soda Springs turn-off 1h 30m 1,350 m (4,430 ft) 39°08′24″S 175°37′29″E / 39.140051°S 175.624619°E / -39.140051; 175.624619 (Soda Springs turn-off)
South Crater (Mount Ngauruhoe turn-off) 6.4 km (4.0 mi) 2h 30m 1,650 m (5,410 ft)
Red Crater summit 3h 30m 1,886 m (6,188 ft)
Emerald Lakes (Oturere Hut turn-off) 9.0 km (5.6 mi) 3h 50m 1,695 m (5,561 ft) 39°07′58″S 175°39′23″E / 39.132657°S 175.656277°E / -39.132657; 175.656277 (Emerald Lakes turn-off)
Ketetahi Hut 5h 15m 1,450 m (4,760 ft) 39°06′29″S 175°39′11″E / 39.107921°S 175.652976°E / -39.107921; 175.652976 (Ketetahi Hut)
Ketetahi Carpark 19.4 km (12.1 mi) 7h 00m 760 m (2,490 ft) 39°04′25″S 175°39′50″E / 39.073669°S 175.6638°E / -39.073669; 175.6638 (Ketetahi carpark)

Running the crossing[edit]

This inspiring challenge should not be attempted unless experienced and familiar with mountain running.

Water supplies[edit]

There are no guaranteed fresh water supplies on the walk. Trampers need to bring sufficient fresh water for their own drinking needs. Tank drinking water, which is rainwater, is usually available at the Ketetahi Hut on the final downwards stretch of the walk but this cannot be always guaranteed. The Department of Conservation advises this water should be treated. There are various pool and springs in the area but the water is often scalding hot and tainted with minerals and dissolved metals from the volcanic activity. Most natural water in the area is not drinkable. The Ketetahi Hot Springs, about 10 minutes from the Ketetahi hut, is privately owned by the local iwi Tuwharetoa and has been placed out of bounds since the 1990s when a tourist was scalded to death.

Mount Ngauruhoe side trip[edit]

Mt Ngauruhoe can be climbed as a side trip from the main crossing, however this is not recommended for any but fit and experienced climbers. The ascent takes from 45 to 120 minutes depending on fitness and the weight of gear carried. The descent takes from 30 to 90 minutes. This may extend the entire trip to an 11–12 hour tramp. The problem for walkers is that the services that provide transport to and from the walk usually drop trampers at the start of the walk at around 8 am and pick them up between 4 pm and 5 pm – an eight-to nine-hour time frame. By climbing Mt Ngauruhoe and extending the walk time to 11 to 12 hours, walkers run the risk of missing their transport at the end of the walk.

An option for trampers wishing to take this side trip is to stay in either the Mangatepopo or Ketetahi huts for the night, extending their tramp to two days. A hut pass from the Department of Conservation is required for this, plus sleeping gear and food. The Ketetahi hut is now inside a volcanic danger zone and is no longer available for overnight stays.

In summer the flanks of Mt Ngauruhoe are mostly exposed, loose tephra, pilli and ash which is very difficult to walk on and requires a considerable energy expenditure compared to walking on solid material. For this reason it is less effort to climb in winter when the snow consolidates the tephra. Ice axes and crampons are needed. The snow can turn to ice after rain or partial melting creating dangerous conditions for the unskilled. In these circumstances climbers should be roped. The Tongariro side trip is tiring but not technically demanding unless the snow has turned to ice. From the top of Tongariro Saddle to the crater of Mt Ngauruhoe takes 90 minutes for a fit person carrying a pack. From March until October a climber should be prepared for sudden and dramatic changes in weather including severe winds and snowstorms with effective temperatures well below zero. It is foolhardy to attempt the climb without obtaining an accurate, favourable weather forecast beforehand.

Alpine exposure and 2007 name change[edit]

Until 2007 the crossing was called the "Tongariro Crossing", but this was changed to the "Tongariro Alpine Crossing" to better reflect the terrain. Almost the entire length of the crossing is in volcanic terrain with no vegetation and fully exposed to weather – at moderate altitude. As the crossing is both famous and easily accessible, it is walked by large numbers of tourists and casual walkers each year. The Department of Conservation is concerned about trampers being unprepared for the conditions they may encounter and introduced the name change to warn the many poorly equipped visitors of potential hazards. Key hazards are the high wind chill factor, the rapid change in weather and very poor visibility in the sudden storms with blinding snow and cloud. In 2006, two people of an estimated 65,000 walkers died on the track. Although the route is marked with poles, it is quite common on poor weather for visibility to be severely reduced. Poles may be snow covered or destroyed by wind gusts in winter.[3]

Geological/volcanic features[edit]

The entire length of the walk (except for the final descent below Ketetahi hut through native forest) is through raw volcanic terrain. The three volcanoes in the area are all highly active and the terrain reflects this. Solidified lava flows, loose tephra, and solidified volcanic lava bombs abound. Large amounts of minerals are brought to the surface and are highly visible in the colours of rocks and ridges. Active steam vents called fumaroles abound on several sections of the walk, constantly emitting steam and sulphur dioxide gas into the air and depositing yellow sulphur specks around their edges. The famous lakes and pools on the walk are deeply coloured by the volcanic minerals dissolved in them. Some areas feature large springs emitting near-boiling water and torrents of steam. The terrain underfoot for most of the walk is either sharp edged new volcanic rock or loose and shifting tephra, mainly ash and La pilli. In some crater areas it is finer ash that has become moist and compacted.

2012 Tongariro Eruptions from Te Maari Crater[edit]

In August 2012 a small eruption of 10,000 cubic metres of ash from the Te Maari craters on Mt Tongariro sent a shower of ash and blocks up to 1m in diameter over the track. The blocks damaged the roof of the Ketetahi hut which is 1.5 km west of the explosive craters. No one was hurt. The alpine crossing was temporarily closed as about 75% of the track is within 3 km of Te Maari. The track is usually to windward of Te Maari as the prevailing wind is west to south west in this region. When mixed with rain the ash forms a gritty black /grey mud. In late November 2012 Te Maari crater again erupted an ash cloud 4,000m high over a 5 minute period. About 100 people were in the vicinity including a group of 20 13 year old students from Gulf Harbour school but no one was injured. The crater is visible from the Ketetahi area. There are no tracks to Te Maari as it is an unstable,volcanically active zone. The Tongariro Alpine track was closed for 4 days but the other 12 tracks on the mountains were left open. Gas/steam fumaroles remain active around the active rim of Te Maari crater and there is a strong smell of sulphur gas close to the rim.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ DuFresne, J. (2006). Tramping in New Zealand. page 84. Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd.
  2. ^ Department of Conservation (2008). Tongariro Alpine Crossing Fact Sheet [brochure]. Department of Conservation, Ruapehu Area Office.
  3. ^ a b "Crossing's new name will give trampers more clues about terrain". New Zealand Herald. 2007-10-29. Retrieved 2007-10-29. 
  4. ^ Tongariro ready to be crossed again
  5. ^ a b "Track description -- Tongariro Alpine Crossing". Department of Conservation. Retrieved 22 November 2012. 
  6. ^ TV1 news.Nov 27 2012.

External links[edit]