How hard is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing? (My Experience)

Tristan Balme How Hard is the tongariro crossing my

As someone who loves hiking, and grew up only 3 hours drive from our stunning Tongariro national park, I’ve done this walk at least 5 times. Every time its as breathtaking and epic as the last.

It’s little wonder this is the most walked hike in New Zealand, for tourists and locals alike.

The Tongariro Alipine Crossing is a moderate to difficult day hike, but can be approached by people of all ages and fitness with the right planning and preparation. It is 19.4km one way and hikers typically book a return back to the start of the track with a shuttle bus. The hike takes between 6 and 9 hours and covers 900m of elevation gain. The harsh alpine environment and extremely variable weather means you need ot be prepared for this adventure.

In this blog post, I’ll share my personal experience hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and provide tips and insights for anyone considering taking on this incredible adventure.

What is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a 19.4-kilometer hike through New Zealand’s Tongariro National Park. The hike takes you through a variety of terrains, including volcanic craters, alpine meadows, and emerald lakes. It’s widely considered one of the best day hikes in the world and attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Northern Circuit vs. the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

If you’re planning a hiking trip in New Zealand, you may be wondering which route to take: the Northern Circuit or the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. While both hikes offer stunning scenery and challenging terrain, they differ in a few key ways. The Northern Circuit is a multi-day hike that takes you through more remote areas of the park, while the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a single-day hike that is more accessible to hikers of all levels.

Read more about the Northern Circuit here.

Tristan Balme Setting out on the tongariro circuit

How hard is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?

The difficulty of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing varies depending on a number of factors, including your level of hiking experience, fitness level, and the time of year you hike. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect based on these factors:

For a Novice Hiker

If you’re new to hiking, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing can be a challenging experience. The hike covers a distance of 19.4 kilometers and takes an average of 7-9 hours to complete. The terrain is varied and can be steep and rocky in places, so it’s important to be prepared both mentally and physically.

For Experienced Hikers

Experienced hikers will find the Tongariro Alpine Crossing to be a challenging and rewarding experience. The terrain is varied and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape. It’s important to be prepared both mentally and physically, as the hike covers a distance of 19.4 kilometers and takes an average of 7-9 hours to complete.

For Unfit People

If you’re not in great shape, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing can be a difficult hike. The terrain is varied and can be steep and rocky in places, so it’s important to be prepared both mentally and physically. It’s also a good idea to take breaks when needed and bring plenty of water and snacks.

During Winter

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is open year-round, but it’s important to be aware of the conditions during the winter months. The weather can be unpredictable, and snow and ice can make the terrain more challenging. It’s important to be prepared for the conditions and consider hiring a guide if you’re not experienced with winter hiking.

Difficulty Factors

The difficulty of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is influenced by a number of factors, including:

Difficulty FactorsImpact on Difficulty
DistanceCan be challenging for some hikers
DurationCan be a long time for some hikers
DirectionThe direction you take on the hike can impact the difficulty
CrowdingCrowds can make the experience more challenging
WeatherThe weather can be unpredictable in Tongariro National Park
Changing ConditionsThe terrain on the hike can change quickly
TerrainThe terrain on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is varied and can be steep and rocky in places
SeasonsThe difficulty of the hike can vary depending on the season

Distance

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing covers a distance of 19.4 kilometers, which can be challenging for some hikers.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing has a total altitude gain of approximately 765 meters, with the highest point being the Red Crater at 1,886 meters above sea level.

Difficulty FactorImpact on Difficulty
DistanceCan be challenging for some hikers
Altitude GainCan be challenging for some hikers

Duration

The hike takes an average of 7-9 hours to complete, which can be a long time for some hikers.

Direction

The direction you take on the hike can impact the difficulty. It’s recommended to walk the normal direction, which is from Mangatepopo to Ketetahi.

Crowding

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a popular hike, and crowds can make the experience more challenging.

According to the official Tongariro Alpine Crossing website, an average of 1,000 people hike the trail each day during the peak season of December to April. Source: https://www.tongarirocrossing.org.nz/the-crossing/

Weather

The weather can be unpredictable in Tongariro National Park, and it’s important to be prepared for changing conditions.

Changing Conditions

The terrain on the hike can change quickly, and it’s important to be aware of the conditions and adjust your approach as needed.

In May 2021, dozens of hikers had to be rescued from the Tongariro Alpine Crossing due to rapidly changing weather conditions. The hikers were caught off guard by high winds, rain, and plummeting temperatures, which made the terrain more challenging and dangerous. While no one was seriously injured, the incident served as a reminder of the importance of being prepared for changing conditions on the hike.

Terrain

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing covers a variety of terrains, each with its own challenges and rewards. Here are the different types of terrain you can expect to encounter on the hike:

  • Volcanic Craters: The hike begins with a climb up the Mangatepopo Valley to the South Crater, a vast expanse of volcanic rock and ash. From there, hikers climb to the Red Crater, the highest point on the hike and the site of the most challenging terrain.
  • Alpine Meadows: After descending from the Red Crater, hikers pass through the beautiful Emerald Lakes, a series of crater lakes with striking green-blue colors. From there, the hike continues through the Central Crater and the aptly-named Blue Lake.
  • Forests: The final part of the hike descends through forested slopes towards the Ketetahi car park. This part of the hike is less challenging, but still requires attention to avoid tripping on tree roots or rocks.

Seasons

The Tongariro Northern Circuit can be hiked year-round, but the difficulty of the hike can vary depending on the season. Hiking the circuit in the winter months can be more challenging due to snow and ice on the trail.

According to the Tongariro National Park website, the best time to hike the Tongariro Northern Circuit is during the summer months of December to February. During this time, the weather is generally more stable, and the snow and ice on the trail have melted, making the hike easier and safer. The fall months of March to May can also be a good time to hike, as the weather is mild and the crowds are fewer. Winter hiking is not recommended for inexperienced hikers, as the trail can be covered in snow and ice, making it much more challenging. Spring hikes can be beautiful, but the weather can be unpredictable, with rain and wind being common.

MonthTemperature (°C)Average Precipitation (mm)
December17110
January1880
February1880
March15120
April12135
May9140
Tristan Balme doing the tongariro circuit inbad weather

8 Tips to Make Your Crossing More Enjoyable

Here are some tips to help you make the most of your Tongariro Alpine Crossing experience:

Tip 1: Walk the Normal Direction

Walking the normal direction, from Mangatepopo to Ketetahi, is recommended for the best experience.

Tip 2: Leave Early to Avoid the Crowds

Starting the hike early in the morning can help you avoid the crowds and enjoy the scenery in peace.

Tip 3: Pack Smart (and Light)

It’s important to pack smart and bring only what you need for the hike. A light backpack can make the experience more enjoyable.

Tip 4: Stay Hydrated

Bring plenty of water and snacks to stay hydrated throughout the hike.

Tip 5: Cover Up from the Sun

The sun can be intense in Tongariro National Park, so it’s important to wear sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.

Tip 6: Book for Late Summer

Late summer is the best time to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, as the weather is typically more favorable.

Tip 7: Be Prepared for Changing Weather

The weather in Tongariro National Park can change quickly, so it’s important to be prepared for changing conditions.

Tip 8: Take Plenty of Photos!

The scenery on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is stunning, so be sure to bring a camera and take plenty of photos to remember your experience.

FAQ:

Here are some frequently asked questions about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing:

What is the Hardest Part of the Tongariro Crossing?

The hardest part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the climb up to the Red Crater, which is steep and rocky.

How Do I Prepare for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?

To prepare for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, it’s important to be in good physical shape, bring plenty of water and snacks, and be prepared for changing weather conditions.

What Fitness Level is Required for Tongariro Crossing?

To complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, it’s recommended to be in good physical shape and able to hike for 7-9 hours.

How Long Does It Take to Walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing takes an average of 7-9 hours to complete.

Which is the Hardest Walk in NZ?

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is considered one of the hardest walks in New Zealand.

Is Tongariro Alpine Crossing Worth It?

Absolutely! The Tongariro Alpine Crossing offers stunning scenery and a challenging hike that is well worth the effort.

Conclusion

Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing was an incredible experience that I’ll never forget. While the hike can be challenging, the stunning scenery and sense of accomplishment make it all worth it. By following the tips and advice I’ve shared in this blog post, you can prepare for the hike and make the most of your experience.

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