How Hard Is The Tongariro Northern Circuit? (My Experience + Tips)

Tristan Balme How hard is the tongariro norther circuit explained my

I’ve hiked the Tongariro Northern Circuit twice now, once in the clockwise direction and once in the anticlockwise direction. I’ve also done doe the Alpine Crossing more times than I can count.

For a relatively short hike, only 45km, the Tongariro Northern Circuit is deceptively challenging – especially on the day of the crossing. If you opt to take the full 4 days you’ll be fine, but if you want to condense the hike to a 2 day 1 nighter, it’ll certainly challenge your fitness.

After completing the circuit, I can say without a doubt that it was one of my favorite great walks. In this blog post, I will share my experience and provide tips and advice for anyone planning on undertaking this incredible journey.

What is the Tongariro Northern Circuit?

The Tongariro Northern Circuit is a 43-kilometer trek that takes hikers through some of the most stunning landscapes in New Zealand. It is located in the Tongariro National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The circuit takes four days to complete and can be done in either direction. It is a challenging hike that requires a moderate level of fitness and a good amount of preparation.

Tristan Balme what is the tongariro northern circuit

Northern Circuit vs. the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a one-day hike that is often compared to the Northern Circuit. While both hikes take place in the same area and offer stunning views of the surrounding landscape, they are quite different.

The Alpine Crossing is a 19.4-kilometer hike that takes between 6-8 hours to complete. It is a challenging hike, but it can be done in a day. The Northern Circuit, on the other hand, is 43km and takes four days to complete. It’s a much more challenging hike overall.

How Hard is the Tongariro Northern Circuit?

The difficulty of the Tongariro Northern Circuit depends on a few factors, including distance, duration, direction, weather, changing conditions, and terrain.

RouteDurationDifficultyDescription
4-day Circuit4 daysEasy/ModerateSteep climb on the first day, longest day on the second, climb up to Red Crater on the third, easy walk on the fourth
3-day Circuit3 daysModerateShort climb on the first day, longest day on the second, easy walk on the third
2-day Circuit2 daysHardSteep climb on the first day, longest day on the second
Alpine Crossing1 dayModerateSteep climb up to Red Crater, challenging descent
Southern Circuit6 daysHardRemote and rugged, stunning views
Tristan Balme Tongariro circuit hut Oturere Hut
Tristan Balme Oturere fall waterfall near oturere hut
Tristan Balme Waihohonu Hut
Tristan Balme Setting out on the tongariro circuit

How Hard is the 4-day Circuit?

The four-day circuit is a challenging hike that requires a moderate level of fitness and a good amount of preparation. The first day involves a steep climb up to Mangatepopo Hut, which can be quite challenging. The second day is the longest day of the hike, with a distance of 17.5 kilometers. The third day involves a climb up to the Red Crater, which is the highest point on the hike. The final day is a relatively easy walk out to the finish line.

How Hard is the 3-day Circuit?

The three-day circuit is slightly less challenging than the four-day circuit, but it still requires a moderate level of fitness and a good amount of preparation. The first day involves a climb up to Oturere Hut, which is a relatively short day. The second day is the longest day of the hike, with a distance of 17.5 kilometers. The third day is a relatively easy walk out to the finish line.

How Hard is the 2-day Circuit?

The two-day circuit is a challenging hike that requires a high level of fitness and a good amount of preparation. The first day involves a climb up to Mangatepopo Hut, which can be quite challenging. The second day is the longest day of the hike, with a distance of 17.5 kilometers. This hike is only recommended for experienced hikers who are comfortable with long-distance treks.

How Hard is the Alpine Crossing?

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a challenging hike that requires a moderate level of fitness and a good amount of preparation. The hike involves a steep climb up to the Red Crater, which is the highest point on the hike. The descent from the Red Crater can be quite challenging, but the hike overall is doable in a day.

How Hard is the Southern Circuit?

The Southern Circuit is a challenging hike that requires a high level of fitness and a good amount of preparation. The hike takes six days to complete and covers a distance of 56 kilometers. It is a remote and rugged hike that offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

Difficulty Factors

There are several factors that can impact the difficulty of the Tongariro Northern Circuit, including distance, duration, direction, weather, changing conditions, and terrain.

FactorDescription
DistanceThe Tongariro Northern Circuit covers a distance of 43 kilometers, making it a relatively long hike.
DurationThe Tongariro Northern Circuit takes four days to complete, which can be challenging for some hikers.
DirectionHiking the circuit in a clockwise direction involves a steep climb up to the Red Crater, which can be quite challenging. Hiking the circuit in an anticlockwise direction involves a steep descent from the Red Crater, which can also be challenging.
WeatherThe weather can have a significant impact on the difficulty of the Tongariro Northern Circuit.
ConditionsThe conditions on the Tongariro Northern Circuit can change quickly, which can impact the difficulty of the hike.
TerrainThe terrain on the Tongariro Northern Circuit can be challenging, with steep climbs and descents.
SeasonsThe Tongariro Northern Circuit can be hiked year-round, but the difficulty of the hike can vary depending on the season.

Distance and Elevation Gain

The Tongariro Northern Circuit is a challenging four-day hike that covers a distance of 43 kilometers and involves a total elevation gain of 2,200 meters. Here is a summary table of the distance travelled and elevation gain on each day of the hike:

DayDistance TravelledElevation Gain
Day 18.5 km700 m
Day 217.5 km800 m
Day 312 km700 m
Day 45 km0 m

As you can see, the second day of the hike is the longest, covering a distance of 17.5 kilometers and involving an elevation gain of 800 meters. The first day of the hike involves a steep climb up to Mangatepopo Hut, which can be quite challenging. The third day involves a climb up to the Red Crater, which is the highest point on the hike, and also involves a fair amount of elevation gain. The final day of the hike is a relatively easy walk out to the finish line, with no elevation gain.

Duration

The Tongariro Northern Circuit takes four days to complete, which can be challenging for some hikers. The length of the hike can make it difficult to carry enough food and water, and can also be physically challenging for some hikers.

Tristan Balme alpine desert of tongariro crossing

Direction (Clockwise vs. Anticlockwise Loop)

The direction that you choose to hike the Tongariro Northern Circuit can impact the difficulty of the hike. Hiking the circuit in a clockwise direction involves a steep climb up to the Red Crater, which can be quite challenging. Hiking the circuit in an anticlockwise direction involves a steep descent from the Red Crater, which can also be challenging.

Weather

The weather can have a significant impact on the difficulty of the Tongariro Northern Circuit. The hike takes place in an alpine environment, which means that the weather can be unpredictable and can change quickly. It is important to be prepared for all types of weather conditions, including rain, wind, and snow.

Tristan Balme doing the tongariro circuit inbad weather

Changing Conditions

The conditions on the Tongariro Northern Circuit can change quickly, which can impact the difficulty of the hike. It is important to be prepared for changing conditions, including changes in weather and terrain.

Terrain

The terrain on the Tongariro Northern Circuit can be challenging, with steep climbs and descents. The hike involves hiking on rocky terrain, which can be slippery and difficult to navigate.

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
January18 (but can get over 30+ degrees!)80
February18 (but can get over 30+ degrees!)80
March15 (but can get over 30+ degrees!)120
April12135
May9140

5 Tips to Make Your Great Walk More Enjoyable

Here are five tips to help make your Tongariro Northern Circuit hike more enjoyable:

1. Walk the Clockwise Loop

Walking the Tongariro Northern Circuit in a clockwise direction can make the hike easier. This is because you will be hiking up the steepest parts of the trail, rather than hiking down them.

2. Pack Smart

Packing smart is essential for a successful Tongariro Northern Circuit hike. Make sure to pack enough food and water, as well as appropriate clothing and gear for the conditions.

Tristan Balme packing smart for the tongariro northern circuit

3. Take the Full 4 Days

Taking the full four days to complete the Tongariro Northern Circuit can make the hike more enjoyable. This will give you plenty of time to rest and recover between each day of hiking.

4. Book for the End of Summer

Booking your Tongariro Northern Circuit hike for the end of summer can be a good idea. The weather is generally more stable during this time of year, which can make the hike more enjoyable.

5. Be Prepared for Changing Weather

The weather on the Tongariro Northern Circuit can change quickly, so it is important to be prepared for all types of weather conditions. Make sure to bring appropriate clothing and gear for the conditions.

FAQ

Q1. How Long is the Tongariro Northern Circuit?

The Tongariro Northern Circuit is a 43-kilometer trek that takes four days to complete.

Q2. What Grade is Tongariro Northern Circuit?

The Tongariro Northern Circuit is considered a grade 3 hike, which means that it is a challenging hike that requires a moderate level of fitness and a good amount of preparation.

Q3. What is the Hardest Walk in NZ?

The hardest walk in New Zealand is considered to be the Dusky Track, which is a remote and challenging hike that takes between seven and ten days to complete.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Tongariro Northern Circuit is a challenging and rewarding hike that offers some of the most stunning landscapes in New Zealand. Whether you are an experienced hiker or a beginner, the Tongariro Northern Circuit is an adventure that should not be missed.

I recommend walking the hike in the normal (clockwise) direction as the day of the crossing will be far easier walking.

I also fully recommend taking the full 4 days, a bottle of wine, a good book, and enjoying your time out on the mountain. While the hike can be done quicker (something i normally do) i really enojyed taking this one slow

Make sure to pack good boots and poles for the tricky scree and volcanic terrain.

Also be prepared for the extreme heat and cold as weather up on the mountian is extremely changeable.

With these tips, i hope you have the best time hiking the Tongariro Northern Circuit. Let me know in the comments how you found the hike and any tips you would have if you were to do it again.

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