Well, I’ve finally done it! I hiked the famed Tongariro crossing – deemed one of the best day hikes in the world and one of New Zealand’s only world heritage sites. I’m so glad I’ve now done the hike as it is truly a breathtaking experience. However, getting the right information about the best time to hike it and the best way to get there was a bit of a mission – one of the reasons it took me so long to get to it! So here’s my Tongariro crossing guide to help you guys.
Tongariro Crossing need to know:
– The Tongariro Crossing is a one way hike. The usual direction starts from Mangatepopo car park and ends at Ketetahi car park.
– You should set aside a whole day to hike the Tongariro crossing. It will take between 6-9 hours to complete the hike, which doesn’t include the time spent getting to and from the carparks.
– Aside from a few toilets and emergency huts, there is no civilisation along the way. Bring plenty of your own food, water and supplies.
– You should make sure you bring the right gear and clothing and ensure you are physically prepared for a long walk, including climbing mountain peaks and passing through possibly treacherous conditions
Changes to Tongariro Crossing Regulations
Honestly, I wish I had hiked the Tongariro crossing sooner because recent changes have made this remote national park even harder (and more expensive) to access. So, here’s what you need to know about the changes to regulations at Tongariro national park that happened in 2018:
Tongariro Crossing Parking:
You can’t park at either end of the crossing for more than 4 hours without risking a wheel clamp and fine. This means you can either find someone who is nice enough to drop you off at one end and pick you up at the other side about 8 hours later, or you can book a shuttle. There are also no shuttles which will just take you from one carpark to the other anymore. At the moment, they’ve put this restriction on parking until the 30th of April 2019. They might lift the restriction for winter when the track is less crowded, but are likely to reinstate it for the next summer period.
Tongariro Crossing Guided Tour:
During the Tongariro Crossing winter (between the 1st of May and 18th of October), you are now strongly advised to have a paid guide. Because of the change to the carpark regulations, the shuttle companies now have a lot more control and can virtually refuse to take you up if they think you need a guide. For that reason, the only way to freedom hike during winter now is if you can get someone to drop you off and pick you up. Obviously, they have done this for a reason as the Tongariro crossing can be very cold, icy and dangerous during winter.
These two big changes have been made to ensure the safety of anyone who attempts the hike and to make sure everyone is better accounted for. It’s understandable – but it does make life a bit harder for us hikers. So here’s your up to date Tongariro Crossing guide.
Tongariro Accommodation – Where to stay near Tongariro
The thing about Tongariro is it’s a little bit out of the way. It’s not near any established towns or cities (the nearest major town being Taupo, which is over 100km away). Because of the popularity of the Tongariro crossing, a small village has been set up nearer the crossing called National Park village. This is a tiny town which basically consists of hotels, hostels, and some snow gear hire shops. Its entire purpose is to provide a place for people to stay that is close to the mountains (both Tongariro and Ruapehu). So if you want a comfortable sleep the night before your hike, I would recommend staying here. You can get a shuttle from Taupo, but it’s a lot more expensive and you have to get up at an obscene hour of the morning.
What to pack for Tongariro
Weather can change quickly. Even on what seems like a good day, it can often get cold, wet, windy, foggy or even icy. You are going up the mountains so dress accordingly.
When going to the Tongariro crossing, make sure you are wearing or carrying:
- Waterproof jacket
- Waterproof pants
- Hiking boots
- Enough food for a day
- First Aid kit
If you are going to do the hike any time between May and October (and possibly even outside of those months, depending on the weather), you will also need:
– Ice axe
– A Tongariro crossing guide
What if you don’t have the gear to do the Tongariro crossing, but you still want to do it? Don’t worry, there are equipment hire places in National Park village, such as Ski Biz or The Alpine Centre, and some other smaller shops within hostels. It’ll cost you a bit more, but it’s worth it to have done this great walk.
Tongariro Guided Tour
So as I mentioned, if you want to hike in winter, you now basically need a Tongariro crossing guide. How do you go about getting one?
There are a few tour companies operating. Here is how they compare…
Tongariro Guided Walks
– Group tour: $220 per person
– Private tour: $345 per person for a couple, $495 for a single
– Group tour: $249 per person in summer, $195 per person in winter
– Private tour: $345
– Group tour: $255 per person in summer, $165 per person in winter
– Private tour: $430
Most of the tour prices include gear hire, and some include food as well.
Note that many of these guides should be booked in advance to make sure there is someone available and ready to go on the day.
Tongariro Shuttle bus options
There are a number of shuttle buses which tend to offer exactly the same service – they’ll pick you up from your accommodation in National Park village, drop you at Mangatepopo car park and pick you up from Ketetahi car park at a designated time. Most hostels are partnered with a shuttle bus company so it’s best just to book your shuttle together with your accommodation. Don’t worry, they are all $40 per adult (return) anyway. Some might offer a slightly different service for $35 but the added inconvenience really isn’t worth the extra $5. They also run out of other nearby towns at a higher price.
Ultimately, I found that a cheap hostel in National Park village and a return shuttle to Tongariro National Park (in summer season) is the cheapest way to do the Tongariro crossing.
What is the Tongariro Crossing like?
My first impression when I started walking was that it is a very unusual terrain that sort of feels other worldly. Since it is a volcano, in many parts of the hike there are no plants in sight (an unusual occurrence for New Zealand) and the rocks are a strange maroon-ish colour. Maybe it was just the fog that made it look so odd. I don’t know but that’s how it felt to me. Anyway, it was a really unique look and I loved it!
Of course, the emerald lakes are the big highlight but it takes quite a while to get to that point (about 3 and a half to 4 hours). The other highlights are the Soda Springs waterfall near the beginning and the red crater which comes before the emerald lakes. Then there is the blue lake, which is much bigger than the emerald lakes, which you’ll see a while after passing the emerald lakes. Towards the end you will go into the forest and experience a typical New Zealand bush walk with our native birds and bushes. It’s like doing multiple different walks in one day, as all the sections are so different from each other.
Other walks aside from the Tongariro Crossing
If you don’t think you’re physically up to completing the entire crossing, you can opt to do a half day hike instead, which means you turn around at a certain point and get picked up from the same carpark. The shuttle staff are also really good and give you the option to turn around at any point no matter what, if you decide it’s best. All you have to do is call them and they’ll pick you up.
On the other hand, if you’d prefer more of a challenge, there is also the Tongariro circuit walk, which takes 3 days to complete and includes camping out in the mountains over the two nights. Another challenge would be climbing Mt Ngaruhoe, which you skip around as part of the Tongariro crossing. Some people climb Mt Ngaruhoe, come down and continue the crossing – it shouldn’t take more than two hours to make the return journey. However, be aware that the summit is sacred to the local Maori tribe.
Weather at Tongariro Crossing
You have to be wary that the weather can change fast, and it can get really cold up there as you’re hiking through a mountain. Always check the weather forecast and ask local staff if they recommend you to go. In winter, it can get really snowy and the lakes can even freeze over and be covered in ice, so you wouldn’t see anything. This also creates a higher risk of avalanches. If storms, snowing or avalanche is in the forecast, don’t go.
The day I did it was very wet and windy, which made it difficult in places, especially climbing up to the highest peak where the red crater is. The problem was, though, that we were dropped off just before 9 and told that because of the afternoon rain, the absolute last shuttle would be at 3pm. So we had to rush through our hike to make sure we completed it on time. We didn’t stop to eat or take a break; when we were hungry we just took food out of the backpack and kept walking as we ate. We ended up arriving just in time, but it was stressful (and tiring) for sure. So I would recommend setting aside a few days just to make sure you get to do the Tongariro crossing on a fine day. But at the same time, if you’ve only got one day for it, and the weather’s not good, just do it. It’s an adventure, right?
>>Have you done the Tongariro crossing or are you planning a trip there? Let me know if there’s anything else you want to know about this hike in the comments!
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