Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing track passes over varied and spectacular volcanic terrain. Trek across a volcanic alpine landscape of dramatic contrasts – steaming vents, glacial valleys, ancient lava flows, alpine vegetation and vivid crater lakes, all with stunning views. Be prepared for a long and challenging day out.
Tongariro National Park is a UNESCO dual World Heritage Area and was the first in the world to receive cultural World Heritage Status.
This challenging trip begins at 1120m, climbs the Mangatepopo Valley to the saddle between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngāuruhoe, through South Crater before climbing again to Red Crater, the highest point on the crossing at 1886m.
You will then descend on a volcanic rock scree track to the vivid Emerald Lakes, known as Ngarotopounamu (greenstone-hued lakes). After passing Blue Lake, also known as Te Wai-whakaata-o-te-Rangihīroa (Rangihīroa’s mirror), the track sidles around the northern slope of Tongariro, then descends in a zigzag track past Ketetahi Shelter and down to the road end at 760m.
From the Ketetahi Road end, the track goes through a cool podocarp-hardwood forest which is a relaxed contrast to the coming long ascent to the Ketetahi Shelter. The track travels alongside a stream polluted with minerals from Ketetahi Springs and, at two points, passes over the tongue of a lava flow from Te Maari Crater.
From the forest bush line, the track winds its way up and up and up, through tussock slopes past the Ketetahi Springs to the Ketetahi Shelter.
- Note: The Ketetahi Springs are on private land. The Ketetahi Trust, representing the landowners, has given permission for trekkers to cross part of their land but this does not include access to Ketetahi Springs. Please respect this restraint and follow the poled route.
From the Ketetahi Shelter, the track ascends further before sidling down around the flanks of North Crater to the Blue Lake and over the Mars-like Central Crater. Then it’s past the three water-filled explosion craters called the Emerald Lakes; their brilliant greenish colour is caused by minerals which have leached from the adjoining thermal area. (The Tongariro Northern Circuit track to Oturere Hut branches off to the left at the lowest lake).
Taking care on the loose stones and gravel on the track as you ascend steeply to the summit of Red Crater (1886m), the highest point on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. You can also smell the sulphur, evidence that Red Crater is still active.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing track then continues along a poled route down the ridge leading to South Crater.
- Note: DOC advises walkers to stay on marked tracks and not attempt to climb the summits of Mt Ngāuruhoe and Mt Tongariro. The mountains are sacred to local Māori tribes and they respectfully ask that summits are not climbed.
From Mangatepopo Saddle between Mount’s Ngāuruhoe and Tongariro, you can be rewarded, on a clear day, by views of Mt Taranaki to the west. Then it’s a steep descent (down the Devil’s Staircase) to the head of the Mangatepopo Valley where a short side track leads to Soda Springs. The track then makes its way down the Mangatepopo Valley, at a gentle gradient alongside a stream and around the edges of old lava flows.
For Te Araroa through walkers, the turnoff to the Mangatepopo Track is 200m further on from the Mangatepopo Hut side track.
The carpark at Mangatepopo Road is 1km (15min) from the Mangatepopo Track turnoff.
You need to be skilled and prepared to complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, especially during winter. An ice axe and crampons are essential, as is competency using them.
Nature and conservation
This is the perfect habitat for a variety of New Zealand’s native birds. In forested areas, you may see bellbird/korimako, tūī, New Zealand robin/toutouwai, tomtit/miromiro, fantail/pīwakawaka, and maybe New Zealand's smallest bird the rifleman/titipounamu. Part of the shuttle fee of about $40 helps the Department of Conservation with conservation projects.
History and culture
All waterways including the lakes on Tongariro and his peaks Ngāuruhoe and Ruapehu are sacred to local iwi, Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro. Kaumātua Te Ngaehe Wanikau asks visitors to the area to respect the sanctity of the maunga tapu (sacred mountains) by not touching or entering any of the waterways including the alpine lakes. Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro places extreme importance on their guardian role in protecting Tongariro and his peaks.
Ngātoroirangi, the founding ancestor of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, the local iwi (Māori tribe), ascended the great mountains of the Central Plateau 30 generations ago. It was then that he named Tongariro and the many features of the surrounding landscape, declaring this area as home for his descendants. It is from these beginnings that Ngāti Tūwharetoa maintains its intrinsic responsibility to protect the mountainous area to which they belong.
The generosity and foresight of Ngāti Tūwharetoa saw the heart of the mountainous area made sacrosanct in 1887, with the intent that the Crown would stand alongside Ngāti Tūwharetoa to ensure the continued protection of Tongariro. This led to the establishment of the Tongariro National Park in 1894, a first for New Zealand, and fourth in the world.
In 1993, Tongariro became the first property to be inscribed on the World Heritage List under the revised criteria describing cultural landscapes. The mountains at the heart of the park have cultural and spiritual significance to Ngāti Tūwharetoa and symbolise the spiritual links between this community and its environment. The park has active and extinct volcanoes, a diverse range of ecosystems and some remarkable landscapes.
The continued occupation by Ngāti Tūwharetoa in this environment ensures the cultural, spiritual and environmental values are protected and shared with all those who encounter this dynamic landscape.
You will need to be skilled and prepared to complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Northern Circuit and Round the Mountain tracks in winter. An ice axe and crampons are essential, as is competency using them.
- Always check the weather forecast and take local advice as weather can change quickly and drastically
- Always carry extra warm, wind-proof clothing, safety and navigational equipment
- Pole route markers may be difficult to see in foggy conditions.
- Water from the upper Mangatepopo stream, Emerald Lakes and Ketetahi Springs is not suitable for drinking due to the high mineral content. Treat ALL water in the park.
- Winter tramping: Be fully equipped with ice axe, crampons, avalanche probe/snow shovel/transceiver.
- From the beginning of 26 October (Labour Day weekend) to 30 April, parking restrictions (4 hour maximum) are in place at the road-ends - book a shuttle.
- Over winter, additional hazards are present:
- Snow and ice
- Avalanche risk
- Sub-zero temperatures.
No dogs, horses, guns or bikes. No drones.
How to get here
The nearest towns are:
- Whakapapa (10.4 km)
- National Park (13.5 km)
- Turangi (36.7 km)
- Raetihi (47.6 km)
- Ohakune (48 km)
- Taumarunui (61.5 km)
- Taupō (86.5 km)
There is very limited parking near the access points to the track. From the beginning of 26 October (Labour Day weekend) to 30 April, parking restrictions (4 hour maximum) are in place at the road-ends.
Excellent shuttle services run from all local towns - arrange through the following i-SITEs:
- Whakapapa i-SITE +64 7 892 3075, State Highway 48, Whakapapa Village
- Turangi i-SITE 0800 288 726, Ngawaka Place, Turangi
- Ohakune i-SITE 0800 647 483, 54 Clyde Street, Ohakune
- Taumarunui i-Site 07 895 7494, Railway Station, Taumarunui
- Taupo i-SITE 0800 525 382, 30 Tongariro Street, Taupo
Map of Track
Total 3 photos. Click image above to view them all.