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Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand

The world's best 1-day hike?

Tongariro Crossing PageSuperlatives are inadequate to describe this outstanding one-day hike on New Zealand's North Island. The trail takes you through a stark volcanic landscape that makes you feel like you are walking on the surface of another planet. Yet, incredibly, it is a walk of extreme contrast - you start the hike in scenery similar to Scottish moorland and finish by walking through woodland! What's more, this hike is challenging physically, taking in several steep ascents.

The trail, widely acknowledged as the country's finest one-day hike, is found in Tongariro National Park, New Zealand's first national park and a world heritage site. It encompasses three volcanoes: Ruapahu, Tongariro, and the perfectly formed Ngauruhoe.

The track heads through Mangatepopo Valley. After about 1.5 km (1 mile), a side trail leads off left to Mangatepopo Hut. You continue ahead, climbing gently to the right of a stream. As you pass through old lava flows, Mt Ngauruhoe dominates the skyline to the left. About 2.5 km (1.5 miles) later, and now nearly at the head of the valley, a short detour along a path to the left leads to Soda Springs, a cold water spring surrounded by lush vegetation.

Return to the main track and soon the real climbing begins as you head up from the valley floor to the saddle between Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro. Your reward for reaching the saddle are great views of Tongariro and, if it is clear, Mt Taranaki to the west. The saddle is also the starting point for those wishing to make an ascent of Ngauruhoe, a strenuous climb over loose scoria that takes around 3 hours (it is important to check conditions before attempting an ascent, as ice can make it treacherous).

From the saddle, the trail crosses South Crater - the way is clearly signed. Roughly 7 km (4.4 miles) into the trail, after a further stiff climb, you reach the highest point, spectacular Red Crater. It is still active, as evidenced by the clear smell of sulphur as you peer into it. From here, there is a stunning view down towards aptly named Emerald Lakes, two small, water-filled craters, brilliantly colored due to a high mineral content. You will want to linger, but the summit of Red Crater is very exposed, and high winds can make it bitterly cold.

Hike Tongariro Crossing

The descent down to Emerald Lakes is steep, through loose scoria. Just after the second lake, pass a side trail on the right (it leads to another hut) and continue northwards over Central Crater. A final, short climb leads up to magnificent Blue Lake. An old vent, Blue Lake was originally called Te Wai-whakaata-o-te-Rangihiroa (Rangihiroa's Mirror), and it was Rangihiroa's descendent who donated the main part of Tongariro National Park in 1887.

The track continues north, quickly leaving Blue Lake and skirting North Crater. As you descend to Ketetahi Hut, the scenery changes, and views open up ahead of Lake Rotoaira. Close to the hut, the track passes plumes of steam and mineral-streaked rocks, Ketetahi Hot Springs. Be aware that you are now crossing private land and there is no right of access to the springs.

Active New Zealand trips that include the Tongariro Crossing hike:

  • Kauri Ultimate North Island Adventure

    • 11 Days
    • US$4,699 + tax

    4.35 out of 5 (from 1047 reviews)

    Kauri

    Nat Geo Logo 2013

    You'll be amazed by the variety of adventures and stunning scenery as we share the iconic locations and best-kept secrets of the North Island. The perfect addition to any of our South Island trips, the year-round 'Kauri' explores the sub-tropical north, a marine reserve, white sandy beaches, unique volcanic terrain, geothermal areas, Maori culture, an underground cave system and arguably the best mountain day-hike in New Zealand. For a great way to see the rest of New Zealand, combine this trip with any of our South Island trips.

    Activity level: The 'Kauri' suits people of a wide range of fitness levels and outdoor experience. Typically, activities on the 'Kauri' trip range between two and five hours to complete. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike can take a little longer, though there are shorter alternatives available.

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Whatever the dream, if its New Zealand, find a way!!

“Where do I even start?!?!? NZ has been #1 on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. It wasn't until I realized I couldn't wait forever for that perfect time, to have X amount of money saved, to have a companion to go with me...that I decided to JUST GO ALREADY! And I suggest you do the same! Don't wait another moment. I went alone but found the most wonderful companions I could have ever hoped for! Even got a great roommate. The guides, Claire and Jess were PHENOMENAL! I started crying off and on a few days before the end of the trip because I became that attached to them and knew I would never see them again. Leaving at the airport, I couldn't even speak I was so upset and saying goodbye. So wonderful and beyond knowledgeable! I miss Jess' cooking and Claire's coffee already and I just got back yesterday!!! But seriously folks, the Manuka was beyond what expectations I could have ever dreamed. Yes it was indeed physical, so be ready for that; but there were some flatter, easier options for those that chose to not exert so much energy. There were a couple of times I wanted to just quit, but Claire and/or Jess kept me going saying it would be worth it (for the view AND the accomplishment) and MAN WERE THEY RIGHT!!!

The food, the company, the knowledge, the laughs, the comradery, the views, the EXPERIENCES....all of it was TOP NOTCH! I have my memories that will last a lifetime; best money I have EVER spent.

Don't wait! GO! I plan to go back in a couple of years to do the entire Milford Track. That's my only regret is that I didn't spend the extra to do that. But that's on me, not AA!”
June Vidrine's Review Image
– Texas, United States
Manuka, March 2017
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