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Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand

The world's best 1-day hike?

tongariro

Superlatives 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.

Tongariro Crossing day-hike map and directions

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:

  • Ultimate North Island Adventure - Kauri

    11 Days  | 

    North Island  | 

    US$4899 + tax

    ACTIVE 3 - 4
    • ACTIVE 1

      What's The Rush?

      I’m not a triathlete, but I’m in decent shape and I’m not looking to experience a place just through a bus window. I’m happy to slow down on the trail, soak it in and breathe in the fresh air.


    • ACTIVE 2

      Leg Stretcher

      Sure, I own some hiking boots, they’re even worn in, but they don’t go on long trips. I like my creature comforts and I like to give a range of activities a go.


    • ACTIVE 3

      Earn Your Lunch

      I stay active on vacation so that I can eat and drink what I like without feeling guilty. I season my trips with a little fresh exercise.


    • ACTIVE 4

      Challenge Accepted

      I’ll let my trusty guides sweat the small things, so I can focus on my goal. Getting to the top, reaching the end, achieving my dreams! Sure, it’ll be tough, but the views will be worth it.


    • ACTIVE 5

      The Ultimate

      I’ve put in the hard yards and now I get to reap the rewards. I’m a seasoned adventurer, not afraid to get my boots wet.


    • Read more about the Active Range

    4.39 out of 5 (from 1251 reviews)

    Take 5 days or 11 days to hike, cycle, cruise, snorkel and kayak with us around the North Island. The ‘Kauri’ combines perfectly with any of our South Island trips.

Trip Reviews

  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16233 reviews)

    Rimu is Wonderful - A few tips if you plan to go...

    My husband and I took the Rimu trip in early November 2016 and had a really terrific time. I encourage everyone who is seriously considering the Rimu to go ahead and sign up. That being said, with all of the fun we had, I do wish we had known a few things ahead of time. I include these tips for you, the soon-to-be Rimu traveler, to make your trip more enjoyable. However, I can promise that even if you do none of these things, you will still have a marvelous time:

    1. Guys, if you opt to snorkel with the fur seals be sure to shave your mustache before you leave home. It seems obvious now, but it never occurred to my husband that the mask wouldn’t seal properly to his face with his mustache. Do yourself a favor and shave it off or spend the afternoon dealing with a leaky mask.

    2. I also wish I had known just how intense and challenging the 3-day multi-hike through Nelson Lakes would be. If you’re an office worker and occasional hiker like me, then I encourage you to take this trip but do lots of practice/fitness training in advance. Load up your pack and get on the stair-master or start climbing really steep hills. The hike is gorgeous and worth it, but I can promise you it will be a lot more enjoyable if you’re in good shape for it. Also, there are no showers at the huts and only latrines (port-a-potties) for toilets, so bring baby wipes for exactly the same reason you would use them on a baby (wink wink). And also bring hiking poles! I know it says optional on the gear list, but I really found them to be essential. As for the water bottle – leave that at home and invest in a good water bladder system (a “Camelback” or similar). We found the water bottle to be a hassle to take in and out of the bag (forcing us to stop each time), which made us want to drink less water. The water bladders allow you to keep moving and you’ll find you’re more hydrated.

    3. The sea kayaks (and, honestly, New Zealand in general) are not made for people over 6’ 2” in height (187 cm). Watch your head everywhere you go, and as for the kayaks, it may help to have the taller person sit in the front seat of the kayak instead of the back.

    4. Also, pack enough clothes for a week and then expect to do laundry. Bring some travel-sized laundry soap packets to help save money and make sure you have enough 1$ and 2$ coins for laundry before you get to the hotel (the machines are generally pretty expensive: about $3 for the washer and between $3 - $5 for 30 minutes in the dryer).

    5. Bring good cycling shorts – yes, the ones with the weird-feeling padding on the bum. It will help prevent the dreaded ‘grumpy grundle’.

    6. And finally, a heads-up to my fellow outgoing introverts (yes, we exist): this trip contains long days of social interaction (think 7:15 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.), with few breaks for introspection/solitude. If you need some down time, skip dinner or unfurl all of the emergency blankets and build your own fort at the back of the bus and hang a sign that says, “Stay Out!” (just kidding about that last one).

    A great big thank you to our guides, Rachel and Jordan, who were informative and helpful beyond measure. How they managed to remain cheerful and engaging considering they had to do all of the exertion we clients had to do, plus all of their work on top of it, is beyond me. They are the embodiment of Kiwi hospitality! We are already thinking of coming back for a North Island tour sometime soon.
    Lauren Gerth Review Image
    – Missouri, United States
    Rimu, November 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16233 reviews)

    LEGENDARY

    Travelling to New Zealand has been on my bucket list for nearly half my life, and I'm so glad I spent three weeks there with Active! I was a bit worried going by myself, but it turned out to be the best vacation of my life. They took us to so many spots that I probably would have never seen if I tried to organize everything on my own. It was great to have them feed me, drive me, hike me, and take me to our accommodations at night - not once did I have to worry about anything. The accommodations themselves were so fun and unique, staying in them was a highlight of my trip. Our guides, Kim and Ashleigh, were fantastic young ladies. Ash was an amazing chef and Kim rocked the in-bus narration. I also think we had a phenomenal group of people who clicked very well, and absolutely the best weather one could wish for.

    Even when there were a few changes to the itinerary due to road damages, weather issues, or anything else, the guides were on top of it so fast that we barely even noticed there was a problem. We did miss out on snorkeling with the fur seals, and our Franz Josef Heli-Hike was cancelled, but we were still able to see seals and take a helicopter ride to a glacier at another time. No loss whatsoever.

    I'm a fairly active person under thirty, who lives in an mountainous region, and I was still challenged by the hikes and activities they provided. I also have bad knees, and was still able to get up and down the more difficult mountains. For those wondering abut the multi-day hike, it's definitely a work-out, but totally worth it! And be sure to invest in a hydration bladder, you'll really appreciate it! If you're looking for an outdoor adventure with lots of activity and fun, this is definitely one of the better ways to explore New Zealand.
    Janine Carbone Review Image
    – New Hampshire, United States
    Rimu, April 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16233 reviews)

    What an adventure!

    Great adventure with wonderful guides Alex and Tia!
    Stephanie Eskuri Review Image
    – Michigan, United States
    Rimu, January 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16233 reviews)

    Wonderful Adventure around the South Island

    We do a lot of travelling and this was one of the best trips we have ever done. the guides - Elder and Nick - are top notch. Their attention to detail, sense of humour and advanced cooking skills made the trip. The weather made it a bit of a challenge, particularly on the west (wet) coast, but they kept our spirits up and all of us safe and sound. I highly recommend this trip to anyone who wishes to see and experience the most of what the South Island has to offer. In slightly less than 2 weeks. If you are mentally prepared for some coolish, wet weather, so much the better. This was an active trip, with many options for additional cycling and hiking, which we took advantage of - which made it all the better. Fitness helped a lot. A must do.
    Murray Beare Review Image
    – Ontario, Canada
    Weka 13-day, February 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16233 reviews)

    South Island Sampling

    Despite starting the trip with a little rattle and shake (earthquake) the trip was a wonderful experience. We saw so much of the South Island and were able to enjoy the beauty of a sunny day as well as a cloudy one. Greg and Clara were amazing guides and took great care of us.
    Beth Wilson Review Image
    – Georgia, United States
    Manuka, December 2016

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Why travel with Active Adventures?

Above all, we aim to be amazing hosts. We're proud of our kiwi roots, and our professional, warm and relaxed style of running trips around the world is unforgettable.

We're VERY picky about who we select to work in our team, and we have people from all over the world lining up to guide our trips. So we get to hire the absolute BEST in the business.

As soon as you get off the plane, we've got all the details of your vacation covered – top notch meals, comfortable transport & accommodation, amazing guides and INCREDIBLE service.

Whether you’re new to adventure travel, or you’ve never travelled in a group before, you’ll find yourself arriving home positively different from when you left.

With our small groups (no more than 14), you'll get to know our team, your fellow travellers, and have the flexibility and freedom to do as much (or as little!) as you like.

It's all about getting there under your own steam – on foot, in a sea kayak, or by bike. What better way is there to experience mind blowing scenery? If it's your first time, no worries – our expert guides have got you covered.

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