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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:

Trip Reviews

  •   4.70 out of 5 (from 266 reviews)

    Review of the Kiwi trip

    I chose to visit NZ with Active Adventures because I wanted to experience the South Island from tip to toe in an active fashion. The trip was exactly what I wanted. I loved hiking and kayaking, enjoyed visiting the towns and was swept away by the scenery. I learned a lot about the country's history, geology and mythology from my two guides. And I had fun.
    Barbara Delaney Review Image
    – Maryland, United States
    Kiwi, March 2017
  •   4.68 out of 5 (from 244 reviews)

    New Zealand and Kiwis are the Best!

    It would be difficult to overstate how impressed I was with our Active Adventure tour. Mel and Claire were absolutely incredible!! Steve was great too, but he was only with us for the hike up and back from the Aspiring Hut. Plus, he was weighed down by a rock he so generously carried up the hill for Mel.
    Anyway, Mel and Claire made Active Adventures (and New Zealand) look so good! They were EVERYTHING I could hope for: friendly, funny, knowledgeable, professional, hard-working, kind, easy-going, energetic, .... Thank you for one of the best 2-week periods of my entire life!
    Mike Schimpf Review Image
    – California, United States
    Kea, January 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4984 reviews)

    The Best Way to Spend my 30th Birthday!

    Going to New Zealand has been at the very top of my bucket list for quite a long time and I finally decided to scratch it off when I turned 30. Active Adventures was, from the beginning, the only tour group I would consider travelling with. They were the only group that not only had everything I wanted to do in New Zealand, but also had the highest level of professionalism and ratings that made me trust them.
    From the moment they picked us up at the airport I was certain I’d judged them correctly. Tess was simply an amazing tour guide (we called her mum because that’s exactly how we felt about her) not only was she fun, she took care of us, fed us, and kept us organized. Andy supplemented the tour with such interesting history and facts that I felt like I was on a school trip (in a good way!).
    All in all it was an amazing vacation, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it!
    Thank you Active Adventures for making my 30th the year to remember!
    Dani Felton Review Image
    – Florida, United States
    Rimu, November 2017
  •   4.38 out of 5 (from 1211 reviews)

    An Outstanding Time!

    The north island deserves more notice than it gets in the press. A different world than the south island, well worth any time you can give it.
    Lissa Jackson Review Image
    – Tennessee, United States
    Kauri, April 2017
  •   4.60 out of 5 (from 1888 reviews)

    Worth every penny!

    This was an amazing trip - highly recommended! Our guides, Koru and Liana, were great - kept us moving and active in all kinds of weather and conditions. Some of the planned tour had to be modified due to weather - it does rain a lot - but no regrets at all. We got a taste of New Zealand on beautiful days, rainy days, and once in rain, sleet and hurricane force winds, but we were always well cared for and felt like we'd seen New Zealand in all of it's majesty. The hiking was strenuous enough to feel like a challenge and leave us tired and a bit sore most days, but never too difficult. The Siberia Valley part of the trip was just spectacular! Koru's knowledge of New Zealand's native plants and animals, history, Maori heritage, and Lord of the Rings stories were particularly fascinating. Would love to go again!
    Bob Martin Review Image
    – South Carolina, United States
    Tui, 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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