My Guide to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a 19.4km walking track in the Tongariro National Park, Central North Island, New Zealand. It is New Zealand’s oldest National Park and has a huge amount of history and cultural significance. Lonely Planet named the crossing in the top 10 best walks in the world and it is known to be one of the best one day walks to do in New Zealand.

I have done the walk twice now and both times completed the walk in about 5 1/2 hours. I’ll share my pictures and experiences with you and let you know my tips on how to prepare and things to remember.

Tongariro Crossing

Before you start…

What to wear?

The weather can be very changeable, especially once you reach the top so you need to be prepared with warm clothing. Both times I did the walk, it was the end of summer / beginning of autumn (February-April) so I wore tights, a singlet, long sleeve clima cool top, a wind breaker jacket and hat. I also had a puffer vest in my bag which I wore once I got to the top. If you have hiking boots – wear those, otherwise running shoes are fine. Both times I wore running shoes and I had no problems, just make sure you wear quality socks! Nobody wants blisters.

What to take?

In my backpack I had my vest, 1L water bottle, snacks such as nuts, dried fruit and bliss balls and then a packed lunch which was a wrap / sandwich. I also took my camera, phone, toilet paper, hand sanitiser, lip balm and sunscreen.

What to eat?

It’s important that your body has enough fuel and energy to do this kind of endurance exercise. It’s almost 20km of walking and takes around 5 1/2 hours to complete so you do need to be prepared. A great option for breakfast before completing the walk is oats / porridge. Oats are one of the most nourishing foods for your body, especially before endurance exercise because oats provide a sustained release of energy in the bloodstream to keep you going for longer periods of time. I soaked my oats the night before which helps with digestion and then topped my bowl with almond milk, chia seeds and banana. Snacks wise, as I said earlier, I took nuts, dried fruit and bliss balls. These are great snacks to take as they are light to carry but will give you energy. Check out my bliss ball recipe here if you haven’t already:

How to get there?

There are different ways to complete the track but the way I have done it, and would recommend is to start the track at the Mangatepopo Carpark. Tip: If you’re going to be using Google Maps, make sure you type in “Mangatepopo carpark” rather than “Tongariro Alpine Crossing” because that won’t take you right to the carpark where you need to start.

Map Tongariro Crossing

You can either complete the crossing by walking from one end to the other, and catch the shuttle bus back to the carpark, or walk to the emerald lakes and then turn around and walk back the same way. I prefer to walk back the same way because:

1. You don’t have to pay and wait for the shuttle to bring you back to the car park.

2. The second part of the track isn’t as scenic as the first part of the track so you’re not missing out on a huge amount by walking back the same way. This is just personal preference though.

3. There’s less people on the way back so you get to see everything from a completely new perspective, and most importantly not fighting the crowds for that all important Insta pic haha. #DoItForTheGram

Where can you stay before doing the track?

Both times I stayed in accommodation in Taupo the night before and got up early as the drive from Taupo to the start of the track is about 1 hour 20 minutes. There are other options you can choose from obviously and you can stay at the Tongariro Lodge: or there are a number of hotels nearby such as the Discovery Lodge If you’re unsure where to stay, you can always check out Air B’n’B.

Now you’re ready to walk the track!

The first part of the track is reasonably flat and is a mix of gravel and boardwalk – It’s easy to walk on and nice to get the legs warmed up and the blood flowing.

Tongariro Crossing

There is one toilet on this part of the track and then two toilets further up at The Devil’s Staircase, but after that there is nothing so it pays to go before you start the walk. The Devil’s Staircase is fairly steep, climbing 1400m-1600m above sea level. It is a mixture of stairs built into the side of a mountain and stretches of gravel. It’s probably the toughest part of the track and definitely gets the heart rate up you will definitely feel a sweat coming on. Once you reach the top, there is a nice big area of flat  land for a while which gives you a chance to catch your breath and take in the stunning scenery. On a clear day, you can see the top of Mount Ngauruhoe (aka. Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings). If you’re game, you can try to walk up Ngauruhoe. There isn’t a set track and it’s just loose rock and tephra which is difficult to walk on. Although i wasn’t brave enough to take it on, I could only imagine the views to be simply breathtaking as you look down into the crater and beyond.

Tongariro Crossing

After the legs have had a slight rest, it’s back up hill again – this time walking on the side of a clay cliff to the top of a small ridge. On the right hand side will be a beautiful red crater with rich, burgundy colours and absolutely stunning views. It’s so surreal because you can’t see anything man made – no houses, no roads, no other signs of life. It literally feels like you’re walking on mars or another planet entirely. Once you get to the top, you start the descend toward the emerald lakes which on a clear day you can see from the very top but a lot of the time, you do have to walk toward them to get a clear view. The colour is emerald green from the minerals being washed down by the thermal area by the red crater.

Tongariro Crossing

From here, I walked back the same way but you can keep going past the lakes to the end of the crossing and get the shuttle bus back to the car park. I believe the bus is $30 for adults and you must book beforehand.

If you haven’t done this walk, I cannot recommend it enough, whether you’re a visitor to this magnificent country, or if this is your own backyard. The views are stunning and what’s even better is it’s free to do. It’s an absolute must! Let me know if you have any questions if you are thinking of doing it or want to share your experience, just comment below.

Thanks for reading 🙂

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