Tongariro Alpine Crossing

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For spectacular and varied scenery packed into a single day of walking, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is pretty hard to beat. It’s generally considered the best one-day tramp in New Zealand and includes cold mountain springs, lava flows, an active crater, steam vents, emerald-coloured lakes, and panoramic views.

The track is the gem of the Tongariro National Park, New Zealand’s first national park (established in 1887) and the fourth oldest in the world. It is also a dual World Heritage area, a status that recognises the park's important Maori cultural and spiritual associations, as well as its outstanding volcanic features.

On a fine day, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is well within the abilities of any fit person – there are a couple of steep climbs and a scree slope to negotiate, but if you can walk for 6-7 hours over uneven ground you will love the experience.

Tongariro is a place of extremes and surprises with exposed slopes and unsuspecting hikers have been caught out by the weather, which like in any alpine terrain, can change quickly.  

If you can afford the time, it’s best to allow a weather window when planning to do the Crossing. The weather changes day by day, and waiting for a sunny window is definitely worthwhile.

Most people walk from Mangatepopo to Ketetahi because there is less of a climb in that direction. The track starts gently, climbing alongside a crystal-clear stream that cuts through old lava flows.

Things get a bit  steeper with the climb up to the Mangatepopo Saddle between two very different looking volcanoes - Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro. The views can be fantastic on a clear day, reaching as far as Mt Taranaki on the west coast.

For the fit and enthusiastic, the perfectly-shaped cone of Mt Ngauruhoe can be climbed as a three-hour return side trip. This is the volcano that stood in for Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies.

The main track next climbs up to a ridge leading to Red Crater from where you can get views of Mt Tongariro. This is the highest and most exposed part of the tramp and the rugged ridge is impressive for its brightly-coloured earth and sulphurous steam. There’s no mistaking that it’s an active crater.

From the summit of Red Crater, the track descends down to three water filled explosion craters called the Emerald Lakes. Caused by minerals which have leached from the adjoining thermal area, their brilliant turquoise colour is spectacular to see.

A little further along is the equally impressive Blue Lake, from where the track begins to descend. As you continue down, the track cuts through tussock slopes, and then through cool podocarp-hardwood forest.

The Department of Conservation has developed a free interpretative app for mobile phones called the Pocket Ranger. It provides stories, photos and video, maps, and safety messages relating to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and can be downloaded from: www.tongariro.org.nz/pocketranger.

If you would prefer a real companion who can share local Maori legends and teach you about the unique flora and geology, let Concierge NZ organise a knowledgeable guide for you.