How to prepare for the rough terrain of NZ’s best day hike: Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Tongariro Alpine Crossing, voted New Zealand’s best day hike, is a backpacker favourite. Don’t be fooled, however! The terrain can be tricky and weather conditions can be unpredictable, which means you need to be prepared and pack wisely. Luckily for you, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to answer all of your questions and help you get the most out of your experience.

Located in the Tongariro National Park, this 19.4km trek across volcanic plateaus will bring you to magnificent craters and mesmerising emerald lakes. You’ll find it hard to believe you haven’t been transported to a different planet as you admire the mounds of volcanic rock, mountain springs and lava flows that surround you. 

Amazing views: magnificent craters and mesmerising emerald lakes
Amazing views: magnificent craters and mesmerising emerald lakes

Whilst the Tongariro Alpine Crossing may be advertised as a day walk, it’s certainly not a walk in the park so get ready for an intense workout. It takes most people around 6/7 hours to complete (plenty of time to enjoy a lunch break and a few photo stops) but fitness fanatics might find 4/5 hours to be a more realistic goal. Either way, you’ll need to bring plenty of enthusiasm and determination!

What should I wear for the Tongariro Crossing?

The weather can change drastically on the crossing so it pays to be prepared for anything. Light and breathable clothes are best. You’ll always spot someone attempting to hike the Crossing in Vans or Converse-style shoes. Sprained ankles aren’t worth the fashion statement! Make sure to bring the following items,

  1. A good, waterproof coat that will keep you dry if it rains and warm when it’s windy.
  2. Layers, layers, layers.
  3. Hiking shoes or very sturdy trainers.
  4. A comfortable backpack.
    You’re going to need to carry food, water and other layers just to name a few things.
  5. Hat and sunglasses.
    The track is very exposed so make sure to protect yourself from those UV rays.
Be a smart traveller and wear the appropriate attire for this hike
Be a smart traveller and wear the appropriate attire for this hike

What to bring to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?

  1. A small/medium backpack with comfortable straps
  2. During the summer months it might be too hot to start the hike wearing your coat but don’t forget to pack one just in case the weather changes
  3. Sturdy, worn-in hiking boots or good quality sports trainers
  4. Gloves are a must in the cooler months but you’d be surprised how numb your fingers can get at high altitudes even in the summer!
  5. Good quality, thick hiking socks. The longer the better as they keep rocks and stones from creeping into your boots.
  6. Depending on what the weather is like when you start the hike, you may need to put on/remove layers.
  7. It’s useful to carry a phone just in case you need to call or message anyone in an emergency
  8. There are a million Instagram worthy moments on this hike, you’ll want to bring a camera to document the memories!
  9. A baseball cap in the summer and a beanie in the winter will protect your head from the elements
  10. Sunscreen is a must no matter what the season! The last thing you want is a burnt, peeling face the next day.
  11. No toilet paper is provided at the bathroom stops so we would highly recommend that you bring your own.
  12. Hiking is no fun if you’re squinting the whole time. Sunglasses are a must!
  13. Just like toilet paper, soap is not provided so if you want to freshen up after using the bathroom/before eating lunch then hand sanitiser is the perfect solution.
  14. There’s no doubt that you’ll work up an appetite on this hike, so pack a lunchbox filled with yummy food that is easy to eat (sandwiches, fruit, energy bars, chocolate, nuts etc.)
  15. Probably the most important thing you can pack: water. Bring at least 1.5-3 litres so that you have enough to last the whole day if necessary.
Essential items to bring to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Essential items to bring to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Optional extras to consider for Tongariro

  • First aid kit
    If you have a small first aid kit with you then it might be a good idea to pack it. You never know if you or someone else might need it.
  • Lip balm
    The wind and the sun can wreak havoc on your lips so try to protect them too.
  • Headphones/Earphones
    Do you hate talking while walking? Or does music simply help keep your stamina up? This might be an essential item for you!

How do I get to the Tongariro Crossing?

The Tongariro Crossing is not a loop track – it begins at the Mangatepopo car park and finishes at the Ketetahi car park. The start/endpoints are not within walking distance from any nearby towns so transport is needed.

Tongariro Crossing is not a loop track so plan ahead
Tongariro Crossing is not a loop track so plan ahead

If you’re on the Stray bus and plan on sticking to minimum time then you can ask your driver to book the Tongariro Crossing for you and your transport will be organised to and from Raetihi. The shuttle company we use is called Adrift and costs $50pp in the summer (price will increase during the winter as a guide is required).

If you are driving to the crossing then please be aware that there are now fines in place for long-term parking at the Mangatepopo car park. It’s best to park at the Ketetahi car park, catch a shuttle to the starting point at the Mangatepopo car park and then you can drive straight out when you finish.

Top tips for the Tongariro Crossing

  • Unless you’re a pro at hiking with a hangover, don’t get drunk the night before. Start the day fresh as a daisy and then you can always celebrate completing a 19.4km hike with a few beers afterwards!
  • Every time you see a bathroom – use it! There aren’t many bushes here as the track is extremely exposed so you’ll want to preserve your modesty by using the toilets they provide.
  • Drones are not permitted in the National Park – stick to handheld GoPro’s and cameras.
  • The summits of Mt Ngarahoe and Mt Tongariro are currently closed to the public. The local iwi (people) deem them to be tapu (sacred), so please respect the rules and don’t venture off the tracks.
Always respect the rules and please do not venture off the tracks.
Always respect the rules and please do not venture off the tracks.
  • Take your time. Don’t worry about keeping up with everyone else, just go at your own pace. If someone is walking at a quicker speed behind you, just stand to the side and let them pass. It might seem like an endless uphill at times but be comforted by the knowledge that there is always a flat or downhill after every strenuous uphill segment! You can do it!
  • Take regular breaks for photos, water and food – just don’t block the path.
  • If you’re struggling before you hit the halfway point, it’s advisable to turn around and head back to where you started. Shuttles can pick you up from either car park and it’s best to be safe rather than get stuck further along the track.
Make sure you are prepared when starting the Tongariro Crossing hike
Make sure you are prepared when starting the Tongariro Crossing hike
  • If you think you’ll be late back to your shuttle then you’ll need to give someone a call to let them know. The Ketetahi hut is the last place to get a phone signal along the track (about 1hr 30min from the finish).
  • Serious accidents CAN happen. Follow the markers to prevent getting lost and try and stick with other people. During whiteouts and heavy winds, it’s important to make sensible decisions about whether or not to proceed as parts of the track are very narrow and difficult to traverse.
  • If you fall or injure yourself, alert someone immediately and pass on your details.
Follow the rules and stick to the trail
Follow the rules and stick to the trail
  • It’s easy to forget but Mt Tongariro is an active volcano – read the signs carefully and make sure you follow the instructions in case of emergency.
  • DO NOT LITTER. Put your fruit skins, sandwich crusts and chocolate bar wrappers back in your lunchbox. There are no bins on the crossing so what you bring in with you, you must take out! If you do see litter on the ground, create some good karma by picking it up and putting it in your backpack – you’ll be able to dispose of waste at the end of the hike.
  • Don’t drink the water from the lakes or rivers. If you run out of drinking water ask around, someone may be able to share with you. Otherwise, some of the huts en-route do have a (limited) supply of drinking water for emergencies.
Enjoy every second of the Tongariro Crossing hike
Enjoy every second of the Tongariro Crossing hike

Make the most of every second!

The most important piece of advice we can give you is the most cliche advice of all: Make the most of every second! The Tongariro Crossing is a truly spectacular hike with once-in-a-lifetime views. Now you’ve got all the important information you need to have an amazing day, it’s time to grab your gear, your friends and experience real-life Mordor for yourself.

Tongariro Crossing is a truly spectacular hike with once-in-a-lifetime views
Tongariro Crossing is a truly spectacular hike with once-in-a-lifetime views.
Tara profile picture


Originally from Birmingham, UK. Favourite Stray stop: Tongariro National Park. Fun fact: she has done every Bungy Jump in New Zealand.

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