The Tongariro Crossing is one of the most renown day hikes in the world. With over 13 miles of alpine terrain, the crossing is home to active volcanoes, emerald lakes, and red craters. The alpine crossing is a physically taxing journey, but it is worth every ache and pain to experience New Zealand’s untouched natural beauty first hand.
While barren and mostly untouched, the crossing was the sight of Lord of the Rings filming in the early 2000’s. The Tongariro Crossing is also more famously known as Mordor with Mount Ngauruhoe as the infamous Mount Doom (pictured above).
I was told that the Tongariro Crossing is one of the most weather dependent activities in New Zealand; therefore, I was thoroughly checking the forecast on multiple weather apps prior to our early departure the following morning. Because of its alpine terrain, weather conditions can be extreme and often dangerous if not timed correctly. The summer months bring better days for the crossing, while in the winter, you will want to consider a guided tour.
While you do not need proper hiking gear to participate in the crossing, there are hiking poles, boots, jackets, gloves, and other hiking materials for rent. I did not rent any additional gear, but here is what I had prepped ahead of time and brought along with me for this day hike:
- Small day-pack or backpack
- Prepared lunch, protein bars, energy bars, energy drinks, and lots of water
- The crossing has no water stations to refill empty bottles. Whatever you bring with you in your day pack as far as food and drink is concerned is the only thing you will have the whole day
- First aid (band-aids, disinfectant cream, etc.)
- Camera (fully charged)
- A good pair of walking shoes
- There was a lot of discussion on whether or not hiking boots were necessary. Seeing that the majority of the individuals in my group were backpackers, most of them did not have room to take hiking boots. I found that a decent pair of tennis shoes or trainers will be fine for this hike.
- Rain jacket or windbreaker
- The temperature and weather at the crossing changes very quickly and is often unexpected. Having a light rain jacket or water resistant coat will keep the wind and water out, if necessary.
- Scarf, gloves, beanie
- These are all optional, but one thing I would like to emphasize is layers, layers, layers. The crossing is cold in the early hours of the day. If you choose to summit one of the volcanoes, you will definitely need more than a rain jacket or windbreaker. The wind gusts at the summits are brutal and there is often snow or ice at the peaks, regardless of the season.
In short, the crossing is at least a 12 mile hike (excluding any summit ascends and descends) and will take the entire day to complete. That being said, keep in mind you will want to travel light, layer up, and bring lots of water and snacks.
For reference, I wore athletic leggings, trainers, a tank top and paired that with a rain jacket, light cardigan (for layering purposes), and a scarf. I was perfectly fine without gloves, although my hands were cold at the summit since I continuously took them out of my pockets for balance, grip, and picture taking. I found myself constantly taking layers off and putting them back on since the temperature and sun exposure changed so drastically throughout the day.
It is also important to note to reapply sunscreen often. It is easy to forget, but being out in the sun all day in high altitudes at times exposes your skin the extreme UV rays, regardless of the cold temperature outside.
In my day-pack, I included what was noted above: snacks, sunscreen, camera, first-aid supplies, lunch, and water, water, and more water. I did buy a Gatorade beforehand which helped throughout the hike to refuel any lost electrolytes.
Aside from the preparation and excitement I experienced beforehand, the hike was the highlight of my New Zealand trip and as exhausting as it was, I would do it again in a heartbeat. The day I hiked the crossing was a clear day and the group I was with got very lucky as the next day was misty and cloudy throughout the crossing.
The trails are very intuitive and it is nearly impossible to get lost as almost everyone is hiking in the same direction. You should receive a map prior to the start of the hike with the crossing broken out into specific, timed legs. The reason the crossing is timed is to ensure you finish it before sunset. Our crossing began with a 4:30 wake-up call and bus departure at 5:00 AM from Taupo. The bus ride from Taupo to the start of the crossing is about 1 hour. From there, you must use your time wisely, especially if you plan on hiking to the summit of one of the volcanoes.
If you are ever in New Zealand, make a point to hike the Tongariro Crossing. It is one of the most breathtaking hikes I have ever done, no pun intended 🙂
Hiking to the Summit of Mount Ngauruhoe, also known as Mount Doom:
The Red Crater & Emerald Lakes: