Trail Distance: 12 miles Elevation Gain: 2500′
Hike in: 5:20 AM
Hike out at 11:44AM
Terrain Rating: Moderate to above-average in good weather, Moderate to excellent in bad weather (loose rocks, wooden bridges, stairs, well-marked trail).
Trailhead: Mangatepopo Car Park. We highly recommend staying at Discovery, and taking the earliest shuttle.
Lonely Planet rated the Tongariro Alpine crossing as one of America’s best day hikes, and a “life-changing” experience. It is worth a visit if you are on North Island. The Emerald Lakes are stunning and the whole landscape is like being on another planet. It’s a moderate hike in sunny weather, and a moderately challenging hike in rainy or windy conditions. Red Crater is the most difficult part. It is a steep climb that is quite steep with loose rock. This hike is very exposed so you need to have good gear.
Mangatepopo Car Park is the most popular place to begin the Tongariro Alpen Crossing. This route will require you to climb at a lower elevation. Some hikers start at Ketetahi Car Park, and then only make it to the Emerald Lakes before they turn around.
Officially, the hike can be broken down into six sections. The hike starts flat, from the Car Park to Soda Springs in the first hour. It is made up of many wooden bridges. It made the hike seem less “rustic” but it was still enjoyable. The scene changes a bit from Soda Springs to South Crater. It is more picturesque and steeper. It was cold, misty, and windy when we set out. For the first few hours, it was difficult to see. It becomes steeper and the rocks are much looser as you go from South Crater to Red Crater. We had to run half-marathon up the mountain because of the strong wind. For stability, hiking poles were a great addition. Although the entire climb is supposed to take 3-3.5 hours according to the book, we managed 2.5 hours due to heavy rains and strong winds.
It started to clear up once we reached the 10-minute descent to Emerald Lakes. At 7:49 PM, we reached the bottom of Emerald Lakes. We took a few pictures around the lakes, and we were glad to beat the crowd. We were the only hikers in this direction at this point. It was great to have the area to ourselves. I would highly recommend the Discovery shuttle at the earliest.
We took our time to descend from Emerald Lakes towards Ketetahi Hut after it cleared up. We had plenty of time to spare before we picked up at 12:30pm. The sun was shining, there were no steep switchbacks and the trail was very easy. You can find benches and rocks in the tussock land between Ketetahi Hut and the Car Park. Here we enjoyed a lovely hour-long lunch while looking out over the surrounding area. Just before the Car Park, you will find about 2 miles of dense jungle and warnings about landslides. Despite our lengthy lunches and numerous stops on the descent, we reached the Car Park at 11.44 AM.
Tongariro Crossing in the North Island is a great day hike option. Because we started early and were in bad weather, we didn’t encounter the huge crowds that you see online. So I’m not able to comment on that experience. Layers and rain gear were essential for this hike. One man was wearing blue jeans and we ran into him. He didn’t look very happy. Side trails are available and we had originally planned to climb Mount Ngauruhoe, but the visibility was so poor at that time, we decided not to.
- Osprey 36L Sirrus pack and rain cover
- Hiking poles
- Salmon X Ultra Mid 2 hiking boots and Darn Tough socks
- 1.5L water
- 5 bars
- Sandwich lunch with a muffin, an apple and a muffin
- Lululemon yoga pants
- Arc’Teryx Beta SL Pant
- 2 Icebreaker Merino Wool shirts (1 long-sleeve).
- Mid-layer Icebreaker Merino
- North Face HyVent 2.5L raincoat
- Additional clothes to pack: fleece, socks
- Emergency Gear: Headlamps, First-Aid Kits, Swiss Army Knifes, Emergency Blankets