Tongariro Alpine Crossing Track
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing takes you over the length of Mt Tongariro (19.4 Kilometres) about 7-9 hours. You start from the Mangatepopo Valley (carved out from the last ice age) and walk over towards the Ketetahi road as this minimises the climbing involved, you will be glad you took this options when you come down from Red Crater.
Mangatepopo Car park to Soda Springs
Time: 1-1/2 hours | Grade: easy
You start from the Mangatepopo Car park and walk to Soda Springs. This section is fairly flat with just an occasional short steep bit. The track is well formed and has board walk ways in the damper parts, with poles marking the way.
Fifteen minutes from the car park the track to Whakapapa branches off to the right (3 hours). Just beyond this junction a 5 minute side track leads left to Mangatepopo Hut and a toilet.
The main track continues up the valley following the Mangatepopo stream around the edge of old lava flows.
Soda Spring to South Crater
Time: 40 minutes – 1 hour | Grade: Moderate – Difficult
Soda Spring to South Crater (known as the devils staircase) – The first of the big climbs, this section is steep as you are climbing from 1400 up to 1600 metres above sea level, the view on a clear day provides a good excuse to make frequent stops; you may even see Mt Taranaki out to the west.
South Crater, is not a crater, but a basin carved out by ancient glaciers and in filled by fine volcanic debris.
A route departs from this point to the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe, to continue the Crossing follow the marked route across to the eastern side of the basin.
South Crater to Red Crater
Time: 1 hour | Grade: Moderate – Difficult
After you have crossed South Crater there is a short climb onto an exposed ridge. The track follows the ridge northward towards Red Crater.
Just before you reach red crater, the route to the summit of Tongariro heads off to the left, while the main track continues around Red Crater’s narrow rim.
This is a spectacular part of the walk but it can be a little scary on a windy day
Enjoy the view eastward over the Oturere Valley, the Rangipo Desert, and the Kaimanawa Ranges.
Red Crater to Blue Lake
Time: 30 minutes | Grade: Moderate
Coming down from the Red Crater is steep with the loose scoria moving underfoot, great to have your walking poles in this area as care is required. To the right are the Emerald Lakes, which are small explosion pits, the brilliant green colour of the water is caused by the minerals leaching from the surrounding rock. The steam vents above the lake are responsible for the sulphurous smell.
The water is not suitable for swimming or drinking.
On the left of red crater is the lava flws spreading out in a broad wave across the floor of central crater, you will notice this clearly when looking back from the blue lake. (Remember to look back on the Tongariro Crossing the views are offen outstanding) The Tongariro Crossing continues up to blue lake.
The Tongariro Northern Circuit branches off just past the lowest lake to the Otureree Hut.
Blue Lake to Ketetahi Hut
Time: 1 hour | Grade: Moderate
Once past the blue lake there is a change in outlook as you walk through a narrow saddle onto the northern slopes of Tongariro with spectacular views out over to Mt Pihanga, Lake Rotoaira and to Lake Taupo.
The other change is in the vegetation coming into the red tussock dotted with buttercups, eye bright and sturdy shrubs like mountain inaka and snow Totara.
The soils here are much thicker than elsewhere on the Crossing and plant life is correspondingly diverse. As the ground can be quite boggy and the pumice base is easily eroded – please stay on the track as it slowly zigzags its way down to the Ketetahi Hut.
Ketetahi Hut to Ketetahi Car park
Time: 2 hours | Grade: Moderate
The last part of the track takes you down from the Ketetahi Hut into podocarp-hardwood forest to the Mangatetipua Stream.
The Totara-dominated forest gives way to regenerating scrubland with a low canopy of Kanuka and Manuka.
A short side track leads down to a waterfall a few minutes before reaching the car park.
The route should only be attempted in summer unless you are experienced on snow and part of a well-equipped group.
A poled route leads from the edge of South Crater over to the base of Ngauruhoe. From here it is a matter of picking your own rout up; the best option is to follow the ridge of red scoria to the left of the scree slopes.
The summit area can be dangerous and should be avoided if there are any signs of volcanic activity. The descent can be made relatively quickly but it is easy to lose control on the free-flowing scree and care is required.
Allow 11/2 hours up from the saddle and 30 minutes down. If you want to climb Ngauruhoe and complete the Crossing in one day – ensure you allow plenty of time as it is a strenuous side trip.
The poled route to the summit of Tongariro branches off the Crossing just before Red Crater. It follows an undulating ridge that can be cold and exposed in poor conditions.
However, in good weather if you have spare time, it can be an enjoyable diversion. Allow 11/2 -2 hours return.