Hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing

12.1 miles 3674.5 ft gain  - Loop Trail

Added by Aaron Hagen

An all season one of a kind trek that will take you past pristine alpine lakes, volcanoes, and unique New Zealand landscapes all in about 20km! It takes you through Craters, untouched lakes, heaps of volcanic activity, and more!

To anyone who has seen The Lord of the Rings then you will have a little extra incentive for going on this one of a kind trek through Mordor (Northern New Zealand in reality). The backdrop for a good portion of the trek showcases the mighty Mt. Ngaurauhoe, also referred to as Mt. Doom. Yes, you read that right, this is the volcano used in the movies as Mt. Doom and as soon you catch first sight of this impressive landmark a couple miles in, you will soon realize why it was chosen.

From the car park within Mangatepopo Valley you begin on mostly flat, well paved trail that will gradually increase as you go. There are not really any extreme elevation gains until a little later in the hike, so for the experienced hiker the first few miles are a walk in the park. From Mangatepopo Valley you will walk this valley for about 1-2 hours depending on your ability, until you eventually reach your first stop off Soda Springs. This area is recognizable by its large amount of dissolved minerals and volcanic rock with its beautiful saturated colors.

From Soda Springs the trek will take you out towards the South Crater. This is where the trek begins to climb in elevation so strap up those boots and be ready for the real hiking fun to begin just after Soda Springs. An ancient "red crater" can be observed along this path, you will smell the potent smell of sulphur from the geothermal activity around the area, it is a volcano after all! 

As soon as you are done admiring the Red Crater it's time to push on along the poled route for a side trip (optional) up to the summit of Mt Tongariro, the elevation gain from this is no more than 100m up and should only take another 1-2 hours as the route itself follows along an undulating rocky ridge, and in all honesty the trek up looks a lot more intense than it really is! The views from the top are hard to put into words, but rest assured it's well worth the effort to the top of the mountain!

Once you have come back down from Mount Tongariro (or Red Crater whichever section you have chosen), you will make your way to the Emerald Lakes. You will learn quickly why they are called the Emerald Lakes, as the shining green color of the lakes along with the geothermal steam surrounding it from the underground volcanic activity. From Red Crater to the Emerald Lakes will only take about 10-20 minutes.

The next leg of the trip will be a little more taxing, as it takes about another 1-2 hours to reach. From Emerald Lake you will head off to Ketetahi shelter, along this section you will come across the sacred blue lake, this lake is Tapu, it is not to be swam in or messed with in anyway as it is an ancient Maari site and should be treated as such. In this area you will find quite a bit of evidence of the recent volcanic eruptions.

Last but certainly not least you begin the loop back from Ketetahi shelter to Ketetahi parking area. This is a fairly long stretch of ground to cover and should take you around 1-2 hours in total to complete as it gives you a gradual descend through a more forested section that perfectly meets with the volcanic line. At the end of the hike there is the option for a short hike to a waterfall. 

Read More


Easy Parking


Leave a Review

Overall rating: 

Even in Bad Weather..!

This was one of the best hikes I’ve done even in ridiculously bad weather (so bad the group I was with probably shouldn’t have been up there...). Despite the view being blocked and you couldn’t see much, the sense of accomplishment I received from completing that walk was so good. I highly recommend it to anyone (just do it in better weather than what I did it in, you’ll enjoy it more!).

🥇Top Contributor

over 2 years ago

One of a kind!

Truly have never seen anything like this! Like a mix of The Enchantments and a barren wasteland! I recommend starting around 11 or 12, if you can, to avoid the crowds. The downhill is really long and monotonous when you descend from blue lake, so yeah that part kinda sucked but otherwise one of my favorite hikes ever!


Amazing scenery!! Lots of people on the track at all times so can be a bit crowded and some people can be competitive and pushy but it’s still an amazing accomplishment and so pleased I made it!!

Nearby Adventures

  • Climb Mount Ngauruhoe

    I may be crushin' dreams, but Mount Doom isn't actually the real name of the mountain Frodo climbed to destroy the ring (sorry LOTR fans), but the actual mountain does exist and it's called Mount Ngauruhoe! Located in the Tongariro National Park o...

    11.8 miles 3805.8 ft gain

  • Hike the Taranaki Falls Loop

    The walk starts with red tussock grass. After a short distance, you will walk into alpine shrub. The track up to the falls is a very gradual incline. To get to the lower falls, a long staircase through a forest of toatoa trees provides a quick des...

    4 miles 377.3 ft gain

  • Backpack to Tama Lakes

    The Tama Lakes trail can be walked easily as a day hike but we chose to overnight to escape the crowds (very popular hike) and fully enjoy the landscape, as well as the beautiful stars, sunrise and sunset. We walked the track in early winter (June...

    10.6 miles 1312.3 ft gain

  • Hike the Ridge Walking Track

    The trail for this hike starts next to the bathrooms that are about 150m down the road (south) from the Whakapapa Visitor Center. If you're standing in the road looking at the bathrooms, the trail head is to the right. You will be going uphill the...

    0.75 miles