When in the Tongariro National Park, an epic day hike is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing track passes over varied and spectacular volcanic terrain. In the presence of active volcanoes you can experience some of Tongariro National Parks special gifts. A cold mountain spring, lava flows, an active crater, steam vents, emerald-coloured lakes and magnificent views combine to make this an enjoyable and memorable trip. It is a 19.4 km route that typically takes 6 to 8 hours.
The Tongariro National Park is a place of extremes and surprises, a place to explore and remember. From herb fields to forests, from tranquil lakes to desert-like plateau and active volcanoes - Tongariro has them all.
Tongariro National Park is located in the central North Island of New Zealand. The nearest towns are Turangi, National Park and Ohakune.
This description details the trek from Mangatepopo through to Ketetahi. A full day is required (7-8 hours including rest stops). The track can be walked in the reverse direction but this requires more climbing so allow an extra hour. As this is not a round trip visitors will have to arrange transport to Mangatepopo roadend and back from Ketetahi roadend. Several local operators provide this service.
From the carpark at Mangatepopo Roadend, 6km off State Highway 47, the track makes its way up the Mangatepopo Valley. Thirty minutes from the carpark a side track on the left leads to Mangatepopo Hut. Continuing at a gentle gradient the main track climbs alongside a stream and around the edges of old lava flows.
To reach the northern trailhead from the intersection of SH47 with SH46, head east on SH46 for 5.7km. Turn right on dirt road signed Ketetahi Track for 0.5km to large signed trailhead parking area.
To reach the northern trailhead from the intersection of SH1 with SH46, head west on SH46 for 13km. Turn left on dirt road signed Ketetahi Track for 0.5km to large signed trailhead parking area.
The porous surface of new lava, its blacker colour absorbing much of the sun's heat, is a harsh environment for plants. Simple colonising mosses and lichens are the first to establish followed years later by successively larger plants each taking advantage of the slow build up of precious soil. This succession of plant communities is evident on the lava flows of varying ages that have flowed from the crater of Ngauruhoe.
Near the head of the valley a short side track leads to Soda Springs. The springs are an oasis for the moisture loving yellow buttercups and white foxgloves.The steep climb from the valley to Mangatepopo Saddle between Mount’s Ngauruhoe and Tongariro is rewarded by views of, on a clear day, Mount Taranaki to the west.
For the fit and enthusiastic, Mount Ngauruhoe can be climbed as a three-hour return side trip from South Crater. A poled route leads off the main track to the base of Ngauruhoe, from here the route follows a rock ridge directly uphill toward the summit. This route is not marked.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing track continues along a poled route across South Crater to a ridge leading up Red Crater from where you can get views of Mt Tongariro. You can smell the sulphur, evidence that Red Crater is still active.
From here a side trip can be taken along a poled route leading to the summit of Mount Tongariro (2 hours return).
From the summit of Red Crater (1886 metres), the highest point on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, the track descends down to three water filled explosion craters called the Emerald Lakes. Their brilliant greenish colour is caused by minerals which have leached from the adjoining thermal area. Be careful on the descent as the track has lots of loose stones and gravel on the surface.
The Tongariro Northern Circuit track to Oturere Hut branches off to the right at the lowest lake, while the Tongariro Alpine Crossing continues over Central Crater to Blue Lake. From Blue Lake the track sidles around the flanks of North Crater, descending to Ketetahi Hut.
The Ketetahi Springs are on private land. Trekking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing does not convey any right of access to the springs. The Ketetahi Trust, representing the landowners, has given permission for trekkers to cross part of their land but this does not include access to Ketetahi Springs. Please respect this restraint and follow the poled route.
Below Ketetahi Hut the track continues down through tussock slopes to the forest bushline.
The cool podocarp-hardwood forest provides a final contrast on the long descent to the roadend. At two points the track passes over the tongue of a lava flow from Te Maari Crater and for a distance, travels alongside a stream polluted with minerals from Ketetahi Springs.
Overall, Tongariro Crossing is the 7th most popular hiking trail of all 15 hikes in New Zealand.