The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a must-do tramp for most New Zealand tourists. If Tongariro Crossing is on your bucket list, but you're not much of a hiker, please remember that Tongariro Crossing is an alpine crossing and should only be done by the those who are fit and prepared with the right gear in safe weather conditions.
For fitness, consider that Tongariro Crossing is 19.4 kilometres (12 miles) with 820 metres (2690 feet) of elevation gain if you walk in the direction from Mangatepopo to Ketetahi. (The reverse direction has more climbing).
For weather conditions, check Metservice and talk to the local Department of Conversation (DOC) Office and the shuttle operators. Like DOC says, if conditions are poor in the valley at the start, turn around - it'll only get worse as you go higher. Don't go in winter if you don't have crampons and an ice axe and experience using them.
As for preparedness, here's what we wear when we go:
- Sturdy shoes or hiking boots.
- A base layer of merino or thermals, including legs and feet.
- Walking pants or shorts.
- Appropriate layers of warmth and water resistance for the start of the hike. Usually a layer of merino or two and a jacket.
- A hat for warmth and sun protection, mentioned below.
- And, a small backpack carrying all of this:
- Map and compass.
- Multiple layers of merino and thermals. Layers can be removed for more/less warmth as needed. No cotton!!
- Toque - beanie - warm hat.
- Gloves or mittens.
- Extra pair of socks.
- Sun hat & sunglasses.
- Heavy duty rain jacket that doubles as a wind proof layer.
- Insulated jacket that fits under rain jacket.
- Optional: waterproof pants.
- 2-3 litres of water per person.
- 2 lunches and plenty of snacks.
- Swiss army knife or multi-tool.
- Fully charged phone.
- Head torch. (In late autumn and early spring when the days are shorter, you can find yourself in the dark in the Ketetahi forest section towards the end of the track. We did.)
- Personal locator beacon.
- First aid kit and any personal medication.
- Lip balm. Even with lip balm and sunscreen, my lips took a week to recover from our last Tongariro Crossing.
- Toilet paper. There are plenty of toilets, but no toilet paper.
- Emergency blanket.
- Rubbish bag. Pack it in, pack it out.
Before you go, be sure to leave your intentions - let someone know the route you'll be taking, the time you'll be back, and what they should do if they don't hear from you. Use the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council's Plan My Trip to share your intentions to ensure you make it home safely. It only takes a minute to complete the form and you're provided with a pdf you can send to friends and family. The pdf also includes helpful information about the weather and what to pack.
Safe and happy crossing!