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The Tongariro crossing is a world heritage site and one of the most spectacular hike destinations. Hiking on this track can bring feelings of being on a completely different planet due to the incredible and unreal landscape. While it is the best hiking spot, the Tongariro crossing is also an extremely challenging and sometimes dangerous hike. As a result, one of the most asked questions about Tongariro crossing entails how difficult it can be to cross the Tongariro alpine track. Some people will find the hike difficult, while others will find it easy, depending on how they approach it. A little knowledge about the Tongariro crossing can help you make the right decision.

Tongariro crossing

Overview of the Tongariro track

The Tongariro crossing is a one-way 19.4-kilometer track that entails climbing over mountainous terrain and traversing a volcano. The highest point of the track is the active Red crater at 1886 meters. Most of the ascent on the Tongariro track happens in two climbs. The first climb starts at Soda Springs ending at the edge of the South crater, while the second starts from the South crater to the Red crater. You will then start to descend with 1126 meters between the Red crater and the Ketetahi finish.

Hikers can walk the track in either direction, though most people start at the Mangatepopo Valley and hike up the saddle between Mount Ngauruhoe and Tongariro, passing through giant craters and snow capped peaks. You will reach the Red crater peak before moving downwards through a few crater lakes and finish your crossing down to Ketetahi. It entails hiking the landscape on Mt Tongariro has numerous craters with the track leading through South crater’s flat moonscape. It then climbs to the edge of Red Crater, skirting around the central crate before leading down past the Te Maari crater.

There is the Devil’s staircase on the Tongariro track in a section between Soda Springs and the South crater. This old track is no longer used after a new track was built due to being rugged and steep.

tongariro crossing

How hard is the Tongariro crossing?

Anyone with a moderate fitness level can cross the Tongariro alpine in summer conditions. You will need heart and lung power to hike the crossing because you will sweat and breathe hard. If you are planning for the Tongariro crossing, you need to brace for a challenging hike. You also need the endurance to cover the distance, with more grit needed to finish the downhill part of the track.

Some parts of the track may be a challenge, but it adds to the hike’s fun and reward. For example, your knees and quadriceps will need to work hard on the 10km downhill. If you lack the knees to descend over 1126 meters, you can struggle hiking the Tongariro crossing. The Tongariro crossing travels over an active volcano, which makes the terrain challenging.

Naturally, you will take up to seven hours to hike the crossing if you are between 18 and 40. This includes taking photos and having a leisurely lunch break during the hike. Fast hikers will naturally complete the walk-in a shorter time than slow hikers. Older individuals may find the Tongariro crossing a challenge due to the required fitness level. For example, people above 60 years may take longer to hike the crossing.

Also, how you approach the Tongariro crossing determines its success. For example, if you are crossing for leisure, stopping to take pictures and have lunch breaks, you will take longer to finish than those who focus solely on finishing the track. The hike is not a race, and everyone should have a purpose. It is advisable to regularly take a rest if you want to reduce fatigue and risk of getting injured.

Tongariro crossing

Best time to hike the Tongariro Alpine

The success of the Tongariro crossing will also depend on picking a good weather day for the hike. Sometimes the weather condition can change while on the track that requires carrying the right gear. Hiking in poor weather can naturally reduce the effectiveness of crossing the Tongariro Alpine. Therefore, regardless of the time of the year, you have to prepare for the weather conditions.

Most people visit the Tongariro crossing between November and April when there is limited snowfall. Summer is the best time because it offers a majestic landscape with rich colours and varying textures. Also, the period between November and April in New Zealand is characterized by longer days and a better chance of good weather, crucial to the Tongariro crossing.

Over the autumn months, the weather can change from sunshine to rain and snow. Fast forward into winter, it will be difficult to hike on the Tongariro crossing due to the presence of ice and snow. Hence, sometimes hiking with an experienced guide can be necessary and safe to avoid any dangerous areas. In winter, the weather conditions can be extreme for anyone who has never crossed the track. Special equipment is also needed when hiking the Tongariro crossing during winter.

Tongariro crossing

How to make the Tongariro crossing easier

There are several tricks for anyone wanting to make the hike crossing easier. Before planning a trip to the crossing, ensure you achieve moderate fitness that will allow you to happily walk on uneven terrain for a few hours. If you are healthy and physically active, you can hike the Tongariro crossing with more success.

Ensure you have the right footwear that is less likely to slip when walking through the trail. Having good gear can make the difference when hiking on the Tongariro crossing. Hence, wearing hiking boots should be necessary as they are sturdy to walk on the steep track.

Bring the right clothing during the hike for an easier crossing. A good quality rain jacket is recommended to keep you dry for the entire hike in case of rainfall. You will need warm, layered clothing and waterproof pants to prepare for any rainy weather.

Also, don’t forget to carry hiking poles as they can make a huge difference in crossing the Tongariro Alpine. For example, you will need the walking poles to descend from Red Crater down to the Emerald lakes that are quite steep and loose underfoot.

You also need to carry the right food and drinks to keep you sustained throughout the seven hours of hiking. Have at least two liters of water per person and snacks to eat throughout the track and remain energized and hydrated.

Bottom line

Hiking the Tongariro crossing is one of the most spectacular one-day events anyone can do. The crossing is doable by most active, healthy people due to the rough terrain. However, hiking through the 19.4-kilometer track is not easy, and you will need to prepare. You will need extra energy and endurance to successfully hike the Tongariro crossing in bad weather, such as a hot sunny day. The trick in crossing the Tongariro track lies in being well prepared for any good or bad weather and carrying the right gear.

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  1. Yes the devils staircase on the way over sure was difficult, especially in the rain, but we found Taranaki summit much harder!

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