The Tongariro Alpine Crossing (17km, 6–8 hours) is the most popular hiking trail in the park and many people describe it as the world’s best one day hike. It starts with a climb up to the saddle between the summits of Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro and passes breathtaking scenery and then travels downhill to the finish line at Ketetahi car park.
There are several side trips that you can take; these include climbing to the summits of both Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro and a short hike to Soda Springs.
You can walk this trail in either direction but most people start in the Mangatepopo Valley as this route involves less climbing. Much of the hike is over steep volcanic rock and it is recommended that you only undertake this trek if you’re reasonably fit.
Most people complete the Crossing in one day, but there are two huts and campsites on the track so you may want to make it a two-day hike if you plan on tackling some of the side trips. Some people spend the first night at Mangatepopo hut so they can get an early start the following morning and beat the crowds that arrive by bus between 7.30am and 8.30am. It is possible to combine part of the Northern Circuit with the Tongariro Crossing, which enables you to start the walk from Whakapapa Village – this option involves hiking between Whakapapa and Mangatepopo Hut and adds an extra 8.5km (3–5 hours) to the hike.
Transport to the Crossing
Several companies operate shuttle buses for hikers tackling the Crossing.
Tongariro Crossing Shuttles operate a shuttle bus service between National Park Village and the Tongariro Crossing trailhead. Shuttle buses depart National Park Village at 6am, 7am, 8am, 9am and 10.30am with return shuttles departing at 1.30pm, 2.30pm, 3.30pm, 4.30pm and 6pm. The return trip costs $40.
Alpine Hotbus operate a daily shuttle bus from Taupo and Turangi for hikers tackling the Tongariro Crossing. It departs Taupo at 5.40am with an additional 5.15am service during summer (Nov–Apr) and Turangi at 6.35am with an additional 6.10am service during summer (Nov–Apr). The return fare is $57 from Taupo and $45 from Turangi.
Four-hour parking restrictions are in place from late October to April and the car park at the trailheads is notorious for theft so even if you have your own car it is advisable to take one of the shuttle buses.