A Guide: Hiking Tongariro Alpine Crossing (Winter)

Undertaking the Tongariro Alpine crossing during in the warmer months is a challenge to most but during winter is really something else. The 19.4km of sheer breathtaking terrain is not to be taken lightly and although I recommend that anyone with a reasonable amount of fitness should be able to complete the trek it does come with some well-needed preparation. This is my guide to completing the crossing during winter.

So before I get into what’s involved, I must say that the uttermost safest way to completing the trek is by hiring a guide which is exactly what I did! , I am in by no way experienced in alpine terrain and felt that having someone there to show me the ropes was the best way to go. Now that we’ve got that out of the way the decision to go with a guide or not is completely up to you!

Mangatepopo Car park

The trek begins at the Mangatepopo car park this is usually where guided groups are dropped off and is exactly where Adrift-Tongariro dropped myself and others on the guided group I joined. The first 30 minutes is a gradual walk to what is basically the base of the mountain before the actual hike begins, This spot is also one of the very few checkpoints/toilet stations so id recommend using this before you begin as the hike takes around 8 hours.


The Devil’s Staircase

Once continuing past the first checkpoint the trek begins to become more inclined and has a section called the Devil’s Staircase. Fear not though this section is not as terrifying as it sounds and mainly consists of multiple flights of stairs.¬† Upon completing the staircase you will be greeted with amazing panoramic views of snowed capped mountains! This is also known as the south crater and will be the point where you will make the decision to climb Mt. Doom as know in the Lord Of The Rings or not. If you wish to climb this section keep in mind this will add an additional 2 hours onto the trek and you will pick up the crossing back where you started as this trail is a circuit.

The Red Crater

From the south crater, it is only a nice easy 10-minute walk to the base of the red creator, it is usually at this point where guides will make the decision depending on weather conditions if it is safe to continue or not. If it’s safe to do so this is the point at which you will want to strap on a set of crampons! The Trek continues and unfortunately, it’s not so easy this time beginning with a climb upward of 300m on a 45-degree slope! As intimidating the climb is, be sure to take a look around some of the best view will be seen here.

The Blue lakes

Up next you’ll be heading towards the blue lakes otherwise known as The Emerald lakes are three creators that have been filled with rain over time and are famous on the hike during summertime for their blue/green color. Usually, you would take a walk around the lip of the creators but this is far too dangerous during winter so an alternative route is taken cutting out the lakes and rejoining the track further on. Don’t feel like your missing out on to much because usually, you can’t see them because of snow coverage!

Ketetaih Hut

As you rejoin the trail, The descent begins! and it slowly turns from snow to fauna. The last section involved is what I referred to as the reverse devil’s staircase by this time my legs were exhausted and in my opinion, this was harder than the climb! Still not a worry though with just as many amazing views such as sights of Lake rotoaira! Upon reaching the end you will be greated with the Ketetaih Hut/Car park and this is where guided groups are picked up by buses.

How Hard Is It?

While in New Zealand I spent some time talking to locals about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing before I went and got a lot of mixed opinions about the difficulty, Some said it was more challenging while others said it was a walk in the park. I even had one individual say “everyone here has walked it by the time they’re 12” I’m guessing this was not during winter. In my opinion, the trek during winter is far from mountain climbing but is no so-called walk in the park but can be completed by anyone unless exercise is a word you shiver at!


What To Take?

  • Crampons
  • Ice Axe
  • Gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • Beanie/hat
  • Thermals
  • Layered Tops (At least two)
  • Rain jacket¬†
  • Walking Pants
  • Hiking Socks
  • Hiking Boots (Non-mesh Material)
  • 2-3 litres of water
  • Packed Lunch
  • Camera
  • Sunscreen

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