You can walk the track in either direction, but the more popular option begins at Mangatepopo Valley.
Beginning at Mangatepopo Valley near Whakapapa, the track follows a stream and the edges of old lava flows towards the valley head. Look out for varying patches of vegetation that reveal the age of the surrounding lava rock.
At the head of the valley, the trail becomes steeper, climbing from the valley to Mangatepopo Saddle between the mountains of Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. Stunning panoramic views look out over the volcanic terrain. On a clear day, you can see as far as Taranaki Maunga (mountain).
The trail leads from South Crater upwards towards Red Crater, the highest point of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The smell of sulphur is a reminder that this crater is still active.
From here you begin the descent, past the stunning Emerald Lakes. This is the highlight of the track and a great place to pause for photos.
The brilliant colour that gives them their name is caused by minerals leaching from the surrounding thermal environment.
The trail continues over Central Crater to the old volcanic vent of Blue Lake, before it rounds the flanks of North Crater and descends to Ketetahi Road end. The final section is a long descent through tussock slopes to cool green forest, a refreshing change to the volcanic landscape.
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The Tongariro Alpine Crossing can be walked in either direction and there are several side trips.
Soda Springs: 15-minute side trip from the head of Mangatepopo Valley, where you will find an oasis for the moisture-loving, yellow buttercups and white foxgloves.
Ketetahi to Mangatepopo: Allow an extra hour to walk the track in reverse.
DOC encourages visitors doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing to book a shuttle or arrange for someone to drop them off and pick them up, because the Tongariro Alpine Crossing takes 7-8 hours to walk and ends on the other side of the mountain.
The park is located near many alpine towns. The main entrance to the park is Whakapapa village, located west of the park, near Whakapapa ski field. The town of Ohakune is located south of the park, near Tūroa ski field. Parking space at the Mangatepopo and Ketetahi carparks is limited, first come first served and cannot be booked. There are 4 hour parking restrictions in place and rangers check compliance from Labour weekend in October until May each year.
The nearest airport to the park is Taupō, located 1 hour and 20 minute drive from Whakapapa village. You can easily combine your trip to the park with a break in Taupō(opens in new window).
Important updates for visitors planning to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro and DOC want to ensure the experience of walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (TAC) protects the fragile environment, is safe, respects the cultural significance of the area, and is sustainable. A new process has been put in place.
DOC introduced a booking system for the 2023/2024 season, where visitors using any part of the track should reserve slots in advance.
Bookings are strongly encouraged and are required for booking a shuttle or guided walk.