The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, located in Tongariro National Park, is world renowned for being a hiker’s paradise. Nowhere else on earth can you discover such immense geological features such as volcanic calderas, alpines forests, glacial valleys, and gushing steam vents in such close proximity to each other.
Taking on this epic crossing will no doubt be an adventure of a lifetime, but as with any great day hikes, proper precautions must be taken in advance to ensure that you will be safe at all times. This is not a trek that can be jumped right into. However, if planned out properly, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing will be one of the greatest journeys that you will ever take.
The weather in Tongariro National Park can change rapidly without warning, going from mild to extreme weather. It is because of this that visitors must always be prepared for any type of weather condition. There is no wet or dry season in the park and it can rain or snow any day of the year. The weather can range in temperature quite a bit as well. It can reach up to over 25 degrees Celsius to -10 degrees Celsius on any given day.
On average, snow can fall as early as March and it can last until November, but it still fairly common to see snow any time of the year. There are also permanent glaciers on Mount Ruapehu and snow is usually still present in the craters of Ngauruhoe and Tongariro during the summer months.
Also, wind usually rises over top of mountains, but since the volcanoes stand alone, wind usually whips around the mountains which can bring rain down on all faces.
The weather in the winter time can also become quite unpredictable and hikers will require a guide to take them safely through the pass. The level of snow extends all the way to 1500 meters and below so additional gear will also be required to go hiking during the winter.
The first thing that should be done before taking on this epic day hike is check the local weather forecast. This can be done by consulting with the reception at your hotel. It can be a bit tricky to gauge the exact weather conditions throughout the entire crossing because of the vast differences in elevations and geological formations, but you can still get a general idea about the weather pattern for the day.
Although it is advisable to go hiking during clear conditions, the track can still be done even if the weather is less than optimal. It really depends on how extreme of an experience that the hiker is willing to encounter. However, novice climbers are advised against it.
If the weather conditions go very bad during the hike, it is advised to continue on the path if you have already passed the Red Crater. If not, it is advised to go back to the starting point. There is no need to panic if the landscape becomes very foggy because the entire track is lined with marker poles and directional signs, making it quite impossible to get lost even in some of the worst conditions.
It is important to remember that trips can always be postponed due to bad weather. Some of the trail can become very steep thus becoming fairly dangerous, and it may not be worth it to continue during bad weather. Always keep in mind that while on the crossing, the weather can change from a sunny beautiful day to freezing rain with gail force winds very quickly.
Even with the rapidly changing weather conditions, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is still considered to be the hike of a lifetime. With a bit of preparation, changes in weather patterns can easily be dealt with. In general, most hikers encounter good weather conditions and are faced with any extreme weather patterns.
Having the proper gear is essential for having a fun and safe time when trekking across volcanic craters and relatively steep mountain slopes. Here is an overview of all of the essential gear that you will need for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Water: probably the single most important item to bring with you on the hike is bottled water. There will be no location on the crossing in which you can refill your bottle because the water in the area is not drinkable due to the high acidity and mineral content. It is suggested that you bring a minimum of 2 litters of water with you, and possibly even more during the hot summer months.
Food: another essential for the trip is food. It is recommended to bring easily carried food like trail mix or granola bars as snacks for the journey, but you can also bring a small picnic lunch for when you reach the Red Carter. Just remember not to bring along too much because it’s always better to pack light.
Waterproof jacket and pants: since it can snow or rain at any given time during the trek, it is imperative that you bring a good set of waterproof outer clothing so that you don’t have to worry about getting soaked and risking hypothermia.
Hiking boots: it is also very important to have a good pair of durable boots because there are some areas of the mountain that have steep inclines, and regular shoes just won’t cut it. They will also help protect your feet from injury.
Layers of warm clothes: because of the fact that the temperature can drop rapidly, it is important to bring many layers of warm clothing such as thermals or even wool. Layers can also be added or removed very easily to help combat against temperature changes.
Gloves: having a good pair of gloves will not only protect you from cold weather, but they will also give you additional protection from the rough terrain. In certain areas of the trail, you will have to grab onto rocks to help you pull yourself up and over small obstacles.
Sunscreen, hat and sunglasses: these items are must-haves during the summer months in order to protect your skin from the sun beating directly down upon you. Nobody likes getting sunburned.
Map: even though the route is labeled very well, it is a good idea to have a map in case you do find yourself getting off course.
Mobile phone and first aid kit: in case of an emergency, a mobile phone will assure that you can be assisted properly. Also, First aid kits can be very helpful for small bumps and bruises.
By having all of these essential items, you can be assured that you will be well prepared for any situation that you may encounter along the way.
One thing that should be considered is your level of fitness. There is no restriction on age or gender, but you must be able to walk 19 km over the duration of about 7 hours while carrying a day pack. There are also two sections of the crossing that can be quite steep and they take up to an hour to climb. As long as you are in relatively fair health and have a moderate level of fitness, there should be no problem to complete the trek.
If you are going to take on the trail during the summer months, then a guide is not needed. Although, taking a guide with you may add a lot of value to the journey because you can learn many interesting facts about the area along the way.
During the winter, a guide will be needed. Also, additional gear such as crampons and ice picks will be required. It is suggested that beginners should stick to the warmer months.
If an emergency does arise such as an injury, there is no need to panic. If you are able to continue walking then it is suggested that you either turn back to the starting point, or continue forward, whichever is closer.
If you sustain a major injury and continuing forward is impossible, use your mobile phone and dial emergency services at 111. There are; however, many people that also travel the same route on a daily basis so getting help will be no problem at all. Overall, serious injuries are very rare on the trail.