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Tongariro Alpine Crossing: Part 1 - When Should I Go?

Posted by Cathy Taylor on 5 May 2020 | Comments

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Cut through the fluff and get clear answers to when to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and what to wear while you’re doing it.

This trail is most easily hiked between November and April. During the southern hemisphere winter, May to September, this trail is under heavy snow. You can still hike it throughout the winter, but if you do, go with a guided walk company who has alpine experience as you may need crampons and ice axes. The busiest time is during February and March. These are the best months weather-wise but be aware that the trail gets really busy.

For images of this track throughout the New Zealand hiking season, visit our Facebook page to see photos from our guests who've hiked it with us!

November

This is the start of the hiking season in Tongariro National Park. It’s also spring-time in New Zealand and we tend to get windy, gusty conditions and spring rains. Temperatures can range between 5 degrees Celsius down in the lowland parts of the track to -2 degrees Celsius up on the ridgeline. As you climb higher the temperature can drop further and wind chill is a serious hazard. There can often be thin layers of snow and ice left on the track, usually not ankle deep but enough to make you conscious of your foot placement.

December

 The weather is starting to warm up and the winds drop so you could call this a good strategic time to visit. This is the month that we Kiwis are getting ready for Christmas, so we’re not out hiking as much. Although, this is also the month where you might find airlines and local accommodation providers charging double their normal rate to take advantage of the holiday season so if you’re considering hiking in December make sure you book earlier in the year so you won’t be caught short at the last minute.

January

January is a month of two halves for this hiking trail. The first two weeks of January will be busy as Christmas is over and we Kiwis head out to play in our big backyard during our annual leave holiday from work. We all head back to work around mid-January leaving the trails to our overseas visitors. The last two weeks of January are what I like to call the start of the ‘golden days.’ The weather is beautifully warm and usually really settled.

February

The track gets seriously busy in February. This is the best time weather-wise to walk the track and everyone agrees. Around 150,000 people walk this track every year and in February it’s easy to feel like an insignificant number. It’s not uncommon to finish the track feeling really annoyed that you hadn’t had a moments peace to enjoy it. If you like a lively, fun atmosphere on a hiking trail and you don’t mind crowds, February is not off the table for you. If you really value solitary hiking experiences perhaps consider November and December first.

The hot summer months bring other challenges too - there is virtually no tree cover on the high alpine sections of this track so walking amongst loud fellow hikers is not going to deprive you of wildlife sightings or birdlife. Take great care under the hot New Zealand sun, it is unforgiving. Use sunscreen liberally and if you can, cover as much of your body in light, breathable layers. There are almost no trees to shelter under, you’re very exposed as you pass over the saddle and climb up to Red Crater and the Emerald Lakes. If there’s a breeze on a warm day, it’ll feel like a hairdryer and you’ll become dehydrated quickly, so always carry more water than you think you’ll need. There is no access to water along the track, so carry enough for the whole day – at least 2 litres per person, and hey, if you don’t drink it all, you might come across someone in trouble who needs it.

March

The track conditions in March are much the same as February, although slightly cooler after the scorching hot February days. Near the end of March the mornings and late afternoons start to cool off, but the midday temperatures are still what they were in February.

April

Ahh, April. A sweaty hikers dream. Much like March, the day begins cool and warms up very quickly, only to drop off again around 3 – 4pm. The sun drops a bit quicker over the horizon so those long balmy summer afternoons are coming to an end. It’s best to get out on the track early if you can, aim to be walking by 7.30am, that way you’ll be down off the track in good time and catching a beautiful sunset on your descent.

Traditionally Walking Legends ceases guided walks in the Tongariro National Park at the end of April. We’re more fair-weather hikers, so we hibernate over the winter. We offer a 3.5 day guided hiking tour of the Tongariro National Park, including the Tongariro Alpine Crossing on our ‘Tongariro Hiking Tour.’ For added safety and security join one of our guided hiking tours and leave all the hard stuff to us! Just bring your boots and we’ll do the rest.

Our scheduled departure dates for the Tongariro Hiking Tour for the 2020/2021 season can be found here. For more information just give Cathy a call on 0800 WALK NZ (0800 925 569) or send an email to cathy@walkinglegends.co.nz