The Tongariro Crossing: Better in the Winter?

The Tongariro Crossing: Better in the Winter?

The Tongariro Crossing is one of New Zealand’s seven Great Walks, and is definitely up there as one of the best walks in the world. If you Google it, you’ll see pictures of windswept barren mountainside, sweeping views, and shockingly blue/green lakes. This pics will leave no doubt in your mind that this is a trek worth doing. We’ve spent over 6 months in New Zealand and the Crossing was our overall highlight.

But what if you’re only able to make it to New Zealand for a shoulder season (recommended, actually) or the winter? The Tongariro Crossing is completely covered in snow for much of the fall and spring and for all of the winter. This seems to indicate that your window to complete this trek is fairly limited.

We thought the same, until we did a bit of digging. We made some calls to some adventure companies and it turns out that a couple of companies still run guided treks over the crossing even in the middle of winter (see this one, for example). They provide all the equipment you’ll need – cold weather gear, crampons, ice axe – and cover the logistics of shuttling from one end of the track to the other.


Far from being off-limits in the winter, we learned that the trek is probably more epic in the winter


Want to learn why? Let’s walk through it:

  • The views are out-of-this-world amazing. You’ll see the landscapes that inspired Peter Jackson in the making of the Lord of The Rings, from Mount Doom to the far off mountains of Mordor. The lakes will be frozen over, but the surreal moonscape you find yourself in will more than make up for that.
Mount Doom
Mount Ngauruhoe – better known as Mount Doom – with a wisp of volcanic steam coming over the top.
  • A wintery snowscape and steaming volcanoes is something that you can only see in a couple places. There are patches of ground that are snowless high up on the mount slopes, showing where volcanic activity is most prevalent. A recent eruption still gushes steam, joining in with the clouds to create a stunning visual.
Tongariro, steam
Active volcano on the slopes of the Crossing gushing steam.
  • You gain an appreciation for the power of these mountains. Every couple of years, tourists will die doing the Crossing. This is usually because they don’t prepare and/or aren’t very fit, and try to do it guide-less without the proper kit. These mountains aren’t messing around, and when you’re up on top, calf-deep in snow, with winds gusting at 80km/hour you will understand why. 
Tongariro, snow
The Tongariro “moonscape” – ever seen anything like it?
  • The best part: you’ll feel like a badass. You get an ice axe, and sometimes you’ll even have to use it. You’ll get a chance to learn how to trek in crampons (the key is to keep your feet apart). This is a skill that will pay dividends in future adventures that you go on.


  • Book a few days in advance AND give yourself an extra day or two in the area in case weather causes you to have to scrub your walk. Winds on top can gust at over 100km / hour, so sometimes treks will have to be canceled. You’ll be refunded in full (confirm this when booking!)
  • Stay in Turangi. We booked the Creel Lodge on It’s an awesome spot if you’re into fishing or if you want a relaxing cabin on the river to chill in. There’s also cheaper hostel-type options, if that’s more your scene.
  • You’ll likely stage with your group in the creatively named town of National Park, just over 30 minutes from Turangi. You’ll be starting early, so you’ll probably have to get up pretty early to get there on time.
  • The hike is one way. The company you go with will shuttle you to the start, guide you over the top, great you with a beer on the other side, and shuttle you back to National Park. This is part of the reason a guiding company is the right idea – the logistics of doing this trek on your own would be pretty challenging.


Want more ideas for how to make the most of your time in New Zealand? Check out our full Making the Most of Your Vacation Days: New Zealand post.


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