Authors: Cole and Sam Johnston - Why should you listen to us? We are a pair of adventure loving kiwi brothers with a lifetime of experience in New Zealand’s outdoors and regularly guide groups on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
The weather varies significantly on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, it can change quickly in the space of a few hours but also settles into different patterns depending on the season. During this post, we run through what to expect with the different seasons and when the best times to hike the Crossing are.
Before we carry on it is essential to note that the complex and varied terrain around the Tongariro National Park means that the weather varies a great deal with altitude, the higher you go, the colder it gets. This means there is often a higher chance of rain, snow, or limited visibility as clouds ‘stick' to mountains and high points of land. Please be aware that we give written descriptions based on our many experiences from hiking and guiding the Tongariro Alpine Crossing throughout the different seasons, but the actual statistics we use are historical averages from computer generated weather models and can't accurately account for the complexities of the terrain around Tongariro. But not to worry, during this post we'll let you know what to expect!
During the New Zealand summer, our days are longer, the air is warmer, and there is less rainfall than usual, all in all, it makes for excellent hiking conditions but does come with its own challenges. There is rarely snow on the Tongariro Crossing during summer; however, there is still a high chance of cloud cover, and some amount of rain is not uncommon. Always pack warm layers and a good waterproof layer as it still gets cold in the mornings and at the high altitudes on the hike during summer, a waterproof layer also makes a great windshield as often it is the wind chill that will make you cold. Cloud cover can be a factor at any time of year so make sure you are familiar with the track map and follow the track markers as you may end up hiking through low cloud and have limited visibility. If you do end up with a wet day when you are hiking, there are some uneven clay sections to the trail that get slippery when wet, particularly the climb from South Crater up to the high point at Red Crater and the short climb just before Blue Lake. Lastly, if you end up with a beautiful clear and sunny day, make sure you have proper sun protection with you as there is no shade for the majority of the hike, so it's easy to get burnt in our harsh New Zealand sun!
Average summer weather statistics (sourced from Metoblue)
• Average temperature: 11 – 20 C
• Sunny days (less than 20% cloud): 1.7 days
• Partly cloudy days (20 – 80% cloud: 19.6 days
• Overcast days (80%+ cloud): 8.8 days
• Precipitation days: 12.7 days
Autumn in the North Island of New Zealand is very mild, it often still feels like summer through the first part of the season and can produce some beautiful conditions for hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, but there can be a significant change between the start and the end of the season. During March and April, the conditions are similar to the summer conditions described above, but with a declining temperature so be sure to pack extra warm layers and be prepared for crisp mornings and a cold wind chill at altitude, if the weather turns the temperature change can be drastic so make sure you a prepared for it. As it gets into May there is a chance of snowfall and the temperatures have dropped significantly, so it's best to prepare for winter conditions if the weather forecasts look anything less than perfect – read below to understand what the winter weather can be like on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Average autumn weather statistics (sourced from Metoblue)
• Average temperature: 8 – 16 C
• Sunny days (less than 20% cloud): 1 day
• Partly cloudy days (20 – 80% cloud: 18.4 days
• Overcast days (80%+ cloud): 11.3 days
• Precipitation days: 12.0 days
Winter is a whole different ball game on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing but can make for an incredible experience if you're looking for something a bit different or feel like more of a challenge. Naturally, the temperature is much colder, and there is a higher chance of cloud, wind, and precipitation (either rain or snow) which can mean icy conditions on the ground as moisture freezes overnight. Winter conditions will generally require crampons and ice axes along with the knowledge needed to tackle alpine environments, so we highly recommend going with a guide during winter unless you have extensive experience in these conditions. It also means that you will need to pack quite differently to summer, with full waterproof layers, multiple warm layers of proper materials, suitable footwear, and emergency equipment just in case. Read our other blog posts to get a better idea of how to prepare for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing!
Average winter weather statistics (sourced from Metoblue)
• Average temperature: 4 – 10 C
• Sunny days (less than 20% cloud): 0.6 days
• Partly cloudy days (20 – 80% cloud: 11.8 days
• Overcast days (80%+ cloud): 18.2 days
• Precipitation days: 16.7 days
As the conditions wind down from winter, spring can be a beautiful time to hike the Tongariro Crossing with fewer people on the trail, patchy snow providing a stunning contrast to the landscape and more, but don't be fooled! You still need to be wary of cold and wet conditions that can develop rapidly. We usually treat September and October as winter conditions, as it can still be very cold and there is still a chance of late snowfall, but the temperature is gradually increasing, and the days start getting longer. As November rolls around the majority of the snow has usually melted off, leaving patchy areas that make a fantastic addition to the landscape as they contrast with the mountains and forest below. Conditions can still be chilly in the mornings and at high altitudes, so make sure you are always adequately prepared for the cold and wet, the rainfall during spring is still reasonably high.
Average spring weather statistics (sourced from Metoblue)
• Average temperature: 6 – 14 C
• Sunny days (less than 20% cloud): 0.5 days
• Partly cloudy days (20 – 80% cloud: 15.3 days
• Overcast days (80%+ cloud): 14.5 days
• Precipitation days: 15.8 days
The Crossing provides different environments and can make for an incredible experience year-round, but for most people, we recommend mid-November through till mid-April. This is the warmest time of year with the lowest expected rainfall and cloud cover, so the chances of getting a great hiking day are increased. During November there can still be snow on the ground which makes for an incredible backdrop before things heat up with the beautiful long days during peak summer before cooling off to crisp mornings and nice stable weather during the start of Autumn.
There are a number of different forecasts that can be used to check the weather for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, we definitely recommend using the official MetService forecast as it gives a specific forecast for the high point of the track at Red Crater. Additionally we always check the Mountain Forecast, especially if there is any snowfall suspected. Lastly if you are familiar with synoptic charts, MetVuw provide good charts that give an overview of the weather – be sure to use these charts in conjunction with other forecasts.
This is where we get serious for a moment, if there is heavy or extended rain forecasted, the wind forecast at Red Crater is over 60km/h or the temperatures are cold we seriously advise trying to plan your hike for another day. Remember this is all just general advice that doesn't account for real time conditions and you must appropriately assess the conditions on the day of your hike and know your own limits to safely hike the Crossing. The track crosses through an alpine region, and if the conditions deteriorate and something goes wrong, it can take a long time for help to reach you. So please:
• Plan your trip
• Tell someone your plans
• Be aware of the weather
• Know your limits
• Take sufficient supplies
Have a good look over these DOC resources to help plan you hike:
• Tongariro Alpine Crossing Brochure
• Tongariro Alpine Crossing Brochure (winter)
Please note that these graphs are based on historical data from computer generated weather models and should be used a guide only as they don’t account for the actual conditions on the ground or the complexity of the local terrain. Always check actual weather forecasts when planning to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – see above for where to find weather forecasts.
Check out our other blog posts about the Crossing!
• What is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?
• How to get to the Crossing and where to stay
• How to prepare for the Crossing and what to pack
• What boots or shoes should I wear for the Crossing?
• How hard is the Tongariro Crossing? Am I fit enough to hike it?