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The Tongariro Alpine Crossing trail grabs the hiking limelight. A one-way track starting at Mangatepopo, the crossing is a spectacular six- to seven-hour hike that follows a 19.4 km (12.5 mi) trail up and over the namesake mountain, passing craters, the evocatively named Emerald Lakes, old lava flows, and hot springs. Although children and school groups commonly do the hike, it is not to be taken lightly. Be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions with warm and waterproof clothing. Wear sturdy footwear, and take food, plenty of water, sunblock, and sunglasses—and don't forget a hat! Also, be careful not to get too close to steam vents; the area around them can be dangerously hot. From late November to May, you'll be sharing the trail with many other hikers. In the colder months, it's really only for experienced winter hikers who can deal with snow and ice; some transport companies will take you only if you have an ice axe and crampons. It is recommended that you get up-to-date track and weather conditions from the Department of Conservation (DOC) Whakapapa Visitor Centre before starting out. A number of track transport operators provide shuttles to and from the Tongariro Alpine Crossing picking up from a number of locations in Whakapapa Village usually around 6, 7, 8, or 9 am. Bookings can be made at accommodations providers in the area.
Mountain Shuttle. Transport to the trailhead from Turangi costs NZ$45. For an extra charge they will supply boots, clothing, day packs, and more. In addition, many of the motels and lodges in National Park village can arrange transport to the track for about NZ$15. You usually need to make a reservation; they pick you up at the end of the track. 0800/117–686. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.tongarirocrossing.com.
The longest hikes in the park are the three-day Northern Circuit, which goes over Tongariro and around Ngauruhoe, and the four-day Round-the-Mountain Track, which circles Ruapehu. There are trailside huts throughout the park to use on overnight trips. You'll need to buy a hut pass at the visitor center; it costs NZ$20 from October 1 to the first weekend in June and NZ$10 the rest of the year. Reservations cannot be made. Gas cookers are available in the huts. You can also tackle short half-hour to two-hour walks if all you want is a flavor of the region. A 1½-hour round-trip trek to the Tawhai Falls via the Whakapapanui Track takes you through the forest, and a two-hour round-trip to Taranaki Falls is in subalpine surroundings.
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