The Tongariro Crossing is one of the most crowded hikes in New Zealand. There are strategies that you can use to avoid the crowds on the Tongariro Crossing.
Pick Your Day
Most tourists have a 1-2 day window that they can do the crossing. This means that the day proceeding or following a bad weather day it is more crowded. If your schedule allows, it of often less crowded 2+ days before or after lousy weather days. I have never seen the shuttles sell out, even during Christmas week. It makes sense to book your shuttle last minute to optimize your day.
Avoid Popular Days
Christmas week is the busiest week for the Tongariro Crossing. Public holidays then follow as predictable jam-packed days. Finally, school holidays tend to have more New Zealanders than at other times of the year. Weekdays also tend to have fewer people than weekends.
Pick Your Shuttle Time
Most of the year shuttles operate between 6:00 am and ~9:00 am. Many of the people that do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing are not experienced trampers. This means that many people go at a slow pace and due to the crowds, they tend to set everyone’s pace for the hike.
If you hike at a faster than average pace, you want to be on a 6:00-6:30 shuttle. This means that you will have fewer people in front of you and will be able to walk more sections at your desired speed.
If you are a slower than average hiker, you want to be on a later shuttle. This means that there will be fewer people passing you and you have a higher likelihood of gaps on the trail
If you hike at an average pace, there isn’t a best starting time. You will have people passing you, and you will be passing slower people. There will generally be fewer people on the trail the earlier you start.
One shuttle company offers a 4:00 am shuttle that allows you to avoid the crowds.
Plan Your Bathroom Time
The set of bathrooms at the trailhead is superior to the first set of bathrooms on the trail since it has running water and toilet paper. Since buses disgorge a large number of people at once and many people have to use the restroom, if you are a fast hiker you can avoid some crowds by bypassing the first bathroom and going straight to the second one. If you are a slow hiker, it can make more sense to use the ones at the trailhead and then set out. The wait at the trailhead bathrooms and the first set of long drops on the trail are frequently comparable.
Stay at a Hut
The Mangatepopo hut is about an hour from the Mangatepopo trailhead. Staying at the hut allows you to start the hike early in the morning, before the crowds. The shuttle takes about 30 minutes, and the hut is about an hour from the trailhead. A 7:00 am start from the hut gives you a 30 minutes head start on the 6:00 am shuttle crowd. There is an afternoon shuttle available if you are staying at the hut.
Starting at noon or later is another great way to avoid a lot of the crowds. There are not scheduled shuttles that run this at this time. You would either need to hitchhike or schedule a private shuttle. Experienced trampers should only take this approach. Make sure you check sunset and have a torch, just in case.
Regardless of your ability to avoid crowds, enjoy the tramp. Check out our overview of the trail to get the most out of your hike and don’t forget the true price of your post tramp burger.