To observe or coming close to a volcano is always spectacular. Some are dormant and you can even drive to the top. There are active ones that are spectacular to see at night and yet others require a permit to hike close by.
How to master Tongariro - Consider three simple rules. Read on for our insights to hike in the right season, be prepared for the elements, and arrange your shuttle in advance.
Weather and Hiking Season
The official DOC hiking season starts late October until end of April. However, best months with the most stable weather for hiking are during summer from December to February. Snow in winter (June, July) and at higher altitudes until spring is common. You need to be experienced for winter hiking or take a guide. The trail is closed in very poor weather conditions. This happens more often from the end of autumn until the beginning of spring. Poor weather conditions and fog can spoil the hike and the spectacular views.
In summer the mean daily temperature is about 20°C but can drop to 12 and even 10 °C. In March, April, and November the average temperature is about 18 to 16°C and can drop to 10°C and lower. Winter is very cold, and snow is common.
Check the weather forecast for Tongariro first
Tongariro Crossing is known to be one of the most spectacular hikes in the world. Expect many hikers during the summer. The situation improves a little in November and March/April. Since October 2017 it is mandatory to book a shuttle. Continue reading to get more information about the new restrictions.
Tongariro Northern Circuit is one of the Great Walks of New Zealand for backcountry hiking. It extends the Tongariro Crossing into a multi-day loop of 45 km. Advanced booking during the great walks season is essential. Outside the season it is first come, first served. Get more details in the following description.
It's an all year round destination and very popular. Read on for our tips about the best time to visit Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland:
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
Less crowded in autumn and spring. May and November may be a good choice to escape the crowds. We skipped the geyser and had the park for almost an hour for ourselves in the high season. They let the geyser erupt with surfactant every morning. You need to go by car to the geyser and back to the main park entrance. It’s less busy early morning when they open at 8.30 a.m. The geyser eruption is presented at 10.15 a.m. and arrival is advised at 9.30 a.m. If you arrive at 8.30 a.m. at the entrance and skip the geyser you can enjoy the park for two hours without crowds.
Most Pleasant Weather
Best months with less rain are from January to April. Most rainfall in winter and in December. Day temperature from December to March often more than 20 degrees. November and May are worth a try. Rainfall occurs but these months can be perfect as well with temperatures over 15 degrees. May is a bit drier than November. Even with rain it’s an impressive park to explore. Due to the volcanic activity and the high humidity, it was warm inside the park although we had some drizzle. Opening hours and more information: Official Website
The Big Island is best visited in the spring or the fall: It's less busy than in peak season and the weather is pleasant. Read more in-depth tips and information about the best times to enjoy this place and how to avoid crowds:
Hawaii is a sunny and warm paradise with very little temperature variation throughout the seasons. Check out the Big Island Weather Guide. There is even less rain in the drier season from May until October. However, it's a tropical climate and some rain can always occur in Hawaii. That's the reason why the islands have a lush and green vegetation. The north and east coast get more rain than south and west which is the leeward side. Although the temperatures are pleasant year-round, bring a light jacket or sweater for hiking tours in the park. Because it can be a little cooler at the higher elevations you'll cross while hiking.
Low Season and High Season
Fewer visitors in spring and fall: APRIL to EARLY JUNE and SEPTEMBER (after Labor Day) to OCTOBER. However, it's busier during the "Golden Week" in Japan at the end of April until the beginning of May. It also gets very crowded when the Ironman takes place in October. Busy and increasing rates in summer (mid-June through August), during Christmas, New Years Eve (mid-December until mid-January) and on Independence Day. Months with highest visitiation in general: Mid-June until August and December as well as January.
Avoiding the Crowds
Especially the top spots can get very crowded during the daytime, not only in peak seasons. Our top tips to dodge the crowds:
Jaggar Museum / Crater Overlook:
Almost everyone wants to see the eruptions of the glowing lava lake in the dark/dusk and visit the museum at the same time. That’s why this place gets ridiculously crowded between 5:30 PM and 7:30 PM. What to do? Split your visit: The museum is open from 10:00 AM - 07:30 PM. Be there first thing in the morning. Then visit the overlook (accessible 24/7) separately in the late evening, after the crowds are gone. You may also visit even later around midnight or early in the morning between 5:00 and 6:00 AM: It’s the most fascinating time to watch the breathtaking glowing lava in the dark, in magical solitude.
Thurston Lava Tube (Nāhuku):
Starts to get crowded around 10:00 AM. Be there much earlier in the morning. Not only parking space is easily available, but the tube is almost empty of visitors when you get there early.
Kīlauea Iki Trail:
A truly stunning and scenic but also the most popular trail. Start this 2 hour hike (4 miles) at least between 8:00 and 8:30 AM to avoid sharing the trail with too many others. This is also a good idea in summer before it gets too hot and humid.
Hiking Without the Crowds
There are many other underrated and less crowded, yet not less fascinating trails. Check out these Underrated Hiking Trails
Visit the official NPS Visiting Tips for additional information.
Closure Updates / Alerts (Seismic Activity)
May 2018: Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is closed due to the possibility of explosive steam and ash fall at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano.
- How long: Until further notice
- Prediction: Parts could open again in June/July as some activity could be slowed then. However, this is just a very rough guess.
- Which parts: All of the park except the Kahuku Unit. Open during its usual hours, Friday - Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- More details: NPS News Release
- Regular Updates: Check the NPS Facebook Page
Mount Etna! Every question answered right here. This is our full guide, starting with the best time to visit: Mt. Etna can be visited and hiked year-round. However, the best months to visit with pleasant temperatures and without the extreme July/August tourist crowds are: May and late September - October. But still, expect busy areas at Etna South even during these shoulder months. Even more important is to choose the right time of day for your hike or visit. Read on for our detailed when to go tips and check out our full Etna guide below.
Ascending to the top of Etna by askii, CC BY-SA
The official winter season is from December to March and the summer season from April to October/November. Keep in mind that even in the summer you’ll need a jacket above 2000m. Helpful monthly overview: Mount Etna Weather
April - May: The season starts, yet April temperatures are not pleasant enough for most visitors and there is a chance of new snow. During both months the chance of a cloudy day is still high compared to the summer months. Temperature wise May is better than April as temperatures are rising. Although May is considered a shoulder month, it’s already busy. Not the crazy crowds like in July/August, but the queues at Etna South are already long.
June - August: Most pleasant temperatures, stable mountain weather and the least chance of cloudy days. Another climate advantage: Between June and late September Mount Etna is snow-free. This is also the peak season. Especially in July and August, it’s ridiculously crowded and accommodation prices are at their highest (read below on how to avoid the crowds).
September - October: Temperatures drop, but those 2 shoulder months still offer pleasant temperatures, especially September. In October it’s windier, the chance of clouds are a little higher and there is even a chance of snow. Dress accordingly. Both months are considered shoulder season. However, it’s still busy at Etna South.
November - March: It’s winter season. Visits to Etna and even hiking tours are still possible. You need to dress for cold temperatures and even colder wind. Bring an extra pair of socks and a winter jacket. Be prepared for snow. The Funivia (cable car, see below) runs every day in winter (depending on the weather conditions). In the winter, a booked tour is highly recommended. They usually provide you with snowshoes and sticks.
Time of Day
To avoid the heavy crowds it’s recommended to start early in the morning. Read below (Avoiding Tourist Crowds) for more details regarding an early morning visit. Another advantage: Clouds tend to form later in the day. This means you’ll experience much better views by going early. Heavy clouds and mist can spoil the whole experience at the top. In case you are going in the peak summer months with the least chance of clouds (see above) and the weather forecast predicts a clear next day: Then you might try a sunset tour as well.
Silvestri Craters near Rifugio Sapienza at 1900 m
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
Usually, the whole summer season between late April and October is busy at Etna South. If possible, try to avoid July and August on the south side, as it’s ridiculously crowded during both peak months. The heaviest crowds are at Rifugio Sapienza (read the description in the section below 'Review & Tips'). As soon as you get to the top and start hiking further with a guide, you’ll get away from the masses of tourists anyway. Read on for more tips on how to avoid the crowds, even in the peak summer months:
To use the cable car + jeep and avoid the crowds at Etna South between April and October: Regardless of the month, take the very first bus to Rifugio Sapienza (see below). If you go by (rental) car: Be at Rifugio around 8:30 in the morning. The cable car (Funivia) starts officially at 9 AM. However, the first lift often begins 15 minutes earlier. Be there at this time and you’ll avoid the heavy crowds which usually start to arrive around or after 10 AM. Another advantage of going early: It’s less cloudy in the mornings compared to afternoons / evenings. Additionally, avoid weekends, it’s less busy during the week.
If you are a hiker, there is an even better way: Be at Rifugio Sapienza (see below) as early as possible. Then start hiking up to 2900m (further is not allowed without a guide). You won’t see many others, maybe even hike in solitude. If you want to approach the highest craters (3300m): You need to use the long trek (see below) or pre-book with a tour operator: They use the cable car and jeep in the morning for longer treks. Extra tip to avoid the crowds: Book the Rifugio Sapienza hotel (see below, at the very end) and explore the area there when it’s quiet: early in the morning or late in the evening.
Visit Etna North:
Alternatively, visit Etna North. The landscape is less volcanic like but still fascinating and much less touristy. You can either hike self-guided or book a guided Etna North tour: Operators offer guided hiking tours to the top as well as jeep tours.
Dry season and a sunny day are the best preconditions for this hike. In February 2016 we spent six nights close to the National Park to do this hike. Only one day had the perfect weather conditions. Don't start too late! The hike is exhausting with many descents and ascents.
The dry season last from December until April/May. This is also the peak tourist season. Anyway this is one of the wettest regions in the world with 7 liters of rain each year. Even at the dry season the trail is slippery. The climate is humid tropical. The driest month is March and the wettest is August.
Before sunset, on a cloudy day