The three-four day Tongariro Northern Circuit can be walked in either direction, although clockwise is best.
Whakapapa Village to Mangatepopo Hut
From Whakapapa Village, head north on the heavily eroded Mangatepopo Track. It’s harder work than the distance and time imply: compared to other sections of the track, it is heavily eroded and the trail drops and climbs in and out of more streams than you can count. Ngāuruhoe serves as a constant reminder that you are walking in a unique volcanic landscape and World Heritage Area.
Mangatepopo Hut to Oturere Hut
This section, on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, is undoubtedly a highlight of the track.
First up is the boardwalk trail to the Devils Staircase, then a climb to South Crater which will get you puffing. There’s time to recover your breath on the flat 1km march across the crater – Mts Ngāuruhoe and Tongariro on either side. It’s a steep climb to Red Crater and the walk’s exposed 1868m highpoint.
The weather can be extreme at any time of year with windchill being particularly dangerous. But if conditions are good, it’s worth pausing for views of the park’s three major volcanoes.
It’s then all downhill, first to Emerald Lakes and then through the bizarre lava landscape to Oturere Hut.
Oturere Hut to Waihohonu Hut
The track now swings to the south, around Ngāuruhoe, and is mostly flat, easy walking. Mostly, it’s above the treeline and there are views in all directions. Particularly good is that east to the Kaimanawa Mountains. Power lines marching into the distance alongside SH1 provides an unusual contrast to the remote, far-from-anywhere feeling of the track.
Conserve your energy for the final 45-minutes where a steep descent leads from Pt1206 to a bridge spanning Waihohonu Stream. The track then climbs steeply to near Pt1268. All that height will be lost walking down to the hut and your legs will be grateful for the rest.
Waihohonu Hut to Whakapapa Village
Get started early to make the most of three side trips. First, just 15-minutes along, is historic Old Waihohonu Hut, built by the Tourist Department in 1903-04. It’s a far cry from the luxury of the current hut.
The trail is again mostly flat, passing through a wide-open valley separating Ngāuruhoe and Mt Ruapehu. It climbs gently to the track junction with the Tama Lakes Track, where a trail leads north to offer a vantage of both Lower Tama (20min return) and Upper Tama (90min return). It’s well worth the detour to see these lakes which have formed in old explosion craters.
The track then weaves its way towards Whakapapa Village, with one more detour to the 20m Taranaki Falls – the best-known and most spectacular waterfall in the park.
- Total Ascent
- 3-4 days. To Mangatepopo Hut, 3hr; To Oturere Hut, 5hr; To Waihohonu Hut, 3hr; To Whakapapa Village, 5hr
- Mangatepopo Hut (20 bunks), Oturere Hut (26 bunks), Waihohonu Hut (28 bunks). Multiple campsites
- From Whakapapa Village
- BH34, BJ35
- Tongariro Alpine Crossing (gpx, 15 KB)
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