This classic tops trip quickly takes you above the bushline for stunning volcano views – without the traffic found at neighbouring Tongariro National Park.
The wide open spaces enable you to enjoy the freedom of the hills. However, this is big, deer-stalking country that demands respect. The alpine ridges are exposed to severe and changeable weather. During any season, visibility can deteriorate to zero.
The long, dry days of summer are most suitable for this expedition, before hunters arrive for The Roar (March – May), and before waist-deep snow drifts impede progress. In winter, the beautiful valley becomes a veritable freezer.
A spur track provides a steady grunt to the bushline, then poles lead past Sharp Cone (1481m) then up over Umukarikari (1591m) for panoramic views of Lake Taupo. A sharp descent into the Waipakihi River basin loses much of the altitude, as you cross the headwaters and scramble to the 12-bunk Waipakihi Hut squatting on a low tussock shelf and set back from the river.
Splashing ankle-deep down the Waipakihi River is truly a delight on a hot summer day. The valley exudes a wilderness vibe similar to many in the South Island. The meandering river has chiselled its way through layers of pumice and ash from the Lake Taupo eruption.
In the mid-reaches of the valley, look for the exit track which abruptly climbs onto the rolling Umukarikari tops. Here, the trig of Urchin, 1392m, provides a spectacular vantage across to the volcanoes. A short bush track descends to a different car park, where a road walk of around 60 minutes completes the circuit.
- Total Ascent
- Easy / Moderate
- Two days. Car park to Waipakihi Hut, 5hr; To car park via Urchin, 7hr
- 15km south of Turangi, turn off SH1 on Kaimanawa Rd