Tongariro Northern Circuit Tongariro National Park
The Tongariro Northern Circuit is considered a challenging tramp, largely on open exposed terrain, much of it on uneven track surface. It can be subject to sudden rapid weather change. You should be at least moderately fit.
If you are considering the Tongariro Northern Circuit please make sure you have good warm clothing, waterproof and windproof parka, leggings, comfortable well constructed hiking boots, hat and 30+ sunscreen. Jeans are not recommended!
There is rain water for drinking at the huts. Gas heating is available. You need to take cooking pot, utensils, sleeping bag, food and toilet paper. These huts cost $25 per night
It is a Great Walk and dated tickets must be purchased before you depart. Gas cookers are installed at the huts. Times between huts are an indication only and may depend on fitness and weather conditions. The Circuit is for hiking only - no mountain bikes are permitted.
Whakapapa to Mangatepopo Hut Time: 3 hr
Begins 100 metres below the Whakapapa Visitor Centre at Ngauruhoe Place and along the lower Taranaki Falls track. About 20 minutes from the village the Mangatepopo track branches off the Falls track. Heavily eroded in places the track crosses many stream beds. Ahead and to the right is Pukekaikiore, thought to be one of the older vents of the Tongariro complex. To the left is Pukeonake, a low scoria cone. Both Pukekaikiore and Pukeonake witnessed the last ice age when glaciers from Tongariro carved down through Mangatepopo Valley. The giant cone of Ngauruhoe and the flatter form of Tongariro are visible ahead. Ngauruhoe is a younger ‘parasitic’ cone on the side of Tongariro.
For the last hour the track skirts around Pukekaikiore until it reaches the Mangatepopo Valley. The Mangatepopo Hut is 5 minutes off the main Mangatepopo to Ketetahi Hut track.
Note that in bad weather the walk can take up to 5 hours.
Mangatepopo Hut to Emerald Lake Time: 3 hr 30 min
The track follows Mangatepopo stream up the valley, climbing over a succession of lava flows from Ngauruhoe. The youngest, very black, lava flows were erupted from Ngauruhoe in 1949 and 1954. A five minute detour at the head of the valley leads to Soda Springs, cold springs which emerge beneath an old lava flow. In spring and summer moisture loving plants such as white foxgloves and yellow buttercups thrive in the area.
The steep climb required to reach the Mangatepopo Saddle rewards climbers views of the valley and if clear, Mt Taranaki to the west. From the saddle the track crosses South Crater, not a true crater but a drainage basin between the surrounding volcanic landforms. Ahead more recent lava flows can be seen spilling over from Red Crater. The climb up to Red Crater offers splendid views of Oturere Valley and Kaimanawa Ranges to the east.
At the top of Red Crater a poled route to the left leads to Tongariro Summit. The main track continues on past the rim of Red Crater itself. The spectacular formation on the far side of the crater is a dike, an old magma feeding pipe to the vent of the volcano. Harder than the ash and scoria around it erosion has left it exposed on the side of the crater.
North Crater is the large flat topped crater to the north. This vent once contained a lava lake which cooled to infill the crater. A scoria covered ridge leads down to the Emerald Lakes. These three lakes fill old explosion pits. Their brilliant colouring is caused by minerals washed down from the thermal area of Red Crater.
Just beyond Emerald Lakes the track branches right to Oturere Hut or continues straight ahead to Ketetahi Hut.
Emerald Lakes to Ketetahi Hut Time: 1 hr 30 min
Leaving Emerald Lakes the track crosses Central Crater which like South Crater is actually another drainage basin. A short climb leads up to the ridge beside Blue Lake. Blue Lake has formed where cold fresh water fills an old vent.
The track then sidles around North Crater. Views can be had of Lakes Rotoaira (foreground) and Taupo. As the track loses altitude it enters vast areas of red tussock cloaking the hills.
The track zig-zags down to Ketetahi Hut. Please resist the temptation to take short cuts as it causes accelerated erosion.
Emerald Lake to Oturere Hut Time: 1 hr 30 min
From Emerald Lakes the track descends steeply into the Oturere Valley with views of the valley, the Kaimanawa Ranges and the Rangipo Desert. The track weaves through an endless variety of unusual jagged lava forms from early eruptions from Red Crater which filled Oturere Valley.
A magical place to visit especially on a misty day. The Oturere Hut is nestled on the eastern edge of these flows. Don't forget to check the waterfall over the ridge from the front of the hut.
Oturere Hut to Waihohonu Hut Time: 2 hr 30 min
After leaving Oturere Hut the track undulates over a number of stream valleys and open gravel fields. Plant life here has been constantly repressed by volcanic eruptions, altitude and climate. Loose gravel means that recolonisation by plants is a slow process on the open and bare countryside.
The track gradually sidles around the foot hills of Ngauruhoe descending into a valley and crossing one of the branches of the Waihohonu Stream. Continue through a beech clad valley before climbing towards the ridge top. Waihohonu Hut is in the next valley.
Waihohonu Hut to Whakapapa Village Time: 5 hr 30 min
The track follows the Waihohonu Stream gradually climbing to Tama Saddle. Tama Saddle is exposed and can be windy in bad weather. On reaching the saddle a track branches to Tama Lakes, two infilled explosion craters. The lower lake is a ten minute side trip from the junction while the upper lake is up a steep ridge, a one and a half hour side trip.
Whakapapa Village is approximately two hours from the Tama Lakes junction. After the first hour the track meets the Taranaki Falls loop walk. To view the falls, follow the lower track down a flight of stairs to a boulder-ringed pool at the base of the falls. The track then continues beside Wairere Stream through mountain beech forest.
Alternatively the upper track can be taken through tussock and shrubland. Both tracks take about one hour to return to the village. Transport can be arranged from National Park to the beginning of the Track and also to the beginning of the Tongaririo Alpine Crossing at Mangatepopo. Most accommodation will provide storage and car parking for guests on the Northern Circuit.
Essential Gear The following should always be carried: