Enter into the heart of a vast moonscape of tortured rock that makes up Tongariro, one of the world’s first national parks (1887).
The Tongariro Northern Circuit is a 41 km alpine tramp, which winds around Mts Ngauruhoe and Tongariro, and offers superb views of Ruapehu, the highest mountain in the North Island. The tramp includes the Tongariro Crossing, which is rated as ‘The Best One-Day Walk in New Zealand’, because of its dramatic volcanic formations, glacial valleys, craters and lava flows.
The track is normally walked in a clockwise direction from Whakapapa Village over 5 days, staying in 4 well-spaced huts, or nearby campsites. Great Walks passes can be purchased from the visitor centres at Whakapapa, Turangi or Ohakune before entering the track.
The track starts behind the Grand Chateau in Whakapapa, and winds through red tussock, mountain hebe and beech forest to the Mangatepopo Hut. Day 2 involves a fascinating walk up the lava flows of the Mangatepopo Valley past Soda Springs and up to the South Crater. From here there is an option to climb Mt Ngauruhoe, by following a poled route to the base of the mountain and then zigzagging up to the summit (2 hours return).
Continuing on to the Red Crater you catch whiffs of sulphur in the air. There is a great photo opportunity here as you look down on the brilliant Emerald Lakes and the Blue Lake, which are old explosion craters filled with mineral-laden water. The track then leads across tortuous terrain to the Ketetahi Hut, near an active hot spring area.
On Day 3 a steep descent into a volcanic wonderland of lava formations and waterfalls leads to Oturere Hut, and Day 4 involves numerous stream crossings on the way to Waihohonu Hut. The final day sees a climb to the Tama Saddle and Tama Lakes before passing the Taranaki Falls and returning to the Whakapapa Village.
The Tongariro Northern Circuit offers an intimate view of an active volcanic region, and visions of the contorted landscapes will remain with you for a long time.