Tongariro Northern Circuit

Before you start walking the Tongariro Northern Circuit you will need to go to DOC Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre. From here your tickets can be collected along with your parking permit. DOC will be able to advise the latest weather forecast for track along with any cautions.

From here you need to head of down the road to the parking as shown in the photo. Your permit will need to be displayed on your dash in clear view. The parking permit has a return date on it to alert DOC should you not return in time. Therefore only park here for the duration of your hike.

After you have parked your car walk back up the road past the Chateau Tongariro. From here you will start this amazing 4 day hike on the Taranaki Falls track.

Tongariro Northern Circuit Parking
Tongariro Northern Circuit Parking
Track start next to the Chateau Tongariro
Track start next to the Chateau Tongariro

Day 1- Tongariro Northern Circuit Carpark to Waihohonu Hut & Campsite

Whakapapa Village to Taranaki Falls

The first section of the Tongariro Northern Circuit day 1 contains a lot of day walkers. These walkers are doing the Taranaki Falls/Tama Lakes section of the track. This walk is a good option as an alternatve to the  Tongariro Crossing is closed due to bad weather.

Track runs into the bush

The hike starts out in open space with Mt Ngauruhoe on the left standing at 2,291 metres above sea level. To the right is Mt Ruapehu proudly lying there at 2,797 metres above sea level.

After a short walk the track will enter into the bush as part of the Taranaki Falls loop track.

Mt Ngauruhoe on the left
Mt Ruapehu to the right

Taranaki Falls Walk Tongariro Circuit

Shortly after entering the bush you will come to the Mangatepopo Track/Taranaki Falls Walk Junction. On the left there is a bridge, this is where you will return from on the last day of the hike. 

Mangatepopo Track Taranaki Falls Junction Tongariro Circuit

At the junction continue walking straight ahead. The track looks like a dried up steam then continues over a track paved with roots. To the left is Wairere Stream running alongside the track.

When you break out of the bush you will cross a bridge over the Wairere Stream. Here you will see a small water fall and rapids which might remind you of a mini Huka Falls.

From here it is a short walk to the amazing Taranaki Falls.

Taranaki Falls - Tongariro Great Walk

Taranaki Falls is an impressive waterfall which flows over a lava flow which erupted from Mt Ruapehu 15,000 years ago. The Falls stands at 20 meters high making them truly impressive. The is the Tongariro Northern Circuit day 1 highlight.

After taking some time to admire the impressive falls it’s time to climb up to the top of the 20 meter falls. From here you can view the falls as they flow into the Wairere Stream. Make sure you take time to enjoy the view of where you have been so far from the top of the falls. 

enjoy the view of where you have been
Last toilet stop before reaching the hut

This is not only an impressive place to take photos but also the last toilet stop before reaching the hut. After this follow the junction sign to the Tongariro Circuit’s Tama Lakes.

Taranaki Falls to Tama Lakes Tongariro Circuit

Once again you are flanked by the two impressive volcano’s on either side as you head towards the lakes. The track is impressive as it bends its way through alpine herbs fields and tussocks. Cross this stream you are almost there.

cross this stream and you are almost there
Cross this stream and you are almost there.

Tama Lakes - Tongariro Northern Circuit

The Tama lakes are old blast craters located on the Tama saddle between Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe. The Lower Tama lakes are 1,240 metres above sea level while the Upper Tama lakes are at 1,440 metres. Before heading out to the Upper Tama lakes check your progress and the weather conditions first. This side track adds another 4 km to what is already a 20 Km day.

This is a great place to stop for lunch as the terrain is hilly providing lots of spots to shelter yourself from the wind. When walking the Tongariro Circuit always look for shelter from the cold wind when stopping.

Tongariro Great Walk Tama Lakes
Lower Tama Lakes Tongariro Circuit
Tama Lakes Tongariro Northern Circuit

Tama Lakes to Waihohonu Hut and Campsite

After doubling back down to the main track turn left at the junction. The track on the way to the Waihohonu hut and campsite becomes a poled track. From the junction follow the marker poles all the way to the hut. Most of this section descends down to the hut with some small hill climbs along the way.

The track on the way to the Waihohonu hut and campsite
The track on the way to the Waihohonu hut and campsite
Follow the marker poles all the way to the hut
Elevation Profile Day 1 Tongariro Great Walk
Elevation Profile Day 1 Tongariro Great Walk

Waihohonu Hut and Campsite Tongariro Northern Circuit

The Waihohonu Hut at the time of writing has to be the best DOC hut in New Zealand. From the hut you have a view of Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu. These views are absolutely amazing. The Waihohonu Hut a busy hut as it is also part of the Round the Mountain Track. It is also close to State Highway 1 so many families stay here.

Not only does this hut have amazing views but it also has some of the latest hut tech to make your stay more enjoyable.

Waihohonu Huts View of Mount Ngauruhoe Tongariro Circuit
View of Mount Ngauruhoe
View of Mt Ruapehu from Waihohonu Hut Tongariro Great Walk
View of Mt Ruapehu

Waihohonu Hut Facilities Tongariro Circuit

The Waihohonu hut is a 28 bunk hut which most be booked in advance. This hut can be book through DOC following this link.

Facilities Include:

  • Fireplace
  • Gas Cookers with Gas
  • Running water
  • Wash Basins
  • Solar heated water for cooking
  • Solar powered lighting
  • Long drop toilets
 This hut services both the Tongariro Great Walk and also the Round the Mountain Track.

Waihohonu Campsite Tongariro Great Walk

There is also a basic 7 site campsite on the Tongariro Great Walk close to the Waihohonu hut. It must also be booked in advance. Hut facilities are permitted to be used by campers.

The campsite is sheltered from the wind and has a park bench.

Waihohonu Campsite Tongariro Great Walk
Waihohonu Campsite Tongariro Great Walk

Day 2 Tongariro Northern Circuit -Waihohonu Hut to Oturere Hut and Campsite

As you leave the Waihohonu hut in the morning you are greeted with an awesome view of Mt Ngauruhoe. This will become a feature of the day as half of the days track is walked in to direct of this beautiful volcano.

Greeted with an awesome view of Mt Ngauruhoe

Waihohonu Oturere Track Tongariro Great Walk

The Waihohonu Oturere Track starts off crossing a small bridge running over a stream.

Shortly after you will hit a junction sign. Following the sign to the Oturere Hut the track will start off in the bush. Make the most of this as most of the day will be spent in full sun.

Mt Ruapehu Tongariro Great Walk

Amazing Vantage Point for Taking Photos on the Tongariro Great Walk

After about 2 Km you will reach an amazing vantage point for taking photos on the Tongariro Great Walk. From this ridge you can take a photo of both Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu in the one shot.

From here you head back into the bush shortly for the last time on the Tongariro Northern circuit. When you reach this stream you will be hiking in full sun for the duration of the hike. Ensure you have enough water for everyday at least 2 litres, preferably 3 litres.

Here you can see the contrasting vegetation growth on the Tongariro Northern Circuit. On one side of the stream is lush green forest, on the other side rocky dry terrain.

Contrasting vegetation growth on the Tongariro Northern Circuit

From this point on you get the feeling you are hiking on mars as you cross gravel laid fields. What little vegetation exists grows from under rocks using the condensation created overnight to survive on.

Just as you did on day one the rest of the day involves following the poled markers. This time however is more like hiking on a rollercoaster track. As you think you have reached the top of a hill then it’s time to walk back to the bottom only to start again. Take breaks in the shade, there are limited options on this part of the circuit so take them when shade is spotted.

Hiking on Mars Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk
Elevation Profile Day 2 Tongariro Northern Circuit

Oturere Hut and Campsite Tongariro Northern Circuit

Just like the contrasting landscapes the contrast between huts is also present on the Northern Circuit. The Oturere Hut is a basic 26 bunk hut with the kitchen and sleep areas combined. If you are a light sleeper then it may be best to use the campsite if you don’t mind hauling a tent with you. This is where Vuno ultralight gear is  needed.

Bookings for the hut and campsite must be made in advance via DOC.

Oturere Hut and Campsite Tongariro Northern Circuit
Oturere Hut and Campsite Tongariro Northern Circuit

Oturere Hut Facilities Tongariro Great Walk

Hut facilities can be used by campers. This hut has limited gas stoves available so this can become a problem competing for resources. 

Facilities Include:

  • 26 Bunks with mattresses
  • Fireplace
  • Gas Cookers with Gas
  • Pumped water
  • Wash Basins
  • Long drop toilets

Oturere Campsite Tongariro Circuit

Camping at the Oturere Campsite on the Tongariro circuit is an amazing experience provided you can grab a good spot. You have two options if you get there early enough. One option is enjoying the views camping next to the ridge where you can enjoy the sunset. Alternatively you can seek shelter from the wind camping closer to the hut. When arriving check the weather forecast at the hut before deciding. This campsite has seven sites.

shelter from the wind camping closer to the hut
good views camping next to the ridge
Vuno ultralight tent

Day 3 Tongariro Northern Circuit - Oturere Hut to Mangatepopo Hut

Day 3 of the Tongariro Northern Circuit starts of as day 2 finished, hiking on mars. The first section will get you to the foot of the Emerald Lakes. This section is fairly flat however on a fine day is in full sun making it fairly challenging.

Hiking on Mars

From the foot of the Emerald Lakes the track turns into a steady climb to the top. The hike becomes more difficult however the views of the Red Crater get better as you get closer. The Red Crater becomes your goal for the day, once there the climbing is over.

The Foot of the Emerald Lakes Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk
Looking down at where you came
Looking Back Towards Oturere Hut
Looking Back Towards Oturere Hut

The Emerald Lakes Tongariro Alpine Crossing Section

When you start walking next to small waterfalls gushing out of the Lower Emerald Lake your solitude is almost over. Soon you will be hit with the Tongariro Alpine Crossing day walkers.

When you reach the top of this section take your time and admire the views before joining the masses.

 Here you can take a photo combo of Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngauruhoe, Red Crator and the lower Emerald Lake.

Lower Emerald Lake running down the hill
Small waterfalls gushing out of the Lower Emerald Lake
Small waterfalls gushing out of the Lower Emerald Lake

Hiking up the Red Crater - Alpine Crossing Section

Hiking up the Red Crater is probably the most challenging section of the Northern circuit. Especially with a multi-day overnight pack. This is where investing in ultralight hiking gear pays of.

This section is not only steep, it is gravelly. Progress is slow as you take two steps forward then slide down one step. A hiking pole, preferably two are recommended for this section of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

The good news is once you reach the top the rest of the Tongariro Great Walk is downhill.

Junction sign Otere Hut Mangatepopo Hut & Tongariro Crossing

At the top of this ascent take some time to soak in the 360 degree views of where you have been and where you are about to go. Enjoy the amazing view of the red crater at the highest point of the Alpine Crossing section of the track. From here you will be able to take a photo of the Blue Lake and Emerald Lakes in the one shot.

View of Red Crater at the highest point of the Alpine Crossing section
The Red Crator
360 degree views of where you have been
Mount Ngauruhoe

Descending into the South Crater is just as tricky as your ascent. Again care must be given with the tired Tongariro Crossing walkers climbing uphill. 

Descending down

Last Toilet Stop

When you reach the toilets, this represents the halfway mark to the hut from the Red Crater. This is the first and last toilet stop before reaching the hut and campsite. On the way you will see violent reminders of the past with remnants of lava flows on either side of the track. 

The path to Mangatepopo hut seems to feel endless as it continues to loop left and right. When you get to the junction sign turn right and will shortly see the campsite on the left and the hut on the right.