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Tongariro Northern Circuit

Sole Sisters annual New Zealand Great Walk for 2019 was the four-day Tongariro Northern Circuit around Mt Ngauruhoe (2287 m, aka Mt Doom in The Lord of the Rings films), including a section of the Tongariro Alpine Circuit. Ten ladies joined the trip this year including one brave soul new to multi-day hiking.

Day 1: Whakapapa Village to Mangatepopo Hut

Approx. 10 km, 230m ascent

A short coach ride around Lake Taupo brought us to our starting point where, under blue skies, we heaved on packs groaning with gear and food for 4 days. The first days walk took us through pristine forests and across a number of babbling streams as we picked our way steadily upwards to our first night’s destination. Much of the track consisted of dried mud and, not for the last time, we were thankful for the perfect weather. We stopped for lunch on some rocks by a running creek and were glad of the opportunity to begin lightening our packs as fast as possible!

A couple of hours later we arrived at Mangatepopo Hut and spent the afternoon, bathing, knitting and attempting to solve a cryptic crossword. As it turned out, these 3 activities occupied the majority of our relaxation time for the rest of the walk. That evening we were treated to a superb sunset, the sky ranging from palest pink to strawberry before receiving a briefing from the Ranger about the next days walk. To our shock she reported that 3500 people had attempted the Tongariro Crossing that day, advising us to set off the next morning before sunrise to beat the crowds.

Day 2: Mangatepopo Hut to Oturere Hut

Approx 15km with side trips, 650m ascent

Rising before dawn we headed up the valley as the first fingers of light poked over the hills, before beginning the ascent. Most people made the side trip to Soda Springs and then started the climb to South Crater and on up to Red Crater (1868m).  At this point the landscape changed from looking alpine to lunar and the wind threatened to blow us off our feet. Jackets, gloves and beanies were needed as well as careful footing. We took a few minutes to take in the extraordinary views from the summit before beginning our descent.

We slid, scrambled, slipped and shuffled our way down the steep scree slope, quads burning, and most were glad to safely reach the bottom where we were rewarded with views over the exquisite Emerald Lakes.

We took a short side trip to the Blue Lake before a well earned lunch and enjoyed some sublime views back to Mt Doom.

This was followed by another steep ridge descent to the Oturere valley where the track meandered through bad lands of weird red volcanic rocks and deep grey ash falls. On reaching Oturere Hut we were delighted to find our own private waterfall and bathing area on the edge of a steep cliff. The wind screeched all night, and we pitied the campers but were snug inside the Hut and the wind dropped by dawn.

Day 3: Oturere Hut to Waihohonu Hut

Approx 12km with side trips, 250m ascent

An easy day’s walking was spent cruising across the gravel fields of the Rangipo Desert with their alien plant life (eg. vegetable sheep) and small areas of pristine birch forest. Wide ranging vistas of the snow capped peaks delighted us throughout the walk and all enjoyed the chance to stretch the legs after the previous day’s punishment. Once back in the tree line, we passed over a babbling stream with fabulously clear water.

Arriving early to the lovely new Waihohonu Hut, we took advantage of the time to take in side trips to the old historic Waihohonu Hut as well as the clear waters of Ohanipango Spring. We were able to fill our water bottles in the spring and enjoyed drinking some of the cleanest and most delicious water we had ever tasted. After two nights in the older style huts, the new Waihohonu Hut was a nice treat. But we still couldn’t finish the cryptic crossword.

Day 4: Waihohonu Hut to Whakapapa Village

Approx 16km, 310m ascent

Our final day dawned sunny and clear once again and we set off up the river valley to the Lower Tama lakes where we enjoyed a final morning tea with the entire group. Some took a side trip to the Upper Tama lakes but the majority headed straight to Taranaki Falls, where we ate our final meal of the trip while watching people clambering over the rocks at the top of falls and wincing when it looked like they were way too close to the edge. We cruised on into Whakapapa Village before throwing our packs off and indulging in whatever we had been craving (beer, coffee, pizza etc) before meeting up with our friendly coach driver and heading back to Taupo for more treats (showers, wine, dinner).

Logistics and Tips

Some of us flew via Auckland with a shuttle flight to Lake Taupo and some drove to Lake Taupo. Either way, Lake Taupo was easy to access and good starting point for the walk. A few of us combined our trip to New Zealand with other walks.

In Lake Taupo, we stayed at the YHA called Finlay Jacks . As there was an event on for one of the nights we stayed (Ironman), it was fully booked so make sure that you book ahead. The rooms were clean and better than the average YHA but the communal outdoor facilities were a bit noisy overnight so if you are planning an early night you might want to look elsewhere.

We shared a private mini bus to transport us to and from the walk.

We were surprised by the huge numbers of day walkers doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which we crossed over with on our second day until leaving Emerald Lakes. As we had stunning weather, they seemed to descend on the track for those few days that we were there. If you want to avoid the crowds then this might not be the right walk for you. Having said that, once you are past Emerald Lakes, it is no different to any other Great Walk that we have experienced in terms of numbers – although the campers are permitted to use the huts as there are no separate camping facilities


Day 1

1 Jun 2019 7:07 am

Tongariro Northern Circuit Day 1

  • Distance 6.50 km
  • Time 0 s
  • Speed 1.4 km/h
  • Min altitude 0 m
  • Peak 0 m
  • Climb 312 m
  • Descent 217 m
  • Distance Instructions

Day 2

1 Jun 2019 7:11 am

Tongariro Northern Circuit Day 2

  • Distance 9.28 km
  • Time 0 s
  • Speed 1.3 km/h
  • Min altitude 0 m
  • Peak 0 m
  • Climb 712 m
  • Descent 626 m
  • Distance Instructions

Day 3

1 Jun 2019 7:13 am

Tongariro Northern Circuit Day 3

  • Distance 8.41 km
  • Time 0 s
  • Speed 1.3 km/h
  • Min altitude 0 m
  • Peak 0 m
  • Climb 379 m
  • Descent 611 m
  • Distance Instructions

Day 4

1 Jun 2019 7:15 am

Tongariro Northern Circuit Day 4

  • Distance 12.45 km
  • Time 0 s
  • Speed 2.4 km/h
  • Min altitude 0 m
  • Peak 0 m
  • Climb 420 m
  • Descent 375 m
  • Distance Instructions



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