Tongariro Northern Circuit
Our favourite hike in New Zealand.
A fantastic volcanic adventure!
Most trampers do only the Tongariro Crossing, one of the most popular day hikes in the world. That’s a shame. The Northern Circuit includes the Crossing and is a far richer experience.
The entire Circuit is 34+km (19+mi) mostly bizarre volcanic & desert scenery. The energetic hiker can sidetrip a volcano or two. Three days, two nights is perfect.
It’s accessible for all levels of hiking ability and fitness. (In fact, we met an elderly Kiwi couple who do the Circuit as a day hike once every year.)
The maximum elevation at Red Crater 1886m (6188ft) means there is no risk of altitude sickness. Some hike the Circuit year round, though Dec – Mar are the best months.
Happily, no reservation is required for huts! They are first-come, first-served. If you carry a tent there is no worry about the hut being full when you arrive. Tenters can still use all the hut facilities.
Why we love it:
- circumambulate active volcano Mt. Ngauruhoe
- boiling mud pools, fumaroles and craters!
- weird lava features, unique volcanic colours
- this park attracts over a quarter million trampers a year but most of the circuit is not over-crowded
- astonishing water-filled explosion craters called the Emerald Lakes
- Blue Lake (an old volcanic vent)
- manditory easy sidetrip to the top of Mount Tongariro 1967m
- difficuly, lengthy sidetrip scramble to the top of Mt. Ngauruhoe 2287m, an active volcano. You know it as Mt. Doom in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings.
- scrambling huge volcanic formations in the Oturere valley
- the Tongariro reserve is a World Heritage Site
- New Zealand has the best hostels in the world
- the Maori cultural and spiritual associations
- the bleak, harsh volcanic landscape
- well signed, easy-to-follow trail
- the alpine huts are good: beds, mattresses, gas heating, gas stoves, water, and toilet facilities (during the main hiking season)
- on a busy day you will see hikers like ants on the Devil’s Staircase near the start
- many day hikers are under-dressed, under-prepared. You may be called upon for First Aid.
- strong wind & poor visibility may ruin this hike. Delay until another day, if possible.
- weather changes quickly. Be prepared for rain or even snow.
- carry enough warm clothing
- the few water sources on the trail all require treatment
- the ozone layer is thin. Use good-quality sunglasses, sun screen and wear a hat.
- sturdy shoes for rocky and uneven tracks advised
- howling winds atop Ngauruhoe even when it is calm below
- if you are climbing Ngauruhoe, consider bringing good boots and gaiters for the dangerous scree. The slope is filled with ankle-turning-sized rocks.
- off season, ice axe and crampons may be needed
- catch an early bird shuttle if you want to beat the crowds
Details on our Tongariro Northern Circuit information page.
Photo from the excellent trip report by Benjamin Jones.