One of the best hikes in the world
Tongariro Northern Circuit
Our favourite multi-day tramp in our favourite hiking region of the world — glorious New Zealand. 😎
The Circuit & super popular (70,000/yr) Tongariro Alpine Crossing day hike were closed for some months due to volcanic activity Aug 2012.
AT A GLANCE
- one of our top 10 hikes in the world
- non-stop superb hiking
- mostly volcanic & desert environs
- 34+km (19+mi) depending on route
- 3-days, 2-nights minimum
- option to climb a volcano, or two
- medium difficulty hiking, with challenging sections
- wonderful variety of scenery
- Dec – Mar best months
- maximum elevation Red Crater 1886m (6188ft)
- very crowded on the Tongariro Crossing section
Why We Like This Hike
Most trampers do only the 1-day Tongariro Alpine Crossing. That’s a shame. The Northern Circuit includes the Crossing and is a far richer experience.
- 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)
- mandatory easy sidetrip to the top of Mount Tongariro 1967m
- difficult, 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)
- Tongariro trails are sometimes CLOSED due to volcanic activity
- on a busy day you will see hikers like ants on the Tongariro Circuit section climbing 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
Cost & reservations
DOC (Department of Conservation) 2013:
You need to book huts and/or campsites on the track if you’re walking peak season between October and April …
1. Decide whether you want to walk clockwise or anti-clockwise. …
2. Decide what huts or campsites you want to stay at. …
3. Decide the date you want to stay at each hut/campsite. …
4. Check availability of huts and campsites …
5. Optional: Check the availability of transport services …
6. Book huts/campsites online …
7. Optional: Book transport to/from Mangetepopo Road …
Fees are paid at the time of reservation. Offseason hut beds and campsites are on a first-come basis only, there are no reservations.
For 2020 huts cost $36 / adult / night in peak season. $15 in off season.
For 2013-14 campsites cost $15 / night in peak season. $5 in off season.
Click over to the DOC Tongariro Northern Circuit FEES & BOOKINGS page for details and links.
We do not recommend the standard route: a full Circuit starting most popularly at Whakapapa Village.
We advise you skip the section between Whakapapa Village and Mangatepopo Hut. It is not nearly as interesting as the rest of the loop.
- morning shuttle bus from Taupo or Turangi to Manatepopo trailhead (with the Tongariro Crossing day hikers)
- short side track to Soda Springs
- Devil’s Staircase climb, the most difficult section
- easy sidetrip to the top of Mt. Tongariro, or …
- difficult sidetrip to the top of Mt. Ngauruhoe (2-4hrs)
- fit hikers should climb both volcanoes, weather permitting, as you have plenty of time — whereas the day hikers are rushed to meet a shuttle bus
- Night 1 = Ketetahi Hut (closed as of August 2012) or campsite. Alternatively you continue on to the next hut.
- next morning backtrack to Blue Lake and Emerald Lakes. You have them to yourselves! (The day hikers will not get here for hours.) No rush as this is a short hiking day.
- descend steeply down to New Zealand’s only desert, perhaps the most beautiful section of the hike, a moonscape
- Night 2 = Oturere Hut or campsite (or Waihohonu Hut)
- wash up at a gorgeous nearby waterfall
- the last day is another long day (but over relatively easy terrain) all the way out to Whakapapa Village
- start early
- short sidetrips to Ohinepango Springs, Old Waihohonu Hut and a stop at Taranaki Falls recommended
- we felt the sidetrip to the Tama Lakes was not worth the effort
- finish at Whakapapa Village
- catch transport back to Taupo or Turangi
Leave a reply if you disagree.
Our itinerary has long, challenging days 1 and 3 with a relaxing, short day 2. If this sounds rushed, do it over 4-days with an extra night at Waihohonu Hut.
It’s easy to be guided on the one day Tongariro Crossing. You’ll need to search to find a Tongariro Circuit guide. Do this adventure independently, if you can.
If you sign on with a guided trip logistics will be organized for you. This section is for independent hikers.
- Tongariro National Park is in the North Island, about half way between Auckland and Wellington.
- you can fly Auckland to Taupo, or take a bus to Taupo or Turangi, the jumping off point for Manatepopo trailhead
- actually, it is easy to get a shuttle to the trailhead from either Taupo or Turangi. Several private shuttle services will pick you up at your accommodation
- Discovery Lodge is the our favourite accommodation close to the trailhead.
- do the Circuit at your own pace finishing at Whakapapa Village
- the last bus out leaves late in the afternoon. If you arrive too late, no worries. There are good restaurants and accommodation options in Whakapapa including camping, hostel and hotel.
We stayed in nearby National Park (the town) as well. It has a great backpacker vibe.
Shuttle bus to the trail
Due to the volcanic nature of this region, closures may occur. Confirm local conditions with DOC before heading to the trailhead.
Best Trekking Guidebooks
Be sure to get the most up-to-date editions. Many guidebooks, including LP, are available in electronic format.
- Lonely Planet Hiking & Tramping in New Zealand, Slater, Bennett & DuFresne, 2014
- Trailblazer New Zealand the Great Walks – Alexander Stewart, 2009
Best Travel Guidebooks
Other Recommended Books
- Classic Walks of New Zealand – Craig Potton, 2000
- Straying from the Flock – Alexander Elder, 2005
- The Whale Rider – Witi Ihimaera
- A Land Of Two Halves – Joe Bennet, 2005, travelogue
With a guidebook, you don’t really need a map. Certainly you’ll be able to pick up one in New Zealand if you collect them.
- Tongariro Northern Circuit maps & profile – David Briese
- Tongariro Northern Circuit map – mrbackpacker.com
Best Web Pages
- DOC Tongariro Northern Circuit brochure (PDF)
- New Zealand Tramper
- Tongariro Northern Circuit – tramper.co.nz
- Just New Zealand Walks – Independent Walking Guide
- Tongariro Northern Circuit – Ian Fisk
- A Tramp through Tongariro – Judy Armstrong, GORP
- Tongariro National Park – wikipedia
- The Great Walks – wikipedia
- Mount Ngauruhoe – wikipedia
- Mount Tongariro – wikipedia
- Tongariro Crossing – wikipedia
- Lake Taupo – official website
- DOC winter season (May to October)
Best Trip Reports
- Beard and Curly
- Running & Travels 2012
- Tongariro Northern Circuit – Mark Moxon, 1997
- Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro in one day
- Tongariro Northern Circuit – McCharles, 2003
- Tongariro Northern Circuit – Mike Gardner
- Northern Circuit in one day 2007
- Tongariro Northern Circuit photos – Mike_in_NZ
- interesting Tongariro photos on flickr
Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.
Click PLAY or watch Peter Sim’s 2020 Circuit on YouTube.