The Northern Circuit is typically a 3 – 4 day 40km tramp around Mt Ngauruhoe.
The track is classified as a New Zealand Great Walk, and offers amazing volcanic alpine scenery.
The circuit typically starts at Whakapapa Village, and then heads over the South Crater via Mangatepopo Hut, before passing the Emerald Lakes, heading down to Oturere Hut, Waihohonu Hut and then back to The Village.
The Tongariro Crossing itself is a spectacular walk taking in a dramatic landscape featuring steam vents, looming volcanoes, craters, scenes from Lord of the Rings and breathtaking scenery of the greater National Park area.
This part of the track offers similarly breathtaking views in a beautiful alpine environment, but is mostly deserted, a stark contrast to the first part of the track.
Along this route we only came cross a handful of fellow trampers, and one rescue helicopter.
The Northern Circuit is well worth doing, revealing some amazing scenery that is missed out on by walkers choosing to just do the crossing.
We used the following times and itinerary:
Friday – Whakapapa Village to Mangatepopo Hut (3 hrs)
We left Auckland 10.30am, and took a leisurely drive down to Whakapapa Village, arriving around 4pm. The walk from Whakapapa Village to Mangatepopo Hut is 9km, taking around 3 hours in good weather. The track offers good views of Mt Ruapehu, but otherwise is a mostly uneventful trudge through desert tussock, trenches and valleys.
Saturday – Mangatepopo Hut to Waihohonu Hut (8 hrs)
Intending to avoid the army of day-walkers we set out early, but still they managed to over-take us in their light-weight packs and high-speed sneakers.
Nonetheless, this is the best part of the track (but only in good weather). The first part of the track is very well-maintained as it heads up a steep climb to the South Crater. From there the route becomes more rugged and makes its way up a steep ridge, before rewarding walkers with breathtaking views of the Emerald Lakes, steam vents, the red crater, and dramatic views of the three active volcanoes and the greater National Park area.
At the Emerald Lakes we turned off for Oturere Hut for lunch. It was here, that to our surprise, we were greeted by the Lion Rescue Helicopter, who enlisted our assistance with temporarily dropping off a patient, before proceeding to pick up another patient in a more tricky area.
Fortunately, the patient did not have life-threatening injuries despite making a very high-speed accidental descent down the slopes of Ngauruhoe after slipping on ice.
Apparently, the helicopter is always most busy on sunny days, when there are more people on the mountain, and they feel inclined to attempt the more challenging side-trips on the track.
After waiting for the helicopter to return and seeing the patient safely transported off the mountain, we continued on to Waihohonu Hut, situated between Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe.
Having negotiated the crossing, this part of the track is surprisingly long and exhausting, but the two looming volcanoes and gorgeous alpine scenery mostly make up for this.
Exhausted, hot, and tired, we finally made it to the hut in the late afternoon and were greeted by the very friendly hut warden and DOC officer, Rosemary, who eagerly encouraged us to visit the local attractions at Waihohonu before dark.
Sunday: Waihohonu Hut to Whakapapa Village (5 – 6 hrs)
This part of the track is a mostly easy undulating track, taking in the Old Waihohonu Hut, the Tama Lakes, and Taranaki Falls, before heading back to Whakapapa Village.
Upon arriving back at The Village, we then headed down to Ohakune for a much needed beer and a good night’s sleep before driving back to Auckland on Monday morning.
*It would appear there is some animosity by trampers towards the day walkers, as they tend to clog the route, and use up water and toilet paper from the huts. This is eloquently reflected in the hut log books with statements such as ‘F**K the day walkers’, and ‘Point of Visit:Killing day walkers by shoving them into craters’.