Best time: late Oct to late Apr
This amazing walk encircles Mount Ngauruhoe, an active volcano in Tongariro National Park. You'll see craters, explosion pits, lava flows and more.
Hiking around an active volcano would have to be one of life’s most memorable experiences. And if you decide to climb to the summit, the feeling of achievement is even more uplifting.
The Tongariro Northern Circuit encircles the cone of Mount Ngauruhoe - the most perfectly-shaped volcanic cone within the Tongariro National Park. Although it’s resting at the moment, this mountain is New Zealand's most active volcano with 61 eruptions since 1839. The first day of the circuit follows the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is probably New Zealand’s best-known day hike. So if you don’t have time to do the full circuit, you can opt to do a single day.
Day 1, Whakapapa Village > Mangatepopo Hut, 8.5 km
Beginning 100 m below the Whakapapa Village Information Centre, today's leg is all about quaint stream beds, volcanic views and ancient lava flows. For the final hour the track skirts around an old steam vent before reaching the Mangatepopo Valley track and the hut soon after.
Day 2, Mangatepopo Hut > Emerald Lakes > Oturere Hut, 12.8 km
Today's steep climb rewards with spectacular views of the Central Plateau as well as the Blue and Emerald Lakes, which fill explosion pits. Their brilliant, otherworldly colour is caused by volcanic minerals washing down from thermal areas. From here, the track descends into the Oturere Valley, where you'll find tonight's hut.
Day 3, Oturere Hut > Waihohonu Hut, 7.5km
After leaving the hut the track runs through a number of stream valleys and pretty open fields. You'll sidle around the foothills of Mount Ngauruhoe before walking through a valley of beech trees and then arriving at the Waihohonu Hut.
Day 4, Waihohonu Hut > Whakapapa Village, 14.3km
The track today gradually climbs to Tama Saddle, where there is a beautiful side trip to the stunning Tama Lakes, two old explosion craters. Whakapapa Village is around 2 hours' walk from here. After the first hour the track intersects with the Taranaki Falls loop walk - follow the track to the bottom to see the waterfall before following the stream to reach the village.
During the walk
This walk is dotted with three Department of Conservation (DOC)-run huts with nearby campsites. Bookings are required for all huts and campsites on the Tongariro Northern Circuit from late Oct to late April. During the off-peak season DOC hut tickets or annual hut passes are required. Huts can be booked online here, through any DOC office or at the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre.
Before and after
For an elegant and historical accommodation experience, the Chateau Tongariro Hotel - located in Whakapapa Village and built in 1929 - offers luxurious rooms and delicious restaurants.
Car parks at either end of the track fill up quickly during peak season so the Department of Conservation recommend that visitors access the track via a shuttle from Whakapapa, National Park Village, Turangi, Taupo or Ohakune. Local transport operators such as Adventure HQ, Dempsey Buses and National Park Shuttles are just a few of the operators that offer shuttle services, a full list can be found here.
A number of specialist tour operators can aid in bringing your walking experience to life. Browse these businesses to find if a walking tour is right for you:
If you want to do a Great Walk independently, you will need to book a the DOC accommodation on the trails. The fee for this varies between each Great Walk. It is recommended that you book in advance for this popular walk.