There’s a very clear and caricatured image of walking in New Zealand. It’s all traipsing through dripping green bush beside trout-laden rivers and occasionally popping out above the foliage to view a shining glacier. And so it is with many of the country’s best known tracks and especially in the South Island.
But in the arid heart of the North Island is another of the country’s greatest walks which traces a circle through NZ’s volcanic heartland and is nothing like the traditional stereotype of the country’s walking.
The Tongariro Northern Circuit is a three to four day trip that takes in unique and at times bizarre landscapes where within an hour you can travel from cobalt-coloured lakes, down slopes where steam hisses from boiling fissures to dramatic desert-dry valley floors.
The Northern Circuit begins at Whakapapa Village where track and weather information can be obtained at the Department of Conservation centre. There’s accommodation here too, including the grand Chateau, one of the country’s most famous hotels and an obvious landmark that’s a welcome sight as you near the end of your trip.
While the trail can be walked in either direction, most choose a clockwise circuit spending the first night in Mangatepopo Hut which is three hours away through attractive sub-alpine shrubs which often flower in summer.
As it’s deemed one of the country’s nine official Great Walks, along with the better known Routeburn and Milford tracks, all huts on the circuit have gas cooking and heating and throughout summer, hut wardens on site.
Camping is available at the huts but at Mangatepopo it’s very exposed and winds rushing down from the ridges above have a tendency to flatten tents no matter how securely they’re pegged down. It’s from here that the most spectacular scenery begins as walkers wind their way up to and across South Crater between Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro.
This section of the track is known as the Tongariro Crossing and is popular with day trippers, having been dubbed the greatest walk in the world by enthusiastic local branding boffins. Hyperbole aside, it is a truly stunning walk in a remarkable environment and each year attracts thousands of tourists.
To fond out more about the Tongariro Northern Circuit click here.
Words and photos_Mike White