• You can walk the full circuit in either direction.
    You can walk the full circuit in either direction.
  • There are a range of shorter walking opportunities, suitable for the whole family and for those with less time available.
    There are a range of shorter walking opportunities, suitable for the whole family and for those with less time available.
  • The plants in the area vary considerably, from alpine herbs to thick swathes of tussocks and flax; from the hardy, low-growing shrubs of the Rangipo gravel-field to dense beech forests.
    The plants in the area vary considerably, from alpine herbs to thick swathes of tussocks and flax; from the hardy, low-growing shrubs of the Rangipo gravel-field to dense beech forests.
  • You'll need a 40–60 litre rucksack for the multi-day walk.
    You'll need a 40–60 litre rucksack for the multi-day walk.
  • The Tongariro Northern Circuit is easily accessible from four trailheads, with Whakapapa Village being the main entrance and exit point.
    The Tongariro Northern Circuit is easily accessible from four trailheads, with Whakapapa Village being the main entrance and exit point.
  • Huts and campsites must be booked in advance in the Great Walks season. Outside the Great Walks season, it is first come, first served.
    Huts and campsites must be booked in advance in the Great Walks season. Outside the Great Walks season, it is first come, first served.
  • A range of trips can be planned around the circuit, suitable for the whole family. You can do day trips, overnight trips or a three-four day walk around the complete circuit.
    A range of trips can be planned around the circuit, suitable for the whole family. You can do day trips, overnight trips or a three-four day walk around the complete circuit.
  • Most streams are bridged and there are no large river crossings.
    Most streams are bridged and there are no large river crossings.
  • The weather can change suddenly - from warm and sunny to cold, wet and windy.
    The weather can change suddenly - from warm and sunny to cold, wet and windy.
  • This is the perfect habitat for a variety of New Zealand’s native birds.
    This is the perfect habitat for a variety of New Zealand’s native birds.
  • Explore a World Heritage Area of natural and cultural significance.
    Explore a World Heritage Area of natural and cultural significance.
  • Most of the track is on rugged and exposed alpine terrain, although there are sections of formed track/boardwalk.
    Most of the track is on rugged and exposed alpine terrain, although there are sections of formed track/boardwalk.
  • The walking season is mid october to the end of April.
    The walking season is mid october to the end of April.
  • Give yourself 3-4 days to do the full loop.
    Give yourself 3-4 days to do the full loop.
  • The walk is a 43km loop.
    The walk is a 43km loop.
  • This path winds its way past Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe.
    This path winds its way past Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe.
  • The central and high altitude location of the Tongariro Northern Circuit is in a prime position for sweeping views around the central North Island.
    The central and high altitude location of the Tongariro Northern Circuit is in a prime position for sweeping views around the central North Island.
  • Journey through dramatic (and active!) volcanic landscapes, glacial valleys, native beech forest, alpine meadows and emerald coloured lakes.
    Journey through dramatic (and active!) volcanic landscapes, glacial valleys, native beech forest, alpine meadows and emerald coloured lakes.
  • Side by side you can see chaotic, barren lava flows, winter snowfields, thermal steaming and active craters.
    Side by side you can see chaotic, barren lava flows, winter snowfields, thermal steaming and active craters.
  • There are three huts, with campsites close by, on the The Tongariro Northern Circuit: Mangatepopo, Oturere and Waihohonu.
    There are three huts, with campsites close by, on the The Tongariro Northern Circuit: Mangatepopo, Oturere and Waihohonu.
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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

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