Ton­gariro North­ern Cir­cuit, New Zealand

Australian Geographic Outdoor - - Adventure -

NEW ZEALAND HAS many, many mul­ti­day hikes that could have been on this list – the coun­try is cov­ered in enough of them to keep any keen hiker busy for many years tick­ing them all off, start­ing with its nine Great Walks. So why the least-known of the nine, the Ton­gariro North­ern Cir­cuit (TNC) in­side Ton­gariro Na­tional Park? Well, it is, for one, spec­tac­u­lar in its own right. And, it also of­fers some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent to the rest of NZ’s Great Walks, most no­tably in terms of its lu­nar-like vol­canic land­scape. Ac­tive vol­ca­noes, craters and a small desert cross­ing (like I said, dif­fer­ent) are the stand­out fea­tures of the TNC, and are all things you won’t find on any other NZ walk.

The TNC kicks off at Whaka­papa, just be­low the slopes of Mt Ngau­ruhoe and crosses over nu­mer­ous creeks and vol­cano vents be­fore a night at Man­gatepopo Hut. From here, hik­ers climb up and then tra­verse the Man­gatepopo Sad­dle, walk­ing over the South Crater’s lava flows be­fore tack­ling the Devil’s Staircase, be­fore you reach the top of the aptly named Red Crater. The spec­tac­u­lar sight of the Emer­ald Lakes greets you here, and you de­scend to their banks be­fore swing­ing right (rather than left; that is the route for Ton­gariro Cross­ing day walk­ers) and con­tin­u­ing into Oturere Val­ley, sur­rounded by vol­canic lava for­ma­tions that bor­der on the sur­real. Even more sur­real is the Rangipo Desert, just be­fore Oturere Hut; the empty space of the desert wouldn’t look out of place in the Out­back. Wai­ho­honu Hut is a fur­ther three hours the next day, so take your time and soak up the un­real land­scape be­fore overnight­ing here.

The last day is awe­some; fol­low­ing the Wai­ho­honu Stream you move be­tween Mt Ngau­ruhoe and Mt Ruapehu (with the pretty Tama Lakes be­low it) and then head through patches of beech for­est to Taranaki Falls. From the falls it is only an­other hour back to Whaka­papa Vil­lage. It’s a three-day ad­ven­ture that of­fers a fan­tas­tic in­sight into New Zealand’s vol­canic his­tory (and present).

Prepa­ra­tion is still im­por­tant on the TNC, even though it is rel­a­tively close to civil­i­sa­tion; the alpine con­di­tions here mean that the weather can change very quickly (snow can still fall in sum­mer) so make sure you pack for all sea­sons. The wind up high on the Man­gatepopo Sad­dle can be bru­tal so make sure you are rel­a­tively fit and have good bal­ance. This aside, be­ing able to walk through a thriv­ing vol­canic land­scape, and sleep in some of NZ’s famed back­coun­try huts, makes this North Is­land cir­cuit a not-to-be-missed hik­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

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