Tongariro Northern Circuit, New Zealand
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.