Tongariro Northern CircuitIntermediate
Submitted by Mal Law
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Back country - remote
Native bushOpen ridges/topsVolcanic
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This route is part of the Rab Skyline Mountain Collection
Please note: all peaks in the Tongariro National Park are sacred to the local hapū Ngāti Hikairo Ki Tongariro, who ask that we show respect by not climbing them. Access is not actually banned, so this is a conscience call for all trampers and runners.
This Great Walk is a loop that could be run in either direction but it is highly recommended to go CLOCKWISE so as to avoid having to climb up a huge scree field and avoid the disappointment of not getting to run down this instead.
Begin 100 metres below the Whakapapa Visitor Centre at Ngauruhoe Place and along the lower Taranaki Falls track. After about 20 minutes the Mangatepopo track branches off from the Taranaki Falls track. Heavily eroded in places the track crosses many stream beds and lives up to its nickname of "The Gutter" in heavy rain. Eventually it reaches the Mangatepopo Valley track - turn right and head up the valley (the Mangatepopo Hut is a couple of minutes off of the main track at this point)
The track follows Mangatepopo stream up the valley, climbing over a succession of old lava flows from Ngauruhoe. The steep climb required to reach the Mangatepopo Saddle is now a highway of steps and gravel. From the saddle the track crosses South Crater and starts the climb up to Red Crater (awesome views!)
At the top of Red Crater a poled route to the left leads to Tongariro Summit ( a worthwhile detour if you're feeling fit and frisky.) The main track continues on past the rim of Red Crater itself. A scoria covered ridge that offers a great scree run leads down to the spectacular Emerald Lakes and then descends steeply into the Oturere Valley with views of the valley, the Kaimanawa Ranges and the Rangipo Desert. The track weaves through an endless variety of unusual jagged lava forms from early eruptions from Red Crater which filled Oturere Valley. Quite magical on a nice day, or even on a misty day! The Oturere Hut is nestled on the eastern edge of these flows and is a good place to top up water supplies.
After leaving Oturere Hut the track undulates over a number of stream valleys and open gravel fields and gradually sidles around the foot hills of Ngauruhoe descending into a valley and crossing one of the branches of the Waihohonu Stream. Continue through a beech clad valley before climbing towards the ridge top. Waihohonu Hut is in the next valley.
After leaving the hut the track follows the Waihohonu stream and gradually climbs to Tama Saddle. This area can be windy as it sits between the mountains. Lots of work by DoC in recent years has taken some of the fun out of things and turned this into a bit of a gravel highway, but there's no arguing with the splendour of the landscape that you run through. From the saddle there is a very worthwhile side trip to the striking Tama Lakes, two infilled explosion craters. The lower lake is only 5 minutes run from the junction, while the upper lake is up a steep ridge and requires a fair bit of extra effort to reach.
From here it's then pretty much all downhill to Whakapapa Village on more gravel highway.
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Features of interest
Stunning volcanic scenery - you are running around a world-famous thermally active area.
This is the perfect habitat for a variety of New Zealand's native birds. In forested areas you may see bellbird/korimako, tui, robin/toutouwai, tomtit/miromiro, fantail/piwakawaka, and maybe New Zealand's smallest bird the rifleman/titipounamu.
You might be lucky enough to spot blue duck/whio in a stream, and in open terrain areas you may see pipits, skylarks, the rarer karearea/falcon or kaka, and even some wayward seagulls who live in the area in summer!
Make Up of Run
Untracked / Route only: 2%
Technical Single Track: 20%
Moderate Single Track: 18%
Easy Single Track: 60%
The following trails overlap with this run to some degree. You may wish to combine them but please note that to qualify for FKTs on these runs you should record a separate Strava activity for each
The Northern Circuit starts and finishes on Ngauruhoe Terrace, behind The Chateau.
There's plenty of parking in the general area.
Make navigation of this route super-easy by using the Capra app on your phone. View on Capra .
Being a Great Walk the trail is clearly marked at all intersections. Take care on the areas that are poled as in poor visibility it can be easy to lose the track.
Long-sleeved thermal top, Seam-sealed waterproof jacket, Gloves, Beanie/thermal headwear, Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), Whistle, First aid kit, Extra food for emergencies, Survival bag, Cellphone, Map, Headtorch and spare batteries, Gaiters.
There is water at all the huts.
This is not a winter run - snow and ice can obliterate the track and short daylight hours make it unadvisable for all but the fittest, most experienced runners and even then only in good weather.
Areas of this track are very exposed and the weather can change fast. Sharp volcanic rocks will tear skin if you take a tumble.
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See other runs nearby:
Round Ruapehu (RTM Track)
Taranaki Falls & Tama Lakes
Ketetahi Carpark Time Trial
Taranaki Falls Beauty
Sash and Door Trail
Silica Rapids trail
Ruapehu Mile Higher Club
The Great Pinnacle