Tongariro Northern Circuit

This circuit on the Volcanic Plateau passes close to the summit of Tongariro in a spectacular, active volcanic landscape of crater lakes, lava flows, and hot springs. A side-trip leads to the summit of Ngauruhoe.

The busy Tongariro Alpine Crossing draws the crowds, but the Tongariro Northern Circuit takes a more in depth look at the Volcanic Plateau. It includes the Crossing, but also visits the eastern and southern slopes of Mount Ngauruhoe, passing by the handsome Tama Lakes.

This track is managed as a Great Walk, meaning that bookings are required during the peak season, and that camping is prohibited within 500m of the track, except at the designated campsites at each of the huts. Winter conditions effectively close the track to most trampers, with snow and avalanche hazards.

The Volcanic Plateau hosts three active volcanoes: Tongariro, Ruapehu, and young Ngauruhoe. These volcanoes erupt regularly. The most recent eruption was in 2012 at Te Maari, and damaged the nearby Ketetahi Hut. Warning signs indicate the current hazard level.


This circuit has several entry points. It starts and finishes at Whakapapa Village. It is also accessible from the two ends of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing at Mangatepopo Road and Rotoaira Road, and from SH1, the Desert Road. Public transport is available to National Park on SH4 and to Whakapapa Village.

Whakapapa Village to Mangatepopo Hut

Hut Mangatepopo Hut
Great Walks Hut (DOC) (sleeps 30)
Facilities: Tap or tank water, Toilet, Enclosed wood/coal burner, Gas/electric cooking
Meandering through tussock and beech forest, the track soon meets the tail of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, with the car park to the left and the hut nearby, to the right.

Mangatepopo Hut to Emerald Lakes

Passing the Soda Springs, the track climbs onto the South Crater and past the dramatic Red Crater. A 2 hour side track leads to the summit of Tongariro (1961m). The track drops off the crater to the mineral-stained Emerald Lakes.

Emerald Lakes to Oturere Hut

Hut Oturere Hut
Great Walks Hut (DOC) (sleeps 26)
Facilities: Tap or tank water, Toilet, Enclosed wood/coal burner, Gas/electric cooking
From the Emerald Lakes, the Crossing carries onward, but the Northern Circuit branches off to the right, dropping swiftly down the raw volcanic slopes of the Oturere Valley to the next hut.

Oturere Hut to Waihohonu Hut

An undulating track passes over bare ground and along forested streams.

Hut Waihohonu Hut
Great Walks Hut (DOC) (sleeps 28)
Facilities: Tap or tank water, Toilet, Enclosed wood/coal burner, Gas/electric cooking
At Waihohonu Hut, an access track leads out to SH1, and the Round The Mountain Track heads south to encircle Ruapehu.

Waihohonu Hut to Whakapapa Village

Passing Old Waihohonu Hut (no accommodation), the track climbs onto Tama Saddle where a short side track leads to Tama Lakes. From here the track returns to Whakapapa, passing the Taranaki Falls on the way.

Walking times

  • Whakapapa Village to Mangatepopo Hut, 3 hours
  • Mangatepopo Hut to Emerald Lakes, 3.5 - 5.5 hours
  • Emerald Lakes to Oturere Hut: 2.5 - 3.5 hours
  • Oturere Hut to Waihohonu Hut, 2 - 3 hours
  • Waihohonu Hut to Whakapapa Village, 5 - 6 hours

Side trips:

  • Mount Ngauruhoe summit: 3 hours return
  • Mount Tongariro summit: 2 hours return
  • Blue Lake viewpoint from Emerald Lakes: 30 minutes return
  • Round The Mountain Track: 4 - 6 days
  • Lower Tama Lake: 20 minutes return
  • Upper Tama Lake: 1.5 hours return
  • Access from Mangatepopo Road: 15 minutes
  • Access from Lake Rotoaira Road: 2.5 - 3.5 hours
  • Access from SH1: 2 hours
Grade Easy/medium
The track is alpine, and exposed to variable weather conditions. A volcanic hazard also exists. Grades explained
Bookings Required
Bookings are required for huts and campsites during the peak season (late October to end April). Details at link below.
Length 43.1km
Loop track
Time 16 hr
3 – 4 days
Altitude 1,090m – 1,868m
Altitude change 778m
From Ngauruhoe Place, Whakapapa Village. (various other access points).
ID 253

About this track

Added 1 June 20011 June 2001 by MatthewMatthew. 6 revisions, most recently 3 February 20143 February 2014 by MatthewMatthew.
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