Emerald Lake

Tongariro Northern Circuit Guide – Great Walk

Last Christmas vacation, we hiked one of the most amazing trails in New Zealand: The Tongariro Northern Circuit.

It is located in Tongariro National Park in the Central North Island region. The loop trail is 44.9KM long and can be completed in 3 to 4 days, although most people do it in 2-3 days or even 1 day for a marathon. We encountered a few runners along the way. You can choose to hike the trail in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction since it’s a loop trail. The famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing trail is a part of this Northern Circuit.

Expect to be mesmerized by the beautiful landscapes with the sights of active volcano of Mount Ngauruhoe, Mount Ruapehu, and Mount Tongariro. You will also come across numerous streams and rivers, active vents, waterfalls, turquoise lakes, bushes, dense forests, deserts, rock formations, lava remnants and alpine views.

The hike is part of the Great Walks network, which means it is well-maintained and has comfortable huts and campsites along the way.

Fun Facts
  • One of the scenes from The Lord of the Rings trilogy has been filmed here, that is the Mount Ngauruhoe or aka Mordor or Mount Doom from the LOTR.
  • The first national park in New Zealand and is one of the earliest in the world.
  • It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When to Hike

It is recommended to do the hike during the Great Walks season or from late October to April, as the weather conditions are more favorable and daylight hours are longer during this time. Additionally, the track is fully accessible and has more amenities with fewer potential hazards. However, it is important to book your accommodation in advance, as the huts and campsites fill up quickly.

Outside this season, hiking should only be done by people who are fit and experienced, as the winter season may make the track more challenging and treacherous. Additionally, it is important to check the weather forecast and track conditions before departure, as the weather in the park can change quickly and dramatically.

How to get here

You can drive to Tongariro National Park from Auckland or Wellington in about 4-5 hours. The road distance from Auckland is about 343 km, and from Wellington is about 330 km. You can also drive from other nearby towns, such as Taupo, Tūrangi, Ohakune, or Taumarunui. Driving is the fastest and most direct way to get to the park, but you need to be prepared for changing weather and road conditions, especially in winter.

You can take a bus to Tongariro National Park from Auckland or Wellington, which takes about 7-8 hours. There are daily national bus services that stop at Ohakune, Taumarunui, National Park, Whakapapa Village, and Tūrangi. You can also take a shuttle bus from these towns to the park entrance and hiking tracks. Bus is the cheapest way to get to the park, but you need to book your tickets in advance and coordinate with the shuttle services.

You can take a Northern Explorer train to Tongariro National Park from Auckland or Wellington, which takes about 5-6 hours. The main trunk railway between Auckland and Wellington passes through National Park Village and Ohakune, where you can get off and take a shuttle bus to the park. The train runs three days per week going south and three days per week going north. Train is a scenic and comfortable way to get to the park, but you need to check the schedule and availability of the train and the shuttle services.

You can fly to Tongariro National Park from Auckland, which takes about 5-6 hours. The closest airport is in Taupo, where you can take a shuttle bus to the park. There are also sightseeing flights available from Taupo, Tūrangi, and Mt Ruapehu airstrips. Air is the most expensive way to get to the park, but you can enjoy the aerial view of the volcanoes and the lakes.

If you plan to take public transport, make sure to plan ahead, especially for the Northern Explorer train, as tickets book up quickly during the summer season.

Where to stay for the Multiday Hike?

Accommodations nearby:

National Park Village – a small town located about 10-15 minutes’ drive away from the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre. This town offers several hotels, lodges, and restaurants for visitors to choose from.
Whakapapa Village – situated near the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre and has designated parking areas, toilets, hiking equipment rentals, a few hotels, and an evening dining bar.

Within the Northern Circuit:

There are three huts on the circuit: Mangatepopo, Oturere, and Waihohonu. These are cozy and modern huts that offer bunks with mattresses, heating, toilets, sink for Dishwashing, Gas stove and Pots or Kettle to boil water. You need to book them in advance during the Great Walk season.

Booking fees are as below:

Visitor TypeGreat Walk Season (late October – April)Outside Great Walk Season (May – October)
New Zealand Citizen or Resident  Adult$37$25

There are also campsites near each hut, where you can pitch your tent and enjoy the outdoors. The campsites have access to all the facilities available within the Hut except the Bunk beds. You also need to book them in advance during the Great Walk season.

Booking fees are as below:

Visitor TypeGreat Walk Season (late October – April)Outside Great Walk Season (May – October)
New Zealand Citizen or Resident  Adult$16$10

We opted for the campsite for each night, as it was the only available option at the time. The advantage of camping is you have the tent to yourselves to rest well after a long hike without getting disturbed by other people in the hut who might be sleeping late or getting up early doing preparations to start their day. It is also cheaper compared to staying in the hut.

You can book Huts or Campsites directly from the DOC website.

Where to Poop or Pee during the hike?

Along the duration of your hike, you will find few toilets on the way. These toilets are not flushable, make sure to bring sanitizers, toiletries with you. While most toilets near the hut are equipped with toilet paper, disinfectant, and sanitizer, it is always better to have your own supplies with you in case they run out.

Please do not put non-biodegradable materials (disposable nappies, plastic bags, bottles, cans, etc.) down these toilets. Doing so can lead to blockage of suction pumps, making it difficult to maintain these toilets.

Mobile Reception

Mobile reception is limited along most of the trail. You will only have reception at the beginning and end of the track in Whakapapa Village and at Mangatepopo Hut. Oturere Hut and Waihohonu Hut have either no reception or limited reception. We suggest downloading a map for offline usage or familiarizing yourself with the maps beforehand.

However, you need not worry about getting lost as the trail is well-marked with orange signs on the poles. Just make sure to follow them.

What to bring?

For the detailed list, you may refer to the DOC guidelines.

Please ensure that you bring the following mandatory items for the hike:

  • Hiking boots
  • Waterproof or thick socks
  • Waterproof lightweight jacket and pants
  • Layers of warm clothing, including thermal underwear
  • Hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen
  • Lightweight sleeping bag suitable for the season and temperature
  • Headlamp or flashlight and power bank to charge your devices
  • Waterproof backpack or a backpack with a rain cover
  • Food for the duration of the hike
  • Cooking utensils if you plan to cook during the hike
  • Minimum 3L of water per person for each day. Water available at huts is untreated, so you may need to boil it before use.
  • First aid kit that includes basic items such as bandages, painkillers, safety blanket, antiseptic, and personal medication.

You can also check the official website for more information and tips. I hope these information helps you plan your hike and enjoy the Tongariro Northern Circuit.

Stay tuned for the upcoming post about our experience. Have a great time!


3 responses to “Tongariro Northern Circuit Guide – Great Walk”

  1. Wannachai Avatar

    What an absolutely stunning place!!! You guys looked like you had an amazing time – extremely well written and informative article!

    1. Thank you so much 🙂

  2. […] To find a comprehensive guide about the Tongariro Northern Circuit hike, please refer to our previous article “Tongariro Northern Circuit Guide – Great Walk“. […]

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