Emerald Lakes

Image: Daniel Deans | ©

Introduction

Explore the volcanic heart of Tongariro National Park, a landscape of stark glacial contrasts and alpine views.

Highlights


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  • Journey through dramatic (and active!) volcanic landscapes, glacial valleys, native beech forest, alpine meadows and emerald coloured lakes
  • This path winds its way past Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe
  • Explore a World Heritage Area of natural and cultural significance

2018/2019 bookings

Bookings are open for trips from 19 October 2018 - 30 April 2019.

Video

Track overview

43.1 km loop

Seasonal restrictions

In the Great Walks season (19 October 2018 - 30 April 2019):

  • Bookings are required for huts and campsites
  • Huts have gas cooking stoves and resident wardens

Outside the Great Walks season (1 May 2018 - 18 October 2018):

  • Facilities are greatly reduced
  • Avalanche risk exists
  • Experience is required
  • Bookings are not required – huts and campsites are first come, first served

Dog access

No dogs

About this track

Highlights

Discover what you'll see on the Tongariro Northern Circuit.

Spectacular volcanic landscapes

The Tongariro Northern Circuit winds its way around the active volcanoes Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, showcasing the spectacular volcanic terrain of the central North Island.

The walk passes through unique and stunning landscapes, including active volcanic craters, brilliant blue lakes, and glacial valleys.

Sweeping views around the North Island

The central and high altitude location of the Tongariro Northern Circuit is in a prime position for sweeping views around the central North Island.

In addition to panoramas of the volcanoes and the surrounding countryside, you can see beautiful Lake Taupo to the north, the rugged Kaimanawa ranges to the east, and even as far as Mount Taranaki on the west coast!

A land of strong contrasts

Side by side you can see chaotic, barren lava flows, winter snowfields, thermal steaming and active craters. From alpine herb fields to forests, from tranquil lakes to desert-like plateau, this walk is a place of extremes and surprises.

Interesting plants and birds

The plants in the area vary considerably, from alpine herbs to thick swathes of tussocks and flax; from the hardy, low-growing shrubs of the Rangipo gravel-field to dense beech forests. A diverse range of beautiful and unique alpine flowers abound in the spring and summer months. 

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!

A range of walking options

A range of trips can be planned around the circuit, suitable for the whole family. You can do day trips, overnight trips or a three-four day walk around the complete circuit.

The Tongariro National Park is easy to get to from around the North Island. The Tongariro Northern Circuit is easily accessible from four trailheads, with Whakapapa Village being the main entrance and exit point.

Description

Walking options

Full circuit

You can walk the full circuit in either direction. Most people take 3 or 4 days, with 2 or 3 overnight stays. Very fit people can walk it in 2 days, but each day is at least 8 hours.

The time it takes you to walk between huts may be less or more than the stated time. Your fitness level and weather conditions affect how long it takes.

Shorter options

There are a range of shorter walking opportunities, suitable for the whole family and for those with less time available. You can do a walk of a few hours or a whole day, or an overnight stay in one of the huts or campsites.

Places to stay

There are three huts, with campsites close by, on the The Tongariro Northern Circuit: Mangatepopo, Oturere and Waihohonu.

Ketetahi hut and campsite are no longer available for accommodation following damage in the August 2012 volcanic eruption.

Huts and campsites must be booked in advance in the Great Walks season. Outside the Great Walks season, it is first come, first served.

Camping is not allowed within 500 metres of the Tongariro Northern Circuit Track.

Whakapapa Village to Mangatepopo Hut

Time: 3 hr
Distance: 8.5 km 

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. Ahead and to the right is Pukekaikiore, thought to be one of the older vents of the Tongariro complex. To the left is Pukeonake, a low scoria cone. Both Pukekaikiore and Pukeonake witnessed the last ice age when glaciers from Tongariro carved down through Mangatepopo Valley. The giant cone of Ngauruhoe and the flatter form of Tongariro are visible ahead. Ngauruhoe is a younger ‘parasitic’ cone on the side of Tongariro.

For the last hour the track skirts around Pukekaikiore until it reaches the Mangatepopo Valley track. The Mangatepopo Hut is five minutes off of the main track.

Mangatepopo Hut to Emerald Lakes

Time: 3 hr 30 min
Distance: 8 km 

The track follows Mangatepopo stream up the valley, climbing over a succession of old lava flows from Ngauruhoe. The youngest, very black, lava flows were erupted from Ngauruhoe in 1949 and 1954.

A five minute detour at the head of the valley leads to the cold Soda Springs and waterfall, which emerge beneath an old lava flow. In spring and summer moisture loving plants such as white foxgloves and yellow buttercups thrive in the area.

The steep climb required to reach the Mangatepopo Saddle rewards climbers views of the valley and if clear, Mt Taranaki to the west. From the saddle the track crosses South Crater, not a true crater but a drainage basin between the surrounding volcanic landforms.

Ahead more recent lava flows can be seen spilling over from Red Crater. The climb up to Red Crater offers splendid views of Oturere Valley and Kaimanawa Ranges to the east.

The main track continues on past the rim of Red Crater itself. The spectacular formation on the far side of the crater is a dike, an old magma feeding pipe to the vent of the volcano. Harder than the ash and scoria around it erosion has left it exposed on the side of the crater.

North Crater is the large flat topped crater to the north. This vent once contained a lava lake which cooled to infill the crater.

Blue Lake is visible from the top of Red Crater, across the Central Crater - which like South Crater is actually another drainage basin. Blue Lake has formed where cold fresh water fills an old vent.

A scoria covered ridge leads down to the spectacular Emerald Lakes, which fill old explosion pits. Their brilliant colouring is caused by minerals washed down from the thermal area of Red Crater.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing continues from Emerald Lakes to Ketetahi Road.

This is an Active Volcanic Hazard Zone - eruptions are possible without warning. The Te Maari craters erupted in August and November 2012. Know about volcanic risks and what do to in the event of an eruption.

Emerald Lakes to Oturere Hut

Time: 1 hr 30 min
Distance:
4.8 km

From Emerald Lakes the track 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.

A magical place to visit especially on a misty day. The Oturere Hut is nestled on the eastern edge of these flows. There is a pretty waterfall over the ridge from the hut.

Oturere Hut to Waihohonu Hut

Time: 3 hr
Distance:
7.5 km

After leaving Oturere Hut the track undulates over a number of stream valleys and open gravel fields. Plant life here has been constantly repressed by volcanic eruptions, altitude and climate. Loose gravel means that recolonisation by plants is a slow process on the open and bare countryside.

The track 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.

Waihohonu Hut to Whakapapa Village

Distance: 14.3 km
Time: 5 hr

The track follows the Waihohonu stream and gradually climbs to Tama Saddle. This area can be windy as it sits between the mountains.

From the saddle there is a very worthwhile side trip to the striking Tama Lakes, two infilled explosion craters. The lower lake is only 10 minutes from the junction, while the upper lake is up a steep ridge, taking 1 hour 30 minutes return.

Whakapapa Village is about two hours from the Tama Lakes junction. After the first hour the track meets the Taranaki Falls loop walk, one of the best short walks in the Park. There are two options to return to the village, both take about an hour. To view the waterfall, follow the lower section of the track down the steps to its base, then follow the Wairere stream through beautiful mountain beech forest back to the village.

Alternatively take the upper section of track through open tussock and shrubland back to the village.

Side trip: Ohinepango Springs

Time: 1 hr return from Waihohonu Hut

Crystal clear cold water bubbles up from beneath the old lava flow and discharges at an enormous rate into the Ohinepango Stream.

The springs are signposted on the Round the Mountain Track heading south towards Rangipo Hut.

Side trip: Historic Waihohonu Hut

Time: 20 min return from Waihohonu Hut; 10 min return from the Tongariro Northern Circuit Track

Built in 1903/04, this was the first hut built in Tongariro National Park. It's the oldest example of a typical early two-room mountain hut in New Zealand. Find out more about the historic Waihohonu Hut

Side trip: Tama Lakes

Time: 20 min return to Lower Tama from the junction, 1 hr 30 min return to Upper Tama from the junction.

Access half way between Waihohonu Hut and Whakapapa Village.

Tama Lakes, two infilled explosion craters, are named after Tamatea, the high chief of the Takitimu Canoe, who explored the area six centuries ago.

The lower lake (at 1200 m), is 10 minutes from the junction. Volcanic debris is slowly washing in and filling the crater. The upper lake (at 1314 m) is a further 40 minutes up a steep ridge. This beautiful lake is reputed to be very deep.

Fees and bookings

Walking seasons

In the Great Walks season (19 October 2018 - 30 April 2019):

  • huts and campsites must be booked in advance
  • fees are paid at the time of booking.

Outside the Great Walks season (1 May 2018 - 18 October 2018):

  • huts and campsites are first come, first served
  • fees are paid with a Backcountry Hut Pass or Hut Tickets.

Fees

Fees are charged per person, per night to stay in huts or campsites on the Tongariro Northern Circuit. There are no fees to complete a day walk on the track or for entry into the Tongariro National Park.

Huts

In the Great Walks season (19 October 2018 - 30 April 2019):

  • Adult (18+ years): $36 per night
  • Child (17 years and under): free but booking still required

Outside the Great Walks season (1 May 2018 - 18 October 2018):

  • Adult (18+ years): $15 per night
  • Child (17 years and under): free
Campsites

In the Great Walks season (19 October 2018 - 30 April 2019):

  • Adult (18+ years): $15 per night
  • Child (17 years and under): free but booking still required

Outside the Great Walks season (1 May 2018 - 18 October 2018):

  • Adult (18+ years): $5 per night
  • Child (17 years and under): free
Discounts

A 10% discount is available to members, staff and instructors of the following organisations, who also hold a valid 12 month Backcountry Hut Pass: NZ Mountain Safety Council; NZ Federated Mountain Clubs; NZ Deer Stalkers Association; NZ Land Search and Rescue (LandSAR); Scouts New Zealand; GirlGuiding NZ.

Discounts are not available online. To receive the discount we need to sight your membership card and Backcountry Hut Pass, so please visit a DOC visitor centre in person. If you get a discount you won't be charged a booking fee.

What to book

Before you start your Tongariro Northern Circuit walk:

  • You need to book huts and/or campsites on the track if you’re walking in the peak season between October and April (bookings are not required if you’re walking in the off-peak season).
  • You can choose to book transport to Mangatepopo Road end - an alternative to a three hour walk along the track.

How to book


2018/2019 bookings

Bookings are open for trips from 19 October 2018 - 30 April 2019.

Follow this step-by-step process to guide you through booking your Tongariro Northern Circuit walk:

  1. Decide whether you want to walk clockwise or anti-clockwise.
  2. Decide what huts or campsites you want to stay at. Consider:
  3. Decide the date you want to stay at each hut/campsite. Note there is a maximum number of nights you can at each:
    • Peak season: maximum 2 nights at huts and campsites
    • Off-peak season: maximum 3 nights at huts, 5 nights at campsites
  4. Check availability of huts and campsites on the dates you want to stay. If there is no space in one of the huts/campsites you want to stay at, consider:
    • Starting your walk on a different date
    • Rearranging your walk to use a different combination of huts/campsites
  5. Optional: Check the availability of transport services on your desired date. Find shuttle services for the Tongariro Northern Circuit
  6. Book huts/campsites online or contact a DOC visitor centre or a local i-SITE for personal assistance. Note:
    • Bookings are required for children and/or youth even though it's free for them to stay.
    • If you’re booking campsites, you’ll need to know the number of people in your group as well as the number of tent sites required.
  7. Optional: Book transport to/from Mangetepopo Road end to shorten your walk. Find shuttle services for the Tongariro Northern Circuit

Terms and conditions

Read the booking terms and conditions (scroll to the bottom to find the Terms and Conditions link) for general information, age ranges, prices, discounts, penalty rates and the alterations and cancellations policy. Bookings not meeting the terms and conditions will be treated as invalid and cancelled.

Booking on behalf of others

Guided groups

To operate a commercial activity in an area managed by the Department of Conservation, you will need to apply for a concession (an official permit), in addition to any bookings you would need to make. Read more about concessions 

Booking on behalf of others

To make multiple bookings for facilities/services on behalf of customers, you must obtain permission or an agent agreement from the Department of Conservation. To do this, email: agents@doc.govt.nz 

Getting there

The Tongariro Northern Circuit is easy to get to by private car or public transport. Whakapapa Village is the start and finish point for the Circuit.

Public transport options

There is one bus services and one train service that runs on alternate days that stop  in National Park Village, on route between Auckland and Wellington and 15 km from Whakapapa Village. Local shuttle services are available for transfers to Whakapapa Village. Contact the Whakapapa i-Site on +64 07 892 3075  for all your transport and accommodation needs or refer to our list of Commercial operators for Tongariro National Park.

Track access points

Whakapapa Village

There are overnight parking areas available in the village. Visit the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre for directions to these areas and to receive a free parking permit. It is approximately a 3 hour walk to Mangatepopo Hut, or a 5-6 hour walk to Waihohonu Hut. 

Mangatepopo Road

A 4-hour parking restriction is in place at the Mangatepopo road end throughout the Great Walk season. Visit the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre for a free parking permit or have your booking ticket available for the traffic management team to sight. From the parking area at the end of Mangatepopo road, it is approximately a 30 minute walk to Mangatepopo Hut.

Ketetahi Road

Parking is limited at the Ketetahi road end and is based on a first in first serve basis. From the parking area at the end of Ketetahi Road, you walk on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing track. It is approximately a 2-3 hour walk to Ketetahi shelter (not available for accommodation). From there it is a further 3 hours to Oturere Hut, or 4-5 hours to Mangatepopo Hut.

The track begins by climbing through podocarp forest, then continues up the tussock-covered slopes of Mount Tongariro. This section of track goes through the active volcanic hazard zone. There are great views from the track of the steaming volcanic vents at Te Maari craters, the Ketetahi thermal area, and evidence of the 2012 volcanic eruptions.

Desert Road (SH1)

There is a parking area just off the Desert Road, 35 km south of Turangi. It takes approximately 1 hour 30 minutes to walk to Waihohonu Hut.

From the highway, the track crosses tussock and shrubland. Much of the vegetation near the first part of the track was destroyed or damaged during a large fire in November 1988. Although recovering well, blackened stems and branches can still be seen.

The track, built upon volcanic material, is fragile and easily eroded. The track enters shady beech forest near the Ohinepango Stream, part of Te Mako Bush.

Past the stream the track re-enters tussock and shrubland where there are good views of Ruapehu. Just before the hut the track joins the Round the Mountain Track. The Waihohonu Hut is a 10 minute walk from this junction.

Round the Mountain Track

The Tongariro Northern Circuit connects with the Round the Mountain Track at two points - Whakapapa Village and Waihohonu Hut.

Vehicle security

When leaving your vehicle at track entrance parking areas, take valuable items with you and lock your vehicle. Alternatively, there are parking areas at Whakapapa Village and local towns, and transport is easy to arrange to and from the tracks.

Tongariro Northern Circuit map.
Tongariro Northern Circuit map

 

Know before you go

Your safety is your responsibility. To have a great time in the outdoors, know before you go the five simple rules of the Outdoor Safety Code to help you stay safe:

  1. Plan your trip
  2. Tell someone
  3. Be aware of the weather
  4. Know your limits
  5. Take sufficient supplies

1. Plan your trip

Seek local knowledge, plan your route and the amount of time you expect it to take.

It's important to plan, prepare and equip yourself well. Have the right gear and skills required for the trip and always check the latest information about facilities you plan to use, and local track and weather conditions.

On the Tongariro Northern Circuit, be aware that:

  • Most of the track is on rugged and exposed alpine terrain, although there are sections of formed track/boardwalk. There are only two sections of forest - near Whakapapa Village, and near Waihohonu Hut. The lowest altitude of the track is 1120 m, and the highest (at Red Crater) is 1886 m.
  • The weather can change suddenly - from warm and sunny to cold, wet and windy.
  • Most streams are bridged and there are no large river crossings, but heavy rain could cause flooded streams to become difficult to cross safely. Be prepared to wait for water levels to drop.
  • Major hazards are generally managed on the track during the summer (October to April), and in winter the main hazard is snow/ice on the track.
  • We recommend that you treat stream water to guard against risk of infection from giardia and other bugs.

More information:

Check for alerts at the top of this page, or contact:

Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 7 892 3729
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   tongarirovc@doc.govt.nz
Address:   Whakapapa Village
State Highway 48
Mount Ruapehu
Postal Address:   PO Box 71029
Whakapapa Village
Mount Ruapehu 3951

 

View of Te Maari steaming vents from the track.
View of Te Maari steaming vents
from the track past the Blue Lake

Volcanic hazards

This is an active volcanic area, and eruptions are possible at any time without warning.

Active volcanic vents on the Tongariro Northern Circuit are Mount Ngauruhoe, Red Crater, and Te Maari Craters. Volcanic hazard zones surround all of these vents. If you are within one of these areas when an eruption happens, you may be in danger.

Vehicle parking

The main parking area is at Whakapapa Village, where the Circuit begins and ends. Parking is free and generally safe.

When leaving your vehicle at a parking area, take valuable items with you and lock your vehicle. There is a checked luggage service at Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre. We recommend that vehicles are not left overnight in the more isolated parking areas.

Toilets

This is a sacred and fragile alpine area. Please use the toilet facilities provided.

Toilets are available at Whakapapa Village, at each hut, at Mangatepopo parking area, and at Soda Springs. There are also toilets at Ketetahi shelter and Ketetahi parking area.

2. Tell someone 

 

Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned. To do this, use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process on the AdventureSmart website. It is endorsed by New Zealand's search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.

Fill in the visitors' book if you are staying in a hut.

In the Great Walks season, there are resident rangers at all huts, who can give weather and track information or assist should an emergency arise. Outside the Great Walks season hut rangers are not present, although DOC rangers do occasional checks on facilities (and hut tickets).

3. Be aware of the weather

New Zealand's weather can be highly unpredictable - expect weather changes and be prepared for them.

On the Tongariro Northern Circuit, be aware that: 

  • The safest and most popular time of year to walk the Tongariro Northern Circuit is during the summer months (December to March) when the tracks are normally clear of snow and the weather is less severe. During this time, daylight hours are much longer and daytime temperatures can get into the teens or 20s (celcius).
  • The weather in Tongariro National Park is often more extreme than other places in the North Island. Be prepared for cold, wet, snowy/icy, or windy weather at any time of year.
  • Heavy rain can occur with little warning and even small streams are dangerous in flood.

More information:

Check the Tongariro National Park weather forecast on the MetService website.

Winter conditions

During winter months snow/ice can cover all or parts of the track, and avalanche risk may apply. Walking and/or navigation can become more difficult.

Alpine experience and equipment is normally required during this period (crampons and ice axe, possibly avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe).

More information:

Ngauruhoe from South Crater in snow conditions.
Ngauruhoe from South Crater
in snow conditions

Avalanches

Avalanches are possible during and after heavy snow falls. Check the avalanche advisory before you leave. If risk applies, carry a transceiver, shovel and probe and know how to use them. If the risk is 'considerable' or above - don't go!

More information:

Find out about the avalanche terrain ratings in Tongariro National Park

4. Know your limits

Challenge yourself within your physical limits and experience.

To do the trip you need to be reasonably fit and have good equipment to cover all possibilities.

Ngauruhoe viewed from Oturere valley.
Ngauruhoe viewed from Oturere valley

On the Tongariro Northern Circuit, be aware that:

  • The track is classed as a Great Walk/Easier tramping track, suitable for hikers with reasonable fitness.
  • The track is a mixture of well formed and rough/not well formed sections, and through the Oturere valley alpine desert there are just marker poles with no formed track. Some sections are steep, rocky or muddy. The track however is well marked with signs, poles or markers.
  • Most stream and river crossings are bridged but heavy rain can make unbridged streams difficult to cross safely.

You can expect:

  • To walk up to 6 hours a day and longer depending on your fitness and trip plan
  • To carry a pack of up to 15 kg for 43.1 km
  • For a 4 day trip, to walk up to 15 km per day
  • For a 3 day trip, to walk up to 20 km on one day, with 2 shorter days
  • For a 2 day trip, to walk up to 23 km per day
  • Most of the track has a hard, rocky and uneven surface. Forest sections can be muddy following rain.

have enough food, clothing, equipment and emergency rations for the worst-case scenario.
Take enough food, clothing, equipment and emergency food for the worst-case scenario

5. Take sufficient supplies

You must be self sufficient: be sure you have enough food, clothing, equipment and emergency food for the worst-case scenario.

Take an appropriate means of communication such as a cellphone and/or personal locator beacon. Personal locator beacons provide increased personal safety. You can rent them from various outlets, check details on the Rescue Co-ordination Centre NZ website

On the Tongariro Northern Circuit, be aware that:

  • Food is not available for purchase at any of the huts
  • Cooking stoves are only at the huts in the peak season - during the off peak season, you need to bring your own
  • Cell phone coverage is reasonably good around the track, but there are sections that there is no coverage. Generally there is no or very limited cell phone coverage at Waihohonu Hut.

What to take

Personal equipment

  • Backpack (40–60 litre size for multi-day hiking)
  • Waterproof/plastic pack liner
  • Sleeping bag (3–4 season)
  • First aid kit (including insect repellent, sunscreen, blisterkit, personal medication e.g. antihistamine for allergy towasp stings)
  • Survival kit (survival blanket, whistle, paper, pencil, highenergy snack food)
  • Safety equipment relevant to the track and time of year (e.g. map, compass)
  • Drink bottle (1-2 litre capacity)
  • Eating and cooking utensils (knife, fork, spoon, plate, cup,pot/pan/billy, cleaning kit, tea towel)
  • Matches or lighter in waterproof container
  • Toiletries
  • Torch/flashlight and spare batteries
  • Rubbish bag
  • Booking confirmation and ID
  • Portable stove and fuel
  • Candles
  • Toilet paper
  • Visit the Kiwi way – never miss an opportunity to use a loo and be prepared with a back-up toilet option
If you're camping...
  • Tent
  • Sleeping mat
Optional
  • Camera
  • Ear plugs for communual bunkrooms

Clothing

  • For multi-day walking you'll need at least one set of clothes to walk in and another dry set to change into at night. Walking boots or firm footwear (should be comfortable and well broken in)
  • Socks (wool or polypropylene)
  • Shorts (quick dry material)
  • Shirt (wool or polypropylene)
  • Under layers, top and bottom (wool or polypropylene)
  • Mid-layers (wool or polar fleece)
  • Raincoat (waterproof, windproof with hood)
  • Overtrousers (wind and water proof)
  • Warm hat and gloves
  • Sunhat and sunglasses
  • Extra socks, underwear, shirt/lightweight jersey
Optional
  • Gaiters
  • Lightweight shoes for inside the huts

Food

You can't buy food on the track.

Bring food that is lightweight, fast cooking and high in energy value. For example:

  • Breakfast: cereal/porridge/oats, firm bread, honeyor other spreads
  • Lunch: cracker biscuits, cheese, salami, jam/jelly, fruit
  • Dinner: instant soup, pasta or rice, dried vegetables or fruit, cheese or dehydrated (freeze-dried) meals.

You'll also need water, snacks, biscuits, muesli bars, tea or coffee, powdered fruit drinks and emergency food in case of any delays on the track.

Download a checklist 

Outside the Great Walks season

For safety reasons the Tongariro Northern Circuit doesn't operate as a Great Walk/Easier tramping track during May to October. If attempting the Tongariro Northern Circuit in that time, you'll need additional equipment. See Walking the Tongariro Northern Circuit outside the Great Walks season

Walking the Tongariro Northern Circuit outside the Great Walks season

Outside the Great Walks season (1 May 2018 - 18 October 2018):

  • facilities are greatly reduced
  • there are additional safety hazards to consider.

Walking the track at this time should only be attempted by fit, experienced and well equipped people. 

Conditions and risks outside the Great Walks season

  • The winter environment and weather at Tongariro is frequently cold, wet and windy.
  • Daylight hours are short and temperatures are often below freezing.
  • Snow and ice is common in higher areas and sometimes on lower areas. Deep snow can hide track markers. At times surface conditions can be hard ice. Alpine equipment and skills are frequently required. 
  • DOC does not manage hazards such as flooding or avalanche.
Avalanches

Most of the Circuit is simple terrain, however some sections of the Tongariro Northern Circuit track pass through challenging and complex avalanche terrain - including where it crosses over Red Crater between South Crater and Emerald Lakes

Avalanches are most common during the winter and spring (July to October) but can occur before or after that period. The avalanche hazard can change with very little warning.

If you are going into places avalanches could occur, be sure you:

  • have checked the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) and the Avalanche Terrain Exposure scale system (ATES) for the area where you want to go
  • have the skills for the ATES class you are going into
  • have checked what avalanche advisory and alert information is available from the DOC visitor centre nearest the area where you want to go
  • take an avalanche transceiver, avalanche probe and a snow shovel. Know how to use these tools.

See Avalanche terrain ratings for Tongariro National Park

Rivers

River/stream crossings may be hazardous during rainfall. Take all river crossings seriously. Never cross a flooded river. If in doubt, stay out!

Learn about river hazards on the Mountain Safety Council website.

Huts outside the Great Walks season

Fees are charged per person per night, and hut beds are on a first come, first served basis only. All huts require a Serviced Backcountry Hut Ticket, which must be purchased in advance. Alternatively, a Backcountry Hut Pass (valid for 6 or 12 months) may be used. See Fees and bookings.

Hut facilities are reduced:

  • Gas cooking stoves are not provided – you need to bring your own (and plate/mug/utensils).
  • Running water is turned off inside the huts. Water can be obtained from the outside water tank; if this is frozen, then from the nearest water course or by melting snow. We recommend that you treat all stream water in case of giardia or other bugs.
  • No emergency radio facilities.
  • There are no DOC rangers based at the huts although DOC staff do occasional checks on facilities (and hut tickets).
  • Heating is available (gas heater at Oturere and Mangatepopo, wood burner at Waihohonu).

What to take outside the Great Walks season

You need to be totally self-sufficient. It is essential to have the correct food, clothing and equipment for cold winter conditions. See What to take.

Outside the Great Walks season, you also need:

  • personal locator beacon
  • mountain radio (optional)
  • avalanche beacon
  • snow shovel
  • avalanche probe.

Take responsibility for your own safety - be prepared

Before you go, know the The Outdoor Safety Code – 5 simple rules to help you stay safe:

  1. Plan your trip
  2. Tell someone
  3. Be aware of the weather
  4. Know your limits
  5. Take sufficient supplies

Walking the Tongariro Northern Circuit outside the Great Walks season should only be attempted by fit, experienced and well equipped people. Alpine skills, navigation and river crossing skills are essential for your survival. Visit or contact the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre for conditions and weather before your trip.

Find out more at Know before you go


Related links

Contacts

Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 7 892 3729
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   tongarirovc@doc.govt.nz
Address:   Whakapapa Village
State Highway 48
Mount Ruapehu
Postal Address:   PO Box 71029
Whakapapa Village
Mount Ruapehu 3951
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