Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk! Day 1 – The Beginning

Great walks are manicured hikes for everyone, but especially tourists and locals just starting out hiking. They’re not necessarily easier, just more accessible, and often also quite busy. The Tongariro Northern Circuit was something I wanted to revisit since my Tongariro Alpine Crossing several years ago – New Zealand’s most popular tourist walk – was mired in low cloud. Lots of walking/climbing and no view. The Tongariro Northern Circuit includes the Alpine Crossing on its second day, leaving the other three days quieter. So, with wet weather prevalent throughout the beginning of the New Zealand’s summer, I’ve been dying to get out on the tracks.

The Tongariro National Park in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island, contains four massifs, the two most famous being the Ruapehu Massif and the Tongariro Massif. There are two main circuits in the National Park also, the Tongariro Northern Circuit, which circumnavigates Mt Ngauruhoe, the cone shaped volcano used as Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The southern circuit is The Round the Mountain, and circumnavigates Ruapehu, the North Island’s tallest mountain.

In early February, I slowly made my way down to the village aptly named National Park, where I stayed in preparation for the hike.

Day 1 – Whakapapa Village to Mangatepopo Hut – 4 hours – 9.4 km (Yellow trail)

Today’s walk is quite short, so I left the accommodation at check out and drove the 15 minute drive to the trailhead at the Whakapapa Village. I stopped in at the village i-Site to check on parking and got an overnight permit. Locking up my vehicle, I headed past the now closed Tongariro Chateau, then along the short road behind it. From the official trailhead of the clockwise circuit, I headed along the wide gravel path created to give tourists easy access to the Taranaki Falls. I passed several such couples with day packs as I went.


After passing the trail to the Taranaki Falls, my trail lost its tourist appeal, becoming a thin dirt track through the tussock covered plains. I headed along the track with the cloud covered Tongariro massif ahead of me.


Behind me, the Mt Ruapehu massif.


The trail is well marked with the typical orange triangle seen all over New Zealand. The trail is also fairly mundane, undulating gently from the circuits lowest point at 1,065m above sea level to 1,165m. Occasionally there is a bit of mud which added a bit of spice to the trail.


After a good three hours, I came over a short ridge to see the Mangatepopo hut in the distance tucked under ridgeline. I picked my way across the plains until I came over a small hillock to see the hut and its associated campsites.


I pitched my tent in a suitable spot, getting my gear inside as it began to spit. I went to the hut and hung out with an older Australian woman, her two adult daughters and the boyfriend of the youngest. The rain came down briefly as more hikers came in, some walking the circuit in reverse and having done the Alpine Crossing. After my brief and rather easy walk to the hut, I needed more, so I decided to climb the ridge beside the hut, which gave me great views back along the way I’d walked.


And off the other side to the north…


Later that evening, those of us gathered at the hut came out to watch the sunset. There were a fair mix of nationalities: the aforementioned Aussies, a large group of Kiwis, a pair of Italians, a Frenchman and his daughter, a Brit girl and her Canadian friend.


When it got dark, I retired to my tent. There was 4G in the camping area, so I watched YouTube on my phone for a while before heading to sleep. It rained on and off during the night and was quite cold. I didn’t sleep well, tossing and turning whenever I awoke shivering.

Next, Day 2 of the Tongariro Northern Circuit, the day we go over the top on the Alpine Crossing in the rain and tearing wind.

The Lone Trail Wanderer.


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