Explore the volcanic heart of Tongariro National Park, a landscape of stark glacial contrasts and alpine views. This longer loop is strenuous, but provides the most extensive views of the park. Visitors won't be disappointed by this great route!
Most of the track is on rugged and exposed alpine terrain. The weather can change suddenly - from warm and sunny to cold, wet and windy.
This is an active volcanic area, and eruptions are possible at any time without warning.
Begin 100 metres below the Whakapapa Visitor Centre at Ngauruhoe Place and along the Lower Taranaki Falls Trail
. After a short distance, the Mangatepopo Track
branches off from the Taranaki Falls Track.
The Mangatepopo Track
is heavily eroded in places, and 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 section of the track skirts around Pukekaikiore until it reaches the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
. The Mangatepopo Hut is just off of the main track.
The track follows the Mangatepopo stream up the valley, climbing over a succession of old lava flows from Ngauruhoe. The youngest, very black, lava flows erupted from Ngauruhoe in 1949 and 1954.
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 to Red Crater offers splendid views of the Oturere Valley and Kaimanawa Ranges to the east.
At the top of Red Crater a marked route to the left leads to the Tongariro Summit. 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.
From Emerald Lakes, the Emerald Lakes to Oturere Hut 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 the Oturere Valley.
The Oturere Hut is nestled on the eastern edge of these flows. There is a pretty waterfall over the ridge from the hut.
After leaving Oturere Hut, you'll follow the Oturere Hut to Waihohonu Hut Track
, which 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.
The track follows the Waihohonu stream and gradually climbs to Tama Saddle. This area can be windy as it sits between the mountains, so you'll want to be prepared with windproof clothing before setting out for this section.
From the back side of the Tama saddle, you'll take the Taranaki Falls to Tama Saddle trail to finish the route. Whakapapa Village is 5km from the Tama Lakes junction.
After the first few miles, the track meets the Upper Taranaki Falls Trail
, one of the best short walks in the Park. There are two options to return to the village. To view the waterfall, follow the Lower Taranaki Falls Trail
down the steps to the base of the falls, then follow the Wairere stream through beautiful mountain beech forest back to the village.
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!