On Saturday, January 14th, 2023 I began hiking the Tongariro Northern Circuit, starting shortly after noon. The circuit is around 26.8 miles although seeing other lakes and waterfalls along the way makes it closer to 33 miles.
The trail can be done in 2-4 days with booking required to stay either inside each hut or outside of it in a tent along the way. There are 3 huts, I stayed at the 1st (Mangatepopo) and 2nd (Oturere) hut. Although the sunset at Mangatepopo was impressive, the hike to it was not very scenic.
You can get free parking in Tongariro National Park with a print out that you have booked a hut or you can stay in the Park n Ride parking lot for free and pay for a shuttle through Tongarario Crossing Shuttles. The Park n Ride lot has toilets, water and paid showers (you must get a KiwiCash fob somewhere like a nearby gas station around the corner, download an app, register and load it with money first to use it, though).
I decided to stay in the Park n Ride lot the night before then get picked up at noon the following day from the parking lot by Tongarario Crossing Shuttles. I booked a return trip as well at 4:30PM two days later which brought me back to the lot.
On Saturday, I started from the Tongariro Northern Circuit sign at 12:23PM, I arrived at Mangatepop hut at 2:48PM.
On Sunday, I left Mangatepop hut at 8:17AM, shortly after this the trail joins the Tongariro Alpine Crossing trail. Many people, perhaps over 200, did the crossing that day. I arrived at Soda Springs at 9:06AM then was at the top of the high point at 10:38AM. Near the top I stopped and ate, looking at Emerald Lakes. I continued to Blue Lake and arrived at it at 11:42AM. I arrived at Oturere Hut at 1:26PM.
On Monday I woke up around 5:50AM to take pictures of the sunrise. I left Oturere Hut at 7:54AM and made it to Waihohonu Hut at 10:26AM. Continuing after a short break to Upper Tama Lake, arriving at 1:22PM. To get to the upper lake quickly, I left my bag at the first lake behind a hill. Lastly, I stopped at Taranaki Falls at 2:59PM before making my way back to the shuttle pickup around 4:00PM, departing at 4:30PM back to the parking lot.
The Tongariro Northern Circuit is a long yet rewarding hiking loop which brings you to waterfalls, lakes, and geothermal vents, with views of volcanoes and mountains. Although I went further than the official circuit trail route, I would still highly recommend doing so even if it means some backtracking. Many people do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing but expericing sunrise, sunset and being exposed to the weather brings it to another level. Taking a dip in a pool above the waterfall next to Oturere Hut was an added benefit.
There are far fewer people once you exit the alpine crossing trail and I was often alone. The alpine crossing is very busy and like a highway of people. Knowing the weather ahead of time is extremely important. It had been raining for several days before and I was lucky it didn't rain at all while I was hiking. It is a hike which can be done alone but during peak season it is easy to meet people along the way, especially if camping outside or staying inside the huts.
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