Back in March, we flew across the ditch to hike the Tongariro Northern Circuit – one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Many people hit the one day “Tongariro Crossing”, but we really wanted to do a multi day hike so we spent a fantastic four days and three nights “tramping” the entire circuit. This is the first of New Zealand’s Great Walks that we have ticked off and we look forward to exploring the others, either by hiking or trail running… (…I’m keen to run the Abel Tasman Coastal Classic 36km).
I posted previously about our experience staying in the fantastic DOC Huts, but if you’d like to grab a cuppa and take 8 minutes out of your life, I put together a wee video of our hike, shot between our GoPro Hero Session 4 and our GoPro Hero 5 Black… I’m no Spielberg or Krystle Wright (and am definitely lacking some image stabilisation!), but if you’re contemplating the Circuit, it’ll give you a glimpse of the incredible volcanic scenery and the diversity of the walk. If you’re not contemplating the circuit – you should probably start contemplating it right about now!
With the whole circuit being only 43 kms, you can definitely shorten it by a day and trek around in three days if that’s your preference. While we met a few fellow hut dwellers taking the three day approach, to be honest, we loved having the afternoons to chill out at the huts and with the elevation, combined with carrying your pack, I was perfectly happy to arrive at the hut each afternoon, make a cup of tea and have a read or a donder around and take our time over the four days. If we had been impeded by weather (which is absolutely possible, especially on the Crossing section), we also had some slack in our timings, which is never a bad thing.
This extra time also meant that on the first day, we arrived at the Hut pretty early, only to be told by the Ranger that the forecast for the following day looked pretty ordinary, so we decided to add an impromptu afternoon of hiking to the agenda. We took on an extra 12km/1200m climbing in the afternoon (doesn’t sound like much in running terms, but felt like a lot more hiking!!), taking a ridge line from Mangeteopopo up to the summit of Tongariro and back to the hut. We wanted to summit Tongariro in blue skies and since we had the time, why not go for it. We didn’t follow any set path, other than the Ranger pointing from the Hut in the general direction of Mount Tongariro via a ridgline. I’m not going to lie – I’m not great with heights or scree, or that big into scrambling up mountain sides unsure of the route, so it definitely made Day One a big day – but it was magical walking back through the valley as the sun went down with not a person in sight*, on what is the busiest part of the hike ordinarily as it’s the main route for the one day Crossing.
Anyhow, grab that cuppa and have a watch. I would highly recommend this Great Walk to anyone looking for something a little different to the “usual” alpine scenes you might associate with New Zealand. It truly is an amazing volcanic landscape. And, if you happen to be a LOTR fan (if you don’t know what that stands for, you’re in my camp!), then it’ll knock your little Mordor socks off.
(Apologies as I’m still trying to iron out a few YouTube upload issues with the file compression in parts!).
I seem so serious at the start, but I was just reeeeealllly sleepy!
*I say “not a person in sight”, but this isn’t strictly true. As we were hiking back to the Hut with daylight rapidly vanishing, we met several groups of people and individuals heading the opposite way, planning to hike the Crossing and head to the next hut, Oturere. This would undoubtedly mean them hiking steep and narrow ridge lines in the pitch black. We suggested they just come back to our hut but no, they were all insistent that they had booked the next one, so on they went. Now this is totally fine if we’re talking about well kitted out mountaineer folks, but this crowd were generally ill prepared – some wearing jeans, Converse, and with their iPhone torches as their only source of light… So a quick rant from me, while this is indeed one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, just because it is a tourist trap, does not mean it is DisneyLand. You are on your own in a wilderness environment. You are up in the mountains and the weather can turn at any time. Take adequate clothing and plan your trip. Not to mention, for a tourist experience, these people, making the crossing in the pitch black would completely miss seeing the most beautiful parts of the hike. Why risk it?! We actually came across one of the couples the next day who told us of the relationship threatening (!) nightmare they had had getting lost in the dark; exhausted and cold and eventually arriving super late at the Hut. But, at least they arrived.
Let me know if you have hiked the Northern Circuit – or if you’re contemplating it and have any questions, feel free to get in touch!