Walking the Tongariro Northern Circuit

Department of Conservation —  30/12/2013

After selling their house in the United States in 2010, retired couple John and Jean Strother have been travelling full time. They love to hike and backpack and have had some amazing adventures around the world — including here in New Zealand.

We’re going to be sharing some of their stories (and incredible photos) over the next few weeks. 

We start with Jean and John’s experience on the Tongariro Northern Circuit…

John and Jean in the old Waihohonu Hut on Tongariro's Northern Circuit. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

John and Jean in the old Waihohonu Hut on Tongariro’s Northern Circuit

After more than two weeks of driving and sightseeing we were more than ready to see some mountains and do our first Great Walk, the Tongariro Northern Circuit in Tongariro National Park.

Looking across Central Crater at Mt Ngauruhoe and Red Crater. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Looking across Central Crater at Mt Ngauruhoe and Red Crater

We had heard that in New Zealand it rains on average one day out of every three so it seemed inevitable that we would get wet at some point on every Great Walk. Our goal was to try to arrange it so we encountered the poorest weather on the least scenic part of the track. Apparently the weather in Tongariro is especially difficult to accurately predict.

After a couple of days of cloudy rain with “fine” weather in the forecast we booked our tramp. In order to increase our chances of seeing the “best parts” under better weather conditions we decided to do the track counterclockwise, opposite to how it is commonly done.

Our best view of Mt Ngauruhoe on our first day on Tongariro Northern Circuit. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Our best view of Mt Ngauruhoe on our first day on the
Tongariro Northern Circuit

We left Whakapapa Village in cloudy drizzle and headed toward the Waihohonu Hut and campground. The trampers we encountered who were heading out stated that visibility had been less than 10 meters and that they had seen “nothing” during the previous three days on the track.

We consoled ourselves with the fact that this was the least scenic part and were grateful that it briefly stopped raining twice; once long enough for us to eat lunch and later to set up our tent.

This was our first experience with a DOC hut and while it is our preference to sleep in our tent we certainly appreciated being able to get out of the rain to cook and eat. However, we were happy to later leave the loud intensity and retreat to our tent. We were unaware at that point that at some huts tents campers are forbidden from using the hut facilities, but in those cases a cooking shelter has been provided.

Inside the Waihohonu Hut. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Inside the Waihohonu Hut

The next day continued to be cloudy and drizzling and we had some trouble leaving the warm dry (and now quiet) hut. Once we got going the track first climbed up through a forest that looked as though we had been transported back into the North Cascade Mountains. However we got above the trees and the clouds began lifting so that by noon we began to get great views of the Rangipo Desert…

Jean following the track through the Rangipo Desert. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Jean following the track through the Rangipo Desert

and the dramatic volcanic landscape of the Oturere Valley and Mt Ruapehu…

Mt Ruapehu, as seen on Tongariro Northern Circuit. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Mt Ruapehu, as seen on Tongariro Northern Circuit

The clouds continued to lift and break up as the day went on and we climbed higher. It appeared that our late start worked in our favor as we were thrilled with our views of the lower Emerald Lake, views that those who passed through earlier in the day would have missed.

Lower Emerald Lake. Tongariro National Park. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Lower Emerald Lake

The next morning the skies were only partly cloudy and we were treated to views of all three of the Emerald Lakes…

Emerald Lakes. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Emerald Lakes

and of Mt Ngauruhoe…

Mt Ngauruhoe and the South Crater. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Mt Ngauruhoe and the South Crater

and into Red Crater…

Red Crater. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Red Crater

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is purported to be the best day hike in New Zealand. It starts at the Mangatepopo car park, follows the same track as the Northern Circuit across the saddle before descending to the Ketetahi car park.

The 12 miles (19.4 kilometers) takes about 7-9 hours and is done by hundreds of people every day, some better prepared than others. A challenging part for the less skilled is descending the steep scree slope from the saddle.

Tongariro Northern Circuit. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Tongariro Northern Circuit

Read more on panafoot — Jean and John’s blog.

pan-a-foot (păn’ ũh fʊt) v. covering great distances to see more of the world under one’s own power

All of the photos used in this post were taken by John Strother © All rights reserved. See more of their Tongariro Northern Circuit photos on Flickr.

A big thanks to Jean and John for giving us permission for us to publish this on the Conservation Blog!

One response to Walking the Tongariro Northern Circuit

  1. 
    chantelle taylor 06/01/2014 at 4:54 pm

    Absolutely stunning photos. It really is an incredible landscape.