Walkers tackle the Tongariro Northern Circuit. © lailamjimenez  

Tongariro Northern Circuit: alpine heartland

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The Tongariro Northern Circuit explores the volcanic heart of Tongariro National Park, a landscape of stark glacial contrasts and alpine views, with craters, explosion pits and lava flows.

The track winds its way around the slopes of the active volcanoes Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngāuruhoe and passes through unique and stunning landscapes, including active volcanic craters, brilliant blue lakes and glacial valleys.

The central and high-altitude location of the Tongariro Northern Circuit means it is in a prime position for sweeping views around the central North Island. You can also see beautiful Lake Taupō to the north, the rugged Kaimanawa ranges to the east, and even as far as Mount Taranaki on the west coast on a clear day.

Side by side you can see chaotic, barren lava flows, winter snowfields, thermal steaming and active craters. From alpine herb fields to forests, from tranquil lakes to desert-like plateau, this walk is a place of extremes and surprises.

For Tangata Whenua, the mountains are a vital part of their history. It is said that their ancestor, Ngātoro-i-rangi, the navigator and tohunga of the waka Arawa, was close to death after exploring this mountainous region. He called out to his sisters from his Pacific homeland, Hawaiiki, to send him fire. The fire came, but its passage left a trail of volcanic vents, from Tongatapu, through Whakaari White Island, Rotorua and Tokaanu, before reaching Ngatoro-i-rangi on the slopes of Tongariro.

The name Tongariro is derived from the Māori words ‘tonga’ meaning ‘south wind’ and ‘riro’ meaning ‘carried away’. Appropriate to its volcanic name, Ngāuruhoe is said to mean ‘throwing hot stones’.

The Tongariro Northern Circuit takes three to four days to walk and is 43km long. You can walk the full circuit in either direction. Along the track, there are interesting side-trips to craters, summits and springs.

There is also a range of shorter walking opportunities in the national park, suitable for the whole family and the time-poor. You can do a walk of a few hours or a whole day or an overnight stay in one of the huts or campsites.


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