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The Tongariro Northern Circuit
New Zealand’s dramatic scenery and varied wildlife is a huge drawcard for visitors interested in hiking and tramping . There are numerous walking tracks throughout the North and South Islands of New Zealand that provide people with the opportunity to get close to nature and immerse themselves in this rich landscape.
The Department of Conservation maintain a majority of these tracks, making sure that they remain safe and accessible for walking and mountain biking all year round. New Zealand’s most popular and famous tracks are collectively known as ‘The Great Walks’. There are 9 Great Walks with 3 located in the North Island and 6 located in the South Island.
All the Great Walks take more than 1 day to complete and there are huts and campsites available along the tracks for visitors to stay the night. The huts are operated by the Department of Conservation and contain bathroom and cooking facilities and you can bring your own tent to stay at one of the campsites. The huts cater for individuals as well as families and groups but you may need to book them during the peak summer season.
Due to their popularity many of the Great Walks have booking systems to manage visitor pressure but there is no charge or permit required to walk the tracks. Guided walks also run along the tracks and these are operated by private tour companies.
In this series of articles we will take a closer look at each of the Great Walks and help you get prepared to take on the challenge!
Making our way down the North Island we reach the Tongariro Northern Circuit located in the Tongariro National Park which is in the Central North Island.
Tongariro Northern Circuit
The key points:
43.1 km loop track which takes 3-4 days. You can walk the loop in either direction and very fit people can walk the loop in 2 days, with at least 8 hours of walking each day. The Tongariro Northern Circuit is subject to varied weather throughout the seasons and this will also have an effect on the time it takes you to walk the loop track.
No dogs are allowed on the track
The track 3-4 day walk and is categorised by DOC as an intermediate Great Walk. This means the track is well formed in most places (although there could be steep inclines or muddy sections in some parts), and has signposts along the route. You also don’t need a high level of tramping experience to walk this track. However there are seasonal restrictions for this track and from May to October facilities on the track are greatly reduced. Only experienced trampers should walk the track during the winter season due to the weather conditions and risk of avalanches.
There are a range of shorter walking tracks in the park which are suitable for the whole family and for those with less time available. You can do a walk of a few hours, a whole day, or an overnight stay in one of the three huts.
The Tongariro Northern Circuit takes your through the dramatic landscape surrounding the active volcanoes Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe. The track provides a fantastic opportunity to experience the volcanic terrain of the central North Island.
Mount Ngauruhoe was the location of Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and you can even make a side trip up the 2,287 m summit. You will need good fitness to do this though and the summit track is not marked or formed.
As you continue the walk you will pass through unique and stunning landscapes, including brilliant blue lakes, glacial valleys and desert-like plateau. The Tongariro national park is place of extremes and surprises and the Northern Circuit allows you to take time to experience and enjoy this varied landscape.
October to April is the most popular time to walk the Tongariro Northern Circuit and in this period bookings for the huts are required. From May to October facilities are greatly reduced and there are additional safety hazards to consider related to the weather. As it is winter daylight hours are greatly reduced and snow ice and below freezing temperatures are the norm.
Walking the track at this time should only be attempted by fit, experienced and well equipped people. Before you head out on the circuit or on one of the shorter tracks it is essential to be prepared and ensure that you have all the right equipment with you. Make someone where you are going and the date you expect to be back. You will also need adequate food, water and clothing supplies for your trip. No food or drink is available in the park so you will need to bring your own supplies.
It is also advisable to be prepared for at least one wet day on the track. Wet weather gear made in NZ is ideal for the great New Zealand outdoors and Westland Workgear sell a variety of waterproof clothing such as pants and jackets. They offer nationwide delivery from their online store so wherever you going in the great outdoors you are prepared with their practical and affordable range of New Zealand made wet weather gear.
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