Tongariro Northern Circuit, an Adventure to Remember

You know you’ve got some pretty ‘good’ friends when partway through a 25km weekend run they ask you to run a 44km mountainous run on Tuesday with them. You know you should probably question your sanity when you say ‘Yeah, why not?!’ And so that is how it came to be that at 5am on Tuesday morning I was waking up, getting my pack ready, and shutting the door behind me. Jumping into a car with a bunch of friends, and setting off for the Tongariro Chateau. Nervous chatter in the car, and an hour and a half or so later we arrived. The morning was fairly cool after the warmth of the car. A selfie by the sign and off we set.

The trail started in tussocks and a lot of it was kind of gouged out, run alongside the top of the trail sort of stuff. Either way it was pretty. We rolled through some tussocks, a bit of beech forest and then back to the tussocks again.

It was a nice cruisy start to the day.  After a while (8.5km) we arrived, looking out at the glacier carved valley from Mangatepopo Hut. The sun was streaming onto the deck and we sat, enjoyed the view and soaked up some sunshine whilst refueling. What a spot.

Off we set again. I was a little bit nervous remembering the ‘Devil’s Staircase’ from my teenage geo trip and the ‘up the guts’ climb that lay ahead. We meandered along the boardwalk, passed many a tourist, and daywalker, some dressed in very inappropriate attire for climbing a mountain, socks and sandals anyone? We started on the Devil’s Staircase and I was surprised to see a relatively easy, switch backed route through the old lava flows. It was a very different route from the one I had climbed up almost half a lifetime ago on a school Geography trip. We reached the top, regathered, put on an extra layer and a jacket (to protect from wind-chill) and then set off across the South Crater. This place is a lunar landscape.
We hiked our way to the top of the Red Crater, the wind really blustery now, almost knocking me off my feet a couple of times. It’s amazing the difference a few hundred metres can make. From hot and calm to cool and windy. It really does pay to be prepared clothing-wise. At the top, I sheltered from the wind behind a big rock and waited for my buddies to arrive. Snapping a few cool pics of them hiking up. The view is ‘otherworldly’. After taking it in, the descent begun. We ran/slid our way down the steep slope to the Emerald Lakes and lapped up the views.

Can it get more blue?!

A quick check of the map and we took a right turn towards Oturere hut. Again the descent was fairly steep but I love me a technical descent. The landscape here was just stunning. Really unique. The other girls described it as being like a Star Wars set but to me, I thought it was akin to being under the sea but without the sea-water. The ground was dark sand, there were huge, oddly shaped, brick red rocks and strange little plants on them. I looked back to see where the girls were and saw a huge cloud rolling down towards them. I was BUZZING!

We crested a little rise and saw Oturere hut sitting a few hundred metres away. A large number of people were sitting on the deck and enjoying the sunshine. It was a strange situation where you become the focal point of around 30 or so eyeballs. I stopped about 5 metres away from the hut with a big ‘Hi!’ and a wave. Everyone was really curious as to what we were doing and thought we were absolutely crazy to be running the whole Northern Circuit in a day. We had a great chat with them. Refilled water bottles, had a bit to eat, and then continued.

Radiating excitement!

The sun was shining, the breeze was warm and the scenery changed again. Here we rolled along the golden, desertlike tops. The views of the Mountain made me shout with whoops of joy and it was great to be running. We got into a good rhythm, stopping occasionally to take a heap of pictures and videos and then continued. My body was bursting with happiness.

Much of the route is poled.


After a few solid kms of running the descent to the river, then made our way through a beech forest, the sun filtered through the leaves and the single track climbed uphill. Up to the top and a lovely roll downhill to Waihohunu hut. This hut is something else. It’s positioned for the views. Two huge windows which take in Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe. It even has hot water. Not that we used it. A bit of a wait and a chat with the hut warden and some of the people overnighting, we regathered and then began the final leg of our journey. At this stage I went in the bin. I felt tired and the gradual climb felt runnable but kept catching me out.
Eventually I said to Cherie ‘I need to resurrect myself’ I popped a jet plane in my mouth and had a gel. We continued climbing. A solid headwind buffeted us and we ground our way up to Tama lakes. Eventually we made it to the sweet downhill that I had been waiting for. By this stage we wanted it DONE.
We blitzed the last 5km and finished strong. A high five at the finish. We did it. A 44.8km run/hike over and around the mountain, done. This day filled my head with beautiful vistas, and was a shared experience with some lovely friends that I will forever cherish. It filled my heart with ‘what next?’, ‘what other adventures can I do?’ and it renewed my love and appreciation of the many varied, challenging and stunning landscapes that New Zealand offers. 

To anyone that is thinking about it, go for it. It’s a real gem. The views and the running are some of the best you can do. Take warm clothes, enough food, and some great company to enjoy it with.


Gear taken:

  • Salomon S-Lab 12 Hydration Vest
  • Marmot Precip Waterproof Jacket
  • Merino thermal
  • Woollen hat
  • Personal Locator Beacon (PLB/EPIRB)
  • 1.5L water carrying capacity
  • Nuun electrolytes
  • Gels
  • Muesli bars
  • Nuts
  • Tissues
  • Mobile Phone with NZ Topo maps app downloaded and maps for the area cached
  • Sunscreen and chapstick
  • Garmin Fenix 3 watch, because Strava..

To note:

I refilled my water bottles at each of the huts. The water was entirely drinkable.  Some of the streams in the area are drinkable however as some are fed from volcanic geothermal activity and could contain dangerous chemicals and metals, you should have an understanding of what is safe to drink and where, before you head off.

More info here: