A Tramp through Tongariro
You are most likely to arrive in New Zealand at Auckland or Wellington International Airport. From either, you can catch domestic flights to Taupo, or use public transport.
The Tongariro National Park is in the center of New Zealand's North Island, midway between Auckland and Wellington. Long-distance buses arrive in the main town of Taupo with daily connections to Turangi, the nearest town to the park. Shuttle services are available from here to National Park township, stopping at Whakapapa Village on the way. The nearest train station is at National Park. Cars can be safely left at Whakapapa Visitor Centre and in Ohakune.
The best place to organize your tramp is at the Turangi Information Centre, tel. (07) 386 8999, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Turangi is northeast of the park.
Another good stop is the Whakapapa Visitor Centre, home to Whakapapa Department of Conservation and the national park headquarters, tel. (07) 892 3729, fax (07) 892 3814, open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Supplies maps, information about walks and huts, and track and weather conditions.
When to Go
The area has a fairly volatile climate, with snow on the tops until early summer. The safest and most popular time to walk the Tongariro Northern Circuit is December to March, when the tracks are normally clear of snow and there is the greatest chance of clear weather. November can be a good month, with clear weather, cheaper air fares, and empty huts. In winter it is a full alpine adventure, requiring ice axe and crampons. These are vital if you intend to climb Mount Ngauruhoe.
No vaccinations are required although tetanus should be up to date. Tap water is clean and safe to drink but the diarrhea-causing parasite Giardia lamblia is present within the Tongariro National Park, and birds occasionally find their way into the hut water tanks. Boil hut water before drinking; iodine is an effective alternative, and giardia-rated filters are also available.
Sunburn is a real issue in New Zealandthe ozone layer is among the thinnest in the world so it is essential to cover up, even when it's cloudy. Use good-quality sunglasses and wear a hat while walking.
Waterproofs, normal hiking gear, boots that can take abrasion on volcanic surfaces. A light sleeping bag for the huts, headlight, high-factor sunscreen, water bottle, water filter or purifying tablets (iodine, used in small doses, is cheap and effective) against giardia.
Eating and Sleeping
Accommodations at Whakapapa Village (expensive: Chateau Grand; budget: Skotel and a motor camp). Turangi, National Park, and Ohakune have a wide choice of hotels, motels, campsites and cabins, as well as grocery stores. Whakapapa Store has a reasonable selection of food, but it's more expensive than in the outlying towns.
Maps, Guidebooks, Background Reading
Map: Tongariro National Park (Infomap 273-4) 1:80,000 is sufficient for this walk; Tongariro is also covered by four 1:50,000 Topomaps, T19, T20, S19, S20.
Guidebook: Lonely Planet: Tramping in New Zealand, by Jim DuFresne (latest edition 1998).
Background reading: Volcanoes of the South Wind, a field guide to the volcanoes and landscape of Tongariro National Park, by Karen Williams (published by the Tongariro Natural History Society, P.O. Box 2421, Wellington, NZ).
Special Notes for Trekkers
Tongariro Northern Circuit is categorized as a Great Walk and from October to June a Great Walk pass is required for the huts. A pass costs NZ$12 per night for the huts and $6 for camping; camping is not permitted within 500 meters of the tracks for environmental reasons (prices valid as of 1999).
Tents may be fumigated at the airport; stoves that smell of fuel will not be allowed on domestic flights. Tramping is the New Zealanders' name for hiking.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication