The Tongariro Northern Circuit is a 43.1 km (26.9 mile) trail around Mt. Ngauruhoe (AKA Mt. Doom) in the Tongariro National Park outside Turangi on the North Island of New Zealand.
It is one of New Zealands 10 Great Walks and usually takes hikers 3-4 days to complete.
However, this walk is almost a perfect marathon. So why not run it?
The trail starts and ends in Whakapapa Village, (pronounced Fakapapa) about 40 minute drive from Turangi. There are 3 huts along the trail, which I used as checkpoints. First is, Mangatepopo followed by, Oturere and Waihohonu.
When you arrive at Whakapapa you can park across the street from the Department of Conservation building. If you turn left down the street before the DOC Building and walk about 200 meters you will reach the trailhead.
Here is the track description as well as my time between each checkpoint.
Whakapapa to Mangatepopo: 8.5 Kilometers. 0520-0700 (1:40 hrs) finish
From the trailhead to the first hut (mangatepopo) is pretty flat. You will run across a few dried up creek beds, the trail is a bit choppy, but it’s a nice start to a marathon trail run.
Mangatepopo to Oturere: 8 Kilometers. 0700-0915 (2:15) finish
Once you pass Mangatepopo hut the trail will turn right and you will begin the steep climb up Mangatepopo Saddle. The path is well maintained here because it is the most scenic 8 Kilometers of the whole hike and is part of the Alpine Crossing so hiking traffic will pick up. Don’t worry just run past and take in the looks of disbelief.
Once you reach the top of the first uphill section you have the option to summit Mt. Ngauruhoe (you’ll see the sign).
If you decide to climb the summit good on you, if not, continue straight on the straight-flat trail. Up ahead you will climb another hill which is a bit more rocky and eventually turns to loose rock and ash as you get closer to the turn off to the Mt. Tongariro summit sidetrack.
The path will then begin to descend towards the Emerald lakes and eventually you will come to a split in the trail marked with signs. Make sure you turn right towards Oturere and not straight towards Ketetahi (unless you are tired and want to go home).
After the split the trail continues downhill into the Oturere valley over rocky volcanic terrain and was one of my favorite parts considering the view. At the bottom of the downhill you will reach the Rangipo desert and the trail turns to sand and rock until you reach Oturere hut.
Oturere hut to Waihohonu hut: 7.5 Kilometers. 0915-1040 (1:25)
Oturere to Waihohonu is very open and relatively flat besides the crossing of numerous stream valleys. The trail is difficult to see because of the gravel fields; just follow the stakes to stay on track. You know you’re almost to Waihohonu when the trail takes a sharp left and you head into the trees. Once you’re out of the trees you have arrived at Waihohonu.
Waihohonu to Whakapapa: 14.3 Kilometers. 1040-13:10 (2:30)
The last section of the trail happens to be the longest. Luckily, there are no major hills so it’s a nice easy run along the Waihohonu stream. As the stream comes to an end you will begin a gradual climb up the Tama Saddle. At the top of the saddle is the Tama lake junction; take a left to go to Whakapapa or take a right to see the Tama lakes.
The last 7 kilometers of the trail are relatively easy with a few minor ups and downs. You know you are near the end when you reach Taranaki falls. The trail ends on the same road that it started on.
Congratulations, you just ran a Marathon and did in 1 day what most people do in 4.
My finish time was: 7:50 hrs