Tongariro Northern Circuit

The Tongariro Northern Circuit (which also includes the very popular Tongariro Alpine Crossing), circles Mount Ngauruhoe through a largely bleak and moon-like landscape. The volcanic landscape is occasionally broken by lush forest and tussock grass.

Despite the (relative) proximity of New Zealand, it has been a long time since I’ve done an overnight hike, or tramp, here. Twenty one years, almost to the day, since I completed a six-day walk at Nelson Lakes with friends during the long University summer break. So I’m excited to be heading over for a weekend to do the Tongariro Northern Circuit.

I’ve managed to book a camping spot a month or so ago (all the huts were totally booked, although I much prefer a tent then a full hut!) and a basic room at the Skotel Alpine Resort in Whakapapa for the night before my hike. Having flown from Sydney on the Friday before the hike, it’s a slightly inauspicious start when the Quarantine Service “loses” my tent on arrival at Auckland airport. Or to be more precise, after I hand it over for inspection they return it to someone else and have no idea when it might be brought back! So I’m happy when I finally get to Whakapapa village around 11pm, ready for an early start the next day. Even though I’ve booked a camping spot and I’m about to set-off without a tent…

Jump to:  Whakapapa Village to Mangatepopo Hut  →  Mangatepopo Hut to Oturere HutOturere Hut to Waihohonu HutWaihohonu Hut to WhakapapaTongariro Tips

I’m up at 6am the following day, with the start of the track only a few minutes walk from the hotel. Directly ahead is Mount Ngauruhoe. I’ll be seeing a lot more of this conical, volcanic peak over the next day and a half!

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Whakapapa Village to Mangatepopo Hut (Day 1)

The gravelled track rises gently from the trackhead: the signage here is not very clear, and I soon have a suspicion that I’m not on the track I should be! (I’m actually on the Round the Mountain Track and not the Mangatepopo Track that I should be on! I’ve planned on doing the track clockwise so I have a long first day.)

It’s easy walking, through a few patches of beech forest, but mostly grassland.

After about half an hour there’s a sign showing the extent of the lava flow from the Te Maari Crater. I guess it’s helpful to have an idea how far I need to run, if the Mount Ngauruhoe, which is still active, erupts in the next day or so! (One of the most active volcanoes in New Zealand, Ngauruhoe first erupted 2,500 years ago, with the most recent one being in 1977.)

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As the track crosses Wairere Stream, there’s a great view of the snow-covered Mount Ruapehu to the south. Another active volcano – the largest in New Zealand – Ruapehu is also the highest point on the North Island with three major peaks. It too will be a fairly constant sight for much of this trip!

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Just after crossing Wairere Stream is a junction with the track to Taranaki Falls (the track I’m on continues to Waihohonu Hut – which is not where I want to go!) I take the turn-off down a set of steep steps down to the base of the impressive Taranaki Falls. The Wairere Stream falls 20 metres over the edge of a large lava flow, with a large volume of water coming from what seems to be a small crack in the rocks.

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The Taranaki Falls Track follows the Wairere Stream downstream: it’s pleasant walking with the trail following the river fairly closely.

When the track is not close by the river, it goes through patches of semi-rainforest, well shaded from the morning sun.

I’m finally on the Mangatepopo Track, which soon leaves the forest and travels through tussock grass and low heath. It has been a bit of a detour going via the Falls, taking me almost 2.5km and at least haf  and an hour to get to what should have been a 2.5km walk if I’d started on the Mangatepopo Track. But it meant I got some nice photos of Taranaki Falls without any people around.

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Although my guide book says the previously very muddy track has been upgraded and improved and is fairly easy walking, the owner of the Skotel where I stayed last night suggested I skip this section and take a shuttle to Mangatepopo Road. It’s the most boring section, he warns me. I’m tempted, but I like the idea of completing the entire circuit. As I walk along this section, seeing only a handful of other people, I’m glad I chose to do this part of the circuit. The only downside is that it is quite exposed – and I’m walking into the morning sun.

Directly ahead is Pukeonake (1,225m) – the smallest volcanic crater on the plateau, and inactive unlike its bigger brothers (or sisters)!

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This section is generally flat, although it frequently drops into small valleys formed by small streams. Sometimes there’s a sturdy bridge across the bigger creeks, and other times a bit of a steep scramble down and back up the other side. Despite a few muddy sections, most of the streams are completely dry. I can imagine it would be a far less pleasant and more time-consuming journey after a few days of heavy rain.

After about three hours (12.2km) my nice quiet track merges with the main Tongariro Crossing Track, and I’m joined by a few people. Actually, a huge amount of people. If my car wasn’t three hours walk away, I think I would have given up. It really was unpleasant: more of a Ghastly Walk than a Great Walk. I make a brief stop at the Mangatepopo Hut, where I fill up my water bottle, before reluctantly re-joining the queue of hikers.

Mangatepopo Hut to Oturere Hut (Day 1)

Did I mention it was busy… The Tongariro Crossing has been referred to as “one of the best day hikes in the world”, attracting over 100,000 visitors per year. Overcrowding has been recognised as an issue at Tongariro in recent years: “visitor numbers have reached breaking point. Tourists bring about $20 million a year to the region, but crowding has started to devalue the experience.” So on a fairly nice day, on a weekend, in the January school holidays I didn’t expect to have the track to myself – I just wasn’t prepared for the volume of people. I plod on, trying to stay clear of a (fortunately) small number of dickheads who felt the scenery would be enhanced by broadcasting music from their backpacks.

From Mangatepopo Hut, the track starts to climb – very gently at first – over a series of old lava flows. Next to the track is the Mangatepopo Stream, which originates nor far away on the slopes of Mt Tongariro.

It’s only about 45min to the side-track to Soda Springs, which is also a popular spot for having a break after the initial ascent. The springs are on the western slope of Mt Tongariro, and are only a 300m (10 minute) walk from the main track.

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The stream supports a wide swath of grasses and yellow buttercups, in stark contrast to the bare volcanic landscape that’s devoid af any green-ness.

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From Soda Springs the path ascends quite steeply, after some warning signs advising of the general dangers of proceeding past the signs. Since most people would have arrived on a shuttle bus (parking is limited to four hours), I’m not quite sure what you’re supposed to if you suddenly decide you don’t want to go any further. Like many other walks, it follows the general trend of warning everyone that they’ll probably die a horrible death if they proceed past the sign. Looking back down the Mangatepopo Valley, it’s a very barren landscape, with the smaller volcanic peak of Pukeonake at the other end.

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Just before the track reaches South Crater, there’s an obvious but unmarked trail up to the summit of Mount Ngauruhoe. A fictional volcano in the Lord of the Rings movie, Ngauruhoe – or Mt Doom – represented the endpoint of Frodo Baggins’ quest to destroy the Ring. Both Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu were used in the movie, but no filming was permitted on the summit of Ngauruhoe as the Māori believe all mountain peaks be sacred. I learn this later when writing this blog post, and it explains why there is no signage and very few people hiking up the sleep slope. The signs showing the summit route were removed in the summer 2017, and for reasons I can’t understand there were no new signs erected explaining that the mountain peak is sacred. You’ll find most maps and brochures still show the route to the summit. Since I haven’t heard of any other mountain peaks where access has been removed, it’s all a bit confusing!

(You’ll have to make up your own mind: the main track was so busy that even with the knowledge that the Māori prefer you don’t climb, I think I would have taken this detour just to get away from the crowds!)

The climb is hard work and progress is slow – while there’s a rough track at the beginning, as you gain altitude you more or less need to find your own route up the scree slope. Consisting of very loose tephra (“fragmental material produced by a volcanic eruption”), it’s a slippery slope and I seem to be sliding backwards more than I am making forward progress. I really can’t imagine how you could have hundreds of people all trying to make their way up here, and I suspect that the real reason the signage was removed and people discouraged from making the ascent was more for safety reasons. The smaller the tephra the harder it is to climb, so I find the easiest route is a low ridge of larger rocks.

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As I gain altitude, I can see the Tongariro Crossing track crossing the South Crater and climbing up the steep spur to Blue Lake; Mount Tongariro is obscured by a band of thick cloud which is heading towards me!

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I finally reach a ridge just below the summit, which I almost claim as victory. But from here I can’t see into the crater, so I persevere…

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The crater itself is a little underwhelming: I’m not sure what I was expecting. Perhaps a cauldron of boiling lava, or at least some steam hissing from the bottom… it looks quite benign for an active volcano.

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What is interesting is the many different colours of the volcanic rock, from almost black to bright red (the red colour being from oxidised iron in the rock).

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It’s much quicker and easier going down, although I still find it strenuous as the terrain is very inconsistent. Sometimes the tephra is quite deep and you can almost glide down the slope (although I suspect if you saw me, the word “glide” would not be in the first hundred words you’d think of) and other times a thin layer of fine scoria on top of larger rocks makes it quite treacherous. Nevertheless, with thick cloud descending on the mountain I make the descent back to the main track in about an hour.

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As I re-shoulder my overnight pack and continue along the Tongariro Crossing track, I notice it’s much quieter. Where previously I was in the middle of the huge day-tripping queue, almost everyone is now ahead of me. The hike has become a lot more enjoyable, as I complete the last few hundred metres up to the South Crater.

The South Crater is technically not a crater, but a basin that is thought to be have been created by a glacier and later filled with sediment. While my map showed a small lake near the track, the entire “crater” was dry. The track across the South Crater is completely flat, until the climb at the far end up the ridge to Red Crater.

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The track up the ridge to Red Crater is fairly steep and a bit slippery in parts… but a piece of cake after the scree slope on Mount Ngauruhoe!

Looking back from the half-way up the ridge up to Red Crater, the summit of Mount Ngauruhoe is still shrouded in thick cloud, and you can get a sense of the the huge size of the South Crater.

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Looking east over the Kaimanawa Forest Park and Desert Road it’s a bleak landscape, with not a tree in sight. The only vegetation that seems to survive is the white mountain daisy (Celmisia incana) which grows in dense patches of shade between some of the rocks.

The final stretch of the Te Arawhata ridge goes to the highest point of the Tongariro Crossing (and Circuit) – other than the Ngauruhoe peak – at 1886m above sea level.

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From this point there’s sweeping views to the east and Mount Ngauruhoe to the south, as well as into the Red Crater. There’s a path from here to the summit Tongariro, which is obvious but unmarked (as with the Mount Ngauruhoe, signage was removed in 2017).

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Within the Red Crater is a formation known as a “dike” (or “dyke”), formed by molten magma moving to the surface through a vertical channel in the crater wall and then solidifying. As the magma drains out, it leaves the dike partially hollow. The red colour is from high temperature oxidation of iron in the rock.

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From the top of Red Crater the track heads steeply downhill over loose scree, and caution is needed… this is arguably the most spectacular part of the walk. Below are the Emerald Lakes (Ngā Rotopounamu) and in the distance Blue Lake (Te Wai-whakaata-o-te-Rangihiroa or “Rangihiroa’s mirror”). The Tongariro Alpine Crossing track is clearly visible crossing the Central Crater and ascending to the Blue Lake.

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I’ll be leaving the Tongariro Crossing near the Emerald Lakes and heading east down the Oturere Valley.

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The Emerald Lakes, the result of previous volcanic explosions, are an incredible colour as  a result of minerals washing down from the Red Crater.

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Once I reach the largest of the Emerald Lakes, I take a slight divergence from the main track and head around the southern side of the second-largest of the lakes. This takes me past some of the fumaroles that are venting steam, with temperatures up to 138°C.

The hot and sulphuric steam has completely covered some of the rocks with a thick white coat.

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Up close to one of the Emerald Lakes you can see that despite (or perhaps because of) the dissolved minerals, they support a dense layer of marsh-like grasses around the perimeter.

The rough track continues to descend into the Oturere valley: in the distance is the Kaimanawa Ranges and Rangipo Desert.

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I’ve seen a waterfull in the distance, which is the Oturere Stream that flows down from the Emerald Lake and cascades into the Oturere Valley. Although the track roughly follows the Oturere Stream and looks tantalizingly close on the topo map, it’s never close enough to fill the water bottle. And if the water originates from the Emerald Lakes, it might not taste too good! This entire section from Soda Springs is completely dry, and while I’ve got enough water I could have used more than the 1.5L I’m carrying.

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The stark, moon-like (and water-less!) desert landscape was caused by two million years of volcanic eruptions, especially the Taupo eruption a mere 2000 years ago, which coated the landscape with a thick layer of pumice. As a reminder of the volcanic forces that sculpted the terrain, Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu are visible above the valley.

I’m glad to finally reach the Oturere Hut around 4pm, where I can fill up my water bottle from the tank and have a break. Behind the cozy hut is a small camping ground, and at the end of the camping ground there’s a view of the Oturere Stream tumbling down the valley.

Oturere Hut to Waihohonu Hut (Day 1)

From the Oturere Hut the track skirts the eastern flank of Ngauruhoe, and heads straight towards Mount Ruapehu. It’s still a fairly “volcanic” landscape, but there’s more tussock grass and signs of life.

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The track is generally flat, but crosses multiple valleys. The first one looks pretty dry from a distance, but there’s a trickle of water in the stream.

The next few valleys are dry, and between them the track crosses some large, open gravel fields.

After about four kilometres the track swings to the east and follows the top of a long ridge. Directly behind me is Mount Ngauruhoe.

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The track eventually drops from the ridge into the valley, bringing the welcome sight of trees and lush green vegetation. Although I know that each step I take descending to the Waihohonu Stream means a step uphill on the other side of the valley, it’s nice to be walking under a canopy of trees.

At the bottom I take the backpack off and have a short break by the fast flowing river, refilling my water bottle, rinding my feet and enjoying the peaceful surroundings. I haven’t seen a soul since the Emerald Lakes (except for the people staying at Oturere Hut), and it feels like days since the hoards of people along the Tongariro Crossing!

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The track follows the Waihohonu Stream for a short distance, before crossing it over a timber bridge. There would have been an idyllic camping spot by the stream just after crossing, although one is only supposed to camp at designated sites… and in any case, my tent is still at Auckland airport…

Although the track climbs fairly steeply back up to the top of the ridge through ferns and beech forest, it’s easy walking and doesn’t take long to reach the top.

I’m getting close to Waihohonu Hut, my destination for today… as the track descends I can see the hut in the broad valley, at the edge of another patch of forest.

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There’s another nice section of thick forest and a sturdy metal bridge over a branch of the Waihohonu Stream, and I’ve reached the hut!

It’s almost 8pm, and I’m just in time to catch the Hut Warden, Dani Patterson, talking about the history of the hut and local area. Waihohonu Hut is the “Taj Mahal” of the Tongariro Circuit huts; the biggest and best of them with a large communal area and kitchen as well as an outdoor area with picnic benches. The hut is full, but I explain my predicament of being unintentionally tentless (no pun intended) and Dani is extremely helpful. While there is no spare tent I can borrow, she suggests a few areas of the hut where I can bunker down for the night, and even upgrades my ultralight sleeping mat for a deluxe air mattress!

Ohinepango Springs

There’s still a few hours of daylight left, so before cooking dinner I make the short trip to Ohinepango Springs. The well marked track heads south to the natural spring, crossing a tributary of the Ohinepango Stream not far from the hut.

After following the Ohinepango Stream (or one of its upper branches) for a while, the track ends up at the spring. The water emerges from under an old lava flow, although it’s not exactly obvious that it’s a spring. There’s a huge volume of water, which is cold and tastes great.

There’s a bit of colour in the sky and the moon is rising as I get back to Waihohonu Hut, ready for dinner and good night’s sleep.

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Waihohonu Hut to Whakapapa village (Day 2)

The wind is howling with gusts of up to 80 km/h and rain is forecast all night, so I’m not in a hurry to leave the hut in the morning… Fortunately and almost exactly as forecast, the rain stops and the sky starts to clear at 8am as I set off for the last leg of the Tongariro Northern Circuit.

Less than a kilometre from Waihohonu Hut, I make the very short detour to the historic Waihohonu Hut. Built in 1904 to accommodate park visitors and tourists travelling by coach from Waiouru or Tokaanu, it was replaced by a new Waihohonu hut in 1968. It was the first hut built in Tongariro National Park and the oldest existing mountain hut in New Zealand. Overnight use has been discouraged since 1979, and it has been preserved as example of the typical early two-room mountain huts.

From the historic Waihohonu Hut the track heads west, following an upper branch of the Waihohonu Stream.

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Mount Ruapehu is to the south…

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…and to the north is Mount Ngauruhoe, wearing a skirt of thick cloud that refuses to leave the mountain.

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The track gradually ascends towards the Tama saddle, undulating a little as it negotiates a few valleys created by streams.

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There are some sections of boardwalk and occasionally a few wet sections where water flows through the tussock grass and over the gravel, but it’s fairly easy walking through the open country.

Tama Lakes side-trip

Just after the climb up to the Tama saddle, there’s a sign-posted side trip to the Tama Lakes, two crater lakes formed by a series of volcanic explosions. I leave my overnight backpack at the junction and head down the boardwalk.

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The Lower Tama Lake is reached very quickly, with mimimal ascent. There’s interpretative signage about how the lakes were created, and even a bench made of tussock grass on which to sit and admire the view of the lake, and Mount Ruepehu behind it to the south. However, the views of Lower Tama Lake get better as you head up the steep and rocky ridge.

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At the top of the steep ridge is a view of Upper Tama Lake, below Mount Ngauruhoe. It’s extremely windy, otherwise it would be tempting to slide down the other side of the ridge for a swim in the lake (although, in the same way that summits are considered sacred to the Māori, I think swimming in the alpine lakes is also discouraged).

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It has taken just over an hour to see the two lakes, and I think it’s well worth doing the detour. I continue west along the main track, which crosses six streams before reaching Taranaki Falls.

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The track undulates gently through endless tussock grass, and is mostly boardwalk or compacted gravel. There’s a few more people around including some families with young children, with Tama Lakes a day-walk destination from Whakapapa village.

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I’m soon back at the top of Taranaki Falls, which compared to the previous morning is a lot busier. It’s another very popular destination and picnic spot.

I complete the circuit via the Taranaki Falls track along the Wairere Stream, which has another nice cascade just below the main falls.

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As the track descends, the Wairere Stream becomes muich tamer and – if it was a few degrees warmer – I would have found a quiet spot for a swim. There are a few older kids carrying towels who seem to know where the best swimming spots are.

The end is now in sight, with Chateau Tongariro (built in 1929) visible in the distance… there’s one last section of beech forest and a stream to cross before I’m back at the car, finishing around 2pm on the second day.

It’s been a spectacular hike despite the somewhat soul-destroying crowds of the Tongariro Crossing. I’m keen to come back and do a few more of the NZ Great Walks – but I’ll plan to tackle these in the off-season months!

Tongariro Tips

  • Beat the crowds. The Tongariro Crossing gets super-busy in December/January – unless you enjoy crowds start very early – there are are some shuttles as early as 6am so you beat the crowds. Or if you’re doing the Tongariro Circuit, considering leaving much later – by early afternoon you’ll have the track almost to yourself.
  • Cook without gas. I brought my lightweight camping stove, which I did use – but discovered that all the huts have gas cooking rings, which helps if you’re trying to travel light.
  • Don’t get burnt! Bring and apply plenty of sunscreen. The track is mostly exposed. I made the mistake of not applying sunscreen until about 10am, but even the early-morning sun will give you a sunburn.
  • Bring lots of water. There are parts of the walk where you’re walking next to a stream for hours… but for about 15km along the Tongariro Crossing and down into the Oturere valley there is no water. I’d recommend carrying at least 2L for this section. (I never treated the tank water at the huts or water from streams, although it’s recommended you purify/boil the tank water).
  • Wear decent shoes. You don’t need serious hiking footwear or gaiters (unless you’re doing the Circuit after heavy rain) – but I wouldn’t wear sandals as some people were wearing. There are steep sections with loose and sharp rocks, and you want something with grip that will also protect your feet.
DAY ONE
 0.0km Whakapapa trackhead (Round the Mountain Track)
 2.9km Junction with Taranaki Falls Track 
 4.6km Taranaki Falls Track meets Mangatepopo Track
12.2km Mangatepopo Hut
15.0km Side-track to Soda Springs
15.3km Soda Springs (optional side trip - 600m return)
17.3km Unmarked track to Mount Ngauruhoe summit (side-trip)
19.0km Mount Ngauruhoe summit (2,287m)
21.0km South Crater (flat section). Toilets located here.
22.8km Red Crater (1,886m)
28.2km Oturere Hut
33.9km Track crosses Waihohonu Stream
36.3km Waihohonu Hut
37.5km Ohinepango Springs
38.7km Waihohonu Hut
DAY TWO
39.4km Historic Waihohonu Hut
47.9km Junction with track to Tama Lakes
48.6km Lower Tama Lake
49.9km Upper Tama Lake
52.0km Back at main track
55.7km Junction with Taranaki Falls Trac
59.2km Whakapapa trackhead (via Taranaki Falls track)
Location There are multiple start/end points for the circuit (around 4-5 hours drive from Auckland):

  • Whakapapa Village – this is the only trailhead with accommodation within walking distance and where you can leave your car. Shuttles from here will take you to the Mangatepopo trailhead or you can start/end here.
  • Mangatepopo car park – starting point for Tongariro Crossing and serviced by shuttles. Max 4 hours parking in summer.
  • Ketetahi Road – end point for Tongariro Crossing with overmight car parking available.
Distance Approx 59km with side-trips. 44.9km is the “official” length.
Grade Moderate (Hard if you include Ngauruhoe summit as the route is mostly on loose scree.)
Season/s October to May. Can be done in winter if experienced in snow trekking, or as a guided tour.
Map/s Tongariro Circuit & Round the Mountain Track 1:40K
For more detailed (1:25,000) maps you need:
BH34 Raurima
BJ34 Mount Ruapeha
BJ35 Waiouru
BH35 Turangi
GPS Route Google Maps GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources
Map-TongariroCircuit
Map showing Tongairo Northern Circuit. Source: DOC Track Guide.

Mt Rufus and Little Hugel

 

A spectacular circuit that combines Shadow Lake and Forgotten Lake with an ascent of Mt Rufus (1,416m asl) and a side-trip to Little Hugel (1,274m asl). Two mountain peaks, alpine lakes, rainforest and incredible displays of flowering heath.  

My second walk during our stay at Lake St Clair Lodge: this time just Amy is joining me, as we tackle the Mt Rufus Circuit (another Tasmanian “Great Short Walk”)! It’s overcast as we set out, taking the most direct route up to Mt Rufus.

The track climbs fairly consistently but never steeply, with the vegetation changing from eucalypt forest with towering trees to cool temperate rainforest in the gullies.

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It takes us about an hour to reach the junction with the Shadow Lake Track, which means we’re a bit of over half the distance and almost half the elevation gain. Unfortunately, while it’s not raining, it looks like there is low cloud over Mt Rufus.

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From the junction the track heads more or less directly ahead to the mountain ridge, through sub-alpine snowgum forest.

The good news is that it looks like the clouds are clearing, with the long summit ridge of Mt Rufus visible ahead of us.

As we reach the valley below the ridge, there’s an incredible display of flowering heath – Richea Scoparia – a species of flowering plant that’s endemic to Tasmania. I later learn that the flowers are sought out by wallabies to eat, although the plants themselves are fairly prickly.

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After the “field of flowers” the track climbs steeply up to the base of the summit ridge – we’re feeling a bit unprepared as we encounter a few other hikers in serious wet weather gear. Below us is Lake St Clair, with the view sometimes improving as we gain altitude – and sometimes vanishing altogether in the clouds.

Finally we reach the exposed ridge that leads up to the Mt Rufus peak – it’s cold and windy as we follow the path up to a summit that we can’t actually see anymore!

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I’d like to say the view from the Mt Rufus summit (at 1,416m elevation) was amazing… but visibility was limited to about 20m, with the cloud having closed in. We didn’t stay long. But on a clear you should be rewarded with “outstanding views of Lake St Clair, Mt Olympus, Frenchmans Cap and the headwaters of the Franklin River”.

We soldier on, keen to get out out of the driving wind. The track is still fairly exposed, although at least we’re now descending the ridge line that tracks north towards Mt Hugel. The terrain consists of a layer of sandstone (almost 300 million years old) through which magma intruded up (165 million years ago) to form dolerite, which covered the sandstone layer.

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Despite – or perhaps because of? – the low cloud and mist, this part of the walk is incredibly scenic. There’s another field of flowers stretching into the distance as the track reaches the saddle between Mt Rufus and Mt Hugel.

Behind us, still in cloud, is the Mt Rufus summit.

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Ahead of us the Mt Rufus Track crosses the saddle: with its top in the clouds is Mount Hugel (1,357m asl) and to the left is the Cheyne Range. (There’s no marked trail to the Mount Hugel summit but there are informal tracks – a peak for a future Tassie trip!) We’re only a few kilometres from the source of the Franklin River, which begins its 120km journey from just below Mount Hugel.

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As the track continues to gradually descend, there are some interesting sandstone rock formations, sculpted by many years of wind and rain.

It’s quite an impressive vista looking out to the north towards Mount Hugel.

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The duckboard track swings to the east around the base of Mount Hugel (the rocky summit is now largely clear of the clouds and doesn’t seem too formidable to climb)!

The valley below the saddle between Mt Rufus and Mt Hugel is known as Richea Valley, named after the scoparia plants…

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…and pandani that grow here in profusion.

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This is my favourite part of the walk so far, with a combination of eucalypt forest in the background and alternating sections of pandani and flowering heath. The pandani (Richea pandanifolia) is found only in Tasmania and is the largest heath plant in the world (it has no relation to the pandanus palms of tropical Australia and South-east Asia).

As the track descends through the valley, the vegetation gradually changes with a section of cool temperate rainforest and a multitude of Myrtle Beech. There’s some huge trees both upright and fallen!

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There’s a final rainforesty-section as the track reaches the edge of the forested area.

The track then crosses a broad plain, covered with low but dense heath: fortunately there’s grassy path. It would be very slow-going to get through this vegetation without a track. Behind us (bottom left) is the still cloud-covered summit of Mount Hugel.

Having reached the other side of the wide valley, the track ascends gently past a couple of tarns before it reaches the junction with the Shadow Lake Track.

We soon reach the edge of Shadow Lake, and then the track that heads to Forgotten Lake and Little Hugel. It’s a tough choice: continue back to Lake St Clair – or attempt our second summit for the day and hopefully this time have a clear view!

Forgotten Lake and Little Hugel

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We decide to take the detour and head towards Forgotten Lake. The track follows the edge of Shadow Lake, with Little Hugel in the background.

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Up to Forgotten Lake it’s easy walking (although I read later it can get muddy after rain) – the only challenge we have is making sure we don’t step on the many lizards who are basking on the boardwalk.

Once we reach Forgotten Lake, the “track” becomes a “walking route”. We start climbing, quite gently at first, through a forest of pandani, myrtle, deciduous beech and snow
gums.

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There’s frequent orange triangles marking the route, although it’s fairly easy to follow.

It gets progressively steeper through denser rainforest, until we reach the start of the boulders and scree. The summit is directly ahead. (My mum tells me that “hügel” means hill in German – although it looks and feels like more than a hill!)

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There’s a nice view of Forgotten Lake and Shadow Lake through the trees.

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Amy is getting a bit tired – but the benefit of climbing a mountain is she has 4G reception on her phone. She’s quite content with my suggestion of making sure she’s up-to-date with her social media feed, while I complete the last few hundred metres to the summit… It’s steep but fairly quick, with the route now a consisting of scramble up the boulder field toward the summit.

There’s a nice view of the heart-shaped Forgotten Lake, almost directly below.

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From the summit** of Little Hugel (1,274m asl), there’s a great view of Forgotten Lake and Shadow Lake, as well as the southern end of Lake St Clair in the distance. (**In the interest of blogging accuracy – it’s almost the summit! The true summit was about 50m higher; as I didn’t want to leave Amy too long, I went to the outcrop of rock on the right and not the true summit to the west.)

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It’s a much quicker descent down the steep track!

The first few kilometres from Shadow Lake back to Lake St Clair are pretty dreary – the track passes through eucalpyt forest and the landscape is fairly monotonous.

As the track descends further and gets closer to the Hugel River, there’s a few nice sections again of temperate rainforest and towering trees.

It’s not too much further until we reach the turn-off to the Platypus Bay Track and cross the Hugel River. From here there’s just over a kilometre until we’re back at Lake St Clair Lodge. It’s been an exhausting but fantastic walk – and we’re glad to get back to the lodge for an early dinner!

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 0.0km Start at Lake St Clair Visitors Centre (Cynthia Bay)
 0.3km Junction with Mount Rufus Track
 4.8km Junction with Shadow Lake Track
 6.5km Start of Mt Rufus summit ridge (exposed track)
 8.3km Mt Rufus summit
13.8km Junction with Shadow Lake Track (alternate return route)
14.3km Junction with Forgotten Lake and Little Hugel
17.1km Little Hugel Summit
19.6km Return to Mt Rufus Track
24.2km Junction with Platypus Bay Track
25.1km Junction with Mt Rufus Track
25.5km Lake St Clair Visitors Centre
Location Starts/finishes at Lake St Clair Lodge (Cynthia Bay)
Distance 25.5km circuit (8-9 hours)
Grade Moderate.  Total 1,015m ascent.
Track to Little Hugel rough and steep in some sections
Season/s All year. Might be icy in winter and ferry operates less frequently
Map 4233 Rufus 1:25K (south end of lake)
TASMAP Lake St Clair Day Walk Map (print & digital options)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources
lakestclair
Map of day walks from Lake St Clair. Source: Tas Parks “Lake St Clair Lakeside Walk”

Narcissus Hut, Lake St Clair

The hike from Narcissus Hut to Cynthia Bay along Lake St Clair (also referred to the Lakeside Walk) is the last – or first! – section of the Overland Track, and also makes a pleasant day walk.

We’re staying at Lake St Clair for a few days on a family holiday, so one of my day walks has to include the track from Narcissus Hut back to Cynthia Bay and Lake St Clair Lodge. The walk starts with with a ferry ride to the far end of the Lake St Clair – not a bad way to start a walk. In peak season the ferry operates at least three times a day, and picks up hikers who are finishing the Overland Track. Saves them from hiking this last section. Lazy buggers 🙂

The ferry takes just over half an hour, with a stop at the deepest point of the lake – the  maximum depth of 160m makes Lake St Clair Australia’s deepest lake. There’s also great views of some of the peaks in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park, which borders the lake on the north-eastern side. (You can also disembark at Echo Point, which reduces the walk by about 7km. The walk from Echo Point to Cynthia Bay is one of Tasmania’s “60 Great Short Walks” – although I found the section from Narcissus Hut to Echo Point a bit more varied and interesting.) We set off from Narcissus Hut at 10am – both the kids have decided to join me on the walk.

Soon after the hut there’s a junction with a track leading to Lake Marion – I had considered this walk, but was warned by one of the Park rangers it was very overgrown (the start of the Lake Marion Track looked OK, though). There are nice views of the Olympus Range, which tower above the surrounding plains and Lake St Clair, as we cross the Hamilton Plains.

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Somewhat surprisingly – seeing as the track follows Lake St Clair for most of its length – that it’s rarely within sight of the water. After a couple of kilometres the track (very) gently rises out of the low swampy areas and the vegetation changes to rainforest, with some huge gum-topped stringybarks…

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…and patches of thick ferns. While there are some occassional muddy bits (and it might be a slightly muddier experience after heavy rain) the track is pretty good with many sections of boardwalk. (Contrary to what Parks staff said, the sections before and after Echo Hut were both of similar quality and neither had any significant muddy sections.)

We reach Echo Point Hut after about two hours, where we stop for lunch. Or, to be more precise, a large packet of chips.  It’s a nice spot, with some benches in a rainforest setting, only a few metres from the shore of Lake St Clair. On the opposite side of the lake is Mt Ida (which is fairly easily climbed if you happen to have a kayak handy to cross the lake)!

The track immediately dives back into the rainforest after Echo Hut, as we continue to follow the invisible shoreline of Lake St Clair.

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The walk continues through temperate rainforest, with tall stands of beech trees and a few tree ferns that look like they’ve been around for a lot longer than I have!

It’s not an unpleasant walk – but it’s also pretty monotonous. There’s not a lot to see, other than an occassionally impressive patch of ferns or huge rainforest trees.

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Towards the southern end of Lake St Clair the track emerges temporarily from the rainforest and passes by a rocky bay. From here we can see our destination in the distance, at the very end of the lake.

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There’s a last section through rainforest and ferms before, the track rises slightly and the rainforest abruptly becomes eucalypt forest with low heath.

Near the top of this slight incline there’s a junction: continue straight ahead on the Overland Track, or turn left and take a slightly longer route via Platypus Bay. (The walk from the Visitor Centre to Platypus Bay and back is another of the Tasmanian “60 Great Short Walks” in the Lake St Clair area). We take the Platypus Bay Track, which descends steeply down to Platypus Bay. It’s a nice beach, with the wreckage of a old barge right in the middle of it. The barge was used in the 1930s to build the pump house on the opposite side of Lake St Clair, and dragged ashore in the 1950s after a large storm tore it from its moorings.

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The track closelt followed the edge of the lake, and bit furher there’s a long platypus “hide”, with lot of interpretative signage. It’s tbe wrong time for platypus-spotting as it’s mid-afternoon (dawn and dusk are best), so we continue without trying to look for the elusive monotreme!

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We’re nearly at the end of our walk… less than a kilometre further, and we’re at the bridge over the Hugel River and junction with the Larmairremener tabelti (Aboriginal) cultural walk.

The last stretch of track is wide and flat, taking us the last kilometre or so back to the Visitor Centre.

Just to complete the “circuit” (ferry + walk) we continue past Cynthia Bay and finish at the Lake St Clair jetty. It’s been 19km from the Narcissus Hut jetty at the far end of the lake – a bit more than the 16.5km that’s stated on the TasParks signage. I’m glad to have done the walk, but it hasn’t been a particularly interesting walk. Definitely not as enjoyable as the day walks at the Cradle Mountain end of the Overland Track: if you’ve got limited time, you’d want to do the Shadow Lake circuit or Mt Rufus tracks instead!

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 0.0km Start at Narcissus Hut jetty
 7.1km Echo Point Hut and jetty
16.6km Junction with Platypus Bay track
16.8km Platypus Bay
17.4km Junction with Larmairremener tabelti cultural walk
18.6km Visitor Centre
19.0km Lake St Clair Jetty
Location Starts/finishes at Lake St Clair Lodge (Cynthia Bay) and Narcissus Jetty via ferry service
Distance 19km (including Platypus Bay detour)
Grade Easy.  Total 184m ascent (no steep sections). 5-7 hours.
Season/s All year. Might be icy in winter and ferry operates less frequently
Map 4234 Olympus 1:25K (north end of lake)
4233 Rufus 1:25K (south end of lake)
TASMAP Lake St Clair Day Walk Map (print & digital options)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources
lakestclair
Map of day walks from Lake St Clair. Source: Tas Parks “Lake St Clair Lakeside Walk”

Walls of Jerusalem – hike to Dixons Hut

The hardened track to Dixons Kingdom and Mt Jerusalem provides relatively easy access to Tasmania’s most remote alpine National Park, with spectacular scenery and the option of climbing a number of peaks along the track.

I’d originally planned Walls of Jerusalem as an overnight walk. Described as “a spectacular labyrinth of alpine lakes and tarns, dolerite peaks, ancient but fragile forests of Pencil Pines and unique alpine vegetation”, Walls of Jerusalem is one of Tasmania’s “Great Bushwalks”. It’s been on my To Do list for a while, waiting for an opportunity when I have a few days in Tasmania. But the weather forecast is for miserable weather, including snow, and I’m getting soft in my old age 🙂 So rather than giving up completely, I’ve done a day walk to Meander Falls on the previous day, and am undertaking the Walls of Jerusalem hike as a day trip.

Staying at the nearest accommodation at Mole Creek, I make an early start to reach the Walls of Jerusalem (Lake Rowallan) car park just after 7am. I sit in the car for ten minutes as it starts to sleet. Eventually I figure I may well get going, and I start the climb up from the carpark, past the walker registration booth and up to Trappers Hut.

The sleet turns into snow as I gain altitude, and some of it stays on the ground. It’s cold but the constant climb keeps my warm enough.

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By the time I reach Trappers Hut, about 2.3km into the walk, there’s a light cover of snow on the ground. Trappers Hut was one of the basic huts used by animal trappers in the 1940s, and was rebuilt in 1990 using the original design. While not suitable for an overmight stay, I enjoy a brief nap away from the wind and snow before resuming my hike.

I’ve now completed most of the ascent; just after the hut there’s an alternative track to the Walls via Lake Adelaide and Lake Ball. I had intended to come back via this route (not a marked track), but decide not to with the wet and overcast weather. Continuing straight ahead on the main track, I soon reach the plateau and have the first views of the Walls of Jerusalem in the distance (Kings David Peak is directly ahead).

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There’s now a long walk across the plateau, through a number of picturesque pools and lakes. The track, mostly well-marked and easy to follow, traverses Solomons Jewels – the largest of the lakes. Even with the gloomy weather, this is one of the most scenic and pleasant sections of the walk!

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After the lakes the track crosses the valley formed by the Wild Dog Creek, before reaching the Wild Dog Creek campsite. There are a number of timber camping platforms here which are are fairly private, although I’d recommend continuing further before setting up camp if you are overnighting.

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The track rises again after the campsite up through Herods Gate: to the north-east is Mount Ophel (1,335m asl) and thundering past the track is the swollen Wild Dog Creek. I meet a couple of hikers who look far better equipped than me, and warm to expect deep snow ahead.

To the left of the track is Lake Salome…

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…to the right is King David Peak (1,499m asl) which forms part of the West Wall.

The peaks forming the Walls of Jeruasalem are in all directions, surrounding Lake Salome and the valley I’m walking through like a an enormous amphitheatre.

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There’s also a lot more snow, and at times the track (still mostly boardwalk) is submerged between a foot or more of snow.

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Despite the snow – and limited visibility – once I reach Damascus Gate (the saddle between the Solomons Throne and the Temple) I attempt a couple of side-trips to the peaks along the main track. To the west is Solomons Throne – at 1,469m elevation it’s slightly higher than Mount Jerusalem – and is the highest point in the area that has a marked walking trail. I set off across the snow and up the slope towards the rocky summit.

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At first it’s not too difficult, although about half-way up I put on my micro-spikes to help with traction on the mostly hard-packed snow. It gets more challenging as the track reaches the rock face, and the accumulated and softer snow reaches depths of over a metre.

Where the track enters a narrow and steep gully up to the peak, I give up… even with crampons there’s a risk of either slipping through the snow onto submerged rocks, or sliding down the sleep slope back to the bottom…!

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I admire the views from my vantage point half-way up Solomons Throne – on the opposite side of the valley is The Temple.

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Having returned to the main track after my aborted ascent of Solomons Throne, I decide to try and reach the top of The Temple. At 1,446m asl the peak is only about 20m lower in elevation than Solomons Throne, but it looks like there’s a lot less snow on top. The rocky path is a lot easier to follow, with just a few patches of snow covering the route.

Although while this time I reach the summit**, it’s a somewhat pyrrhic victory as I really can’t see anything from the top! Looking back across the valley at Solomons Throne it’s shrouded by cloud. You can see how the narrow gulleys and southern flank of the mountain are deep in snow. (** Technically I don’t quite reach the summit – my GPS says I’m at 1,425m when I turn around, but I don’t see the point of continuing when visibility is so limited.)

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Back on the main track, I continue to Dixons Kingdom Hut. The trail descends slightly along the lower slopes of The Temple, through a large forest of Pencil Pines (some of the trees are estimated to be up to a thousand years old). There’s snow across most of the path, and I’m glad that there are footprints marking the route, as there’s no natural landmarks to follow.

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Dixons Kingdom Hut lies in a clearing at the edge of the Pencil Pine forest. The small hut, originally built as a base for cattle grazing, provides some shelter but is not intended to be used for accommodation. Tent camping is permitted in this area, and would have been my destination if doing an overnight walk.

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This is my destination for today: I would have had time to climb Mt Jerusalem, but while the weather is improving slightly it’s still very overcast. After a short break and a chat to two hikers who are warming up inside the hut, I head back.

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Towards the end of the walk the skies are clearing. I’m glad I’ve managed to finally do this walk, and in some ways the snow and cloud enhance the alpine landscape. But I feel I’ll have to come back, on a day when the sky is clear and there are views from the many peaks along the track.

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Location Start at Lake Rowallan car park, accessed via Mersey Forest Road from Sheffield / Mole Creek. Last section of road is gravel but 2WD is fine.
Distance 22km return as walked (add 4km if summiting Mt Jerusalem)
Grade Moderate. Total elevation gain of ~1000m. Well-constructed track.
Season/s Sep/Oct – April unless equipped for snow conditions. Check weather forecast before commencing walk and always be prepared for changing conditions!
Maps
  • TASMAP Walls of Jerusalem NP (1:25,000)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources
  • Parks & Wildlife Service “Walls of Jerusalem Fact Sheet
  • “Day Walks Tasmania” by John & Monica Chapman (p.137)
Map-Walls-of-Jerusalem
Map showing Walls of Jerusalem track. Source: TasTrails

Stokkvikskaret

A muddy walk along Lake Ågvatnet, with chains to assist on the steeper parts. The trail goes over Stokkvikskaret Pass to Stokkvikvatnet, and finally onto Stokkvika village.

According to my trusty guidebook, this is a popular Lofoten Islands walk on a (mostly) good track… maybe we were there at the wrong time of year: I’d describe it more as long sections of deep mud connected by a vague path. We saw no-one on the track. Although it was still an enjoyable afternoon.

The hike is near the village of Å, at the very southern end of the Lofoten archipelago and a 20min drive from our accommodation in Reine. Leaving our car at the almost-empty carpark we quickly find the fish drying racks, although there are no fish at this time of year (the racks would be full in March/April). The path is already soggy here as we walk through the drying racks and head towards the lake (Ågvatnet), trying to avoid the worst puddles.

 

The track is not always well-marked, but as it follows the lake we can’t really go wrong. It’s very muddy and it doesn’t take long before we give up trying to avoid the mud, and just walk through it. There’s a few moments where I think the mud may have claimed one of Luke’s shoes that is sucked from his foot, but we manage to recover it!

There’s also a few sections where chains are used to help traverse steep sections, which is good fun.

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It’s pretty slow going. After about an hour we pass a small hut that’s by the shore of Lake Ågvatnet, and on the opposite side we see a few fisherman’s huts. After another half an  hour the end of the lake is in sight, but it’s getting late in the day and Luke has had enough mud.

The track continues further along the lake and then climbs up to the Stokkvikskaret Pass (and onto the town of Stokkvika on the other side of the ridge). There’s also some low mist, so the view from the ridge wouldn’t be great. We call it a day, and head back along the lake.

Despite the mist, the setting sun glows behind Lake Ågvatnet and the surrounding mountains as we squelch our way back to the car…

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Location Near large carpark in the village of Å (southern end of Lofoten archipelago, at the end of E10 highway). Look for fish drying racks.
Distance Approx 7km return (to Stokkvikskaret Pass)
Grade Moderate. 4oom ascent to Stokkvikskaret Pass
Season/s Summer/Autumn
Map  Topographical maps on-line at GotTur.no
Resources “Explore Lofoten” (book) by Kristin Folsland Olsen (p.158)
One of the Top 10 Lofoten Islands hike on Switchback travel

map-stokkvikskaret

Sommarsetvatnet hike

Sommarsetvatnet hike is an (unexpectedly) delightful hike that ascends from the fjord at Sommerset up to an alpine lake that’s surrounded by mountain peaks

I didn’t have particularly high expectations of this hike… I was staying nearby at Garsnes Brygge, and looking for a hike I could do in the morning before our visit to the Polar Park in the afternoon. I’d asked the helpful staff at Garsnes Brygge the previous evening whether there were any local hiking paths, and I got a mixed response, from “a short walk to a lake” to “it’s a steep walk that will take 4-5 hours”. Both descriptions, as it turns out, being somewhat correct…

The Sommarsetvatnet hiking trail starts on Route 152, a one kilometre walk along the road from my accommodation at Garsnes Brygges (or 3km from where Route 152 meets National Highway 84). There’s a sign marking the start of the trail, which is encouraging as I don’t have any map or information on the walk, other than the description(s) I was given the previous evening.

I set off up a rough farm road, which ascends through the forest for about a kilometre, before it becomes a narrow foot trail. After about three kilometres, I reach a small ridge from where there are views back towards the fjord (Sagfjorden) where the walk started. The path ascends a bit more steeply, with the forest becoming more open.

Soon I’m above the tree line, and in a more alpine environment. Walking through grasses and low heath, taller peaks in the distance become visible – Elveskardtindan (1243m) and Hogfjellet (1235m). I think it’s these ones… please correct me if I’m wrong!

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A few more minutes walking, and a waterfall appears on the right, fed by the lake (Sommarsetvatnet) above, that I can’t yet see.

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Another ten minutes and I reach Sommarsetvatnet, a small lake surrounded by taller mountains.

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The trail follows the lake for a few hundred metres before it stops. There is a peak (Lifjellet) above the eastern side of the lake – the side that I’m on – which promises a better view of the area. And a ridge to the north-east that might provide views back to the fjord… It’s steep but easy walking and scrambling up the slope from the lake.

The views are inspiring despite the the overcast conditions, and get better as I scramble up the scree and grassy slope from 520m.

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I don’t quite reach the Lifjellet summit at 982m due to time constraints, although I couldn’t see a trig point or any discernible peak. The highest point I get to is 932m, with the view improving as I climb – I can see all the way from Sommarsetvatnet and across Sagfjorden to the peaks on the other side of the fjord.

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I slowly scramble back down to re-join the path near the end of the lake, and take the same trail back down. To the lake and back is about 9km; with the off-track hiking up to the Lifjellet peak the total distance covered is 12.5km. Considering my low expectations, it turned out to be a fantastic walk.

Location Near Sommarset on Route 152. Turn onto Route 152 from National Highway 84 and continue 3km. Nearest major town is Sjøvegan.
If you are coming from the E6, turn right by Brandvoll and follow the road to Sjøvegan. At the first intersection after the Salangen Church, a left, and follow signs towards “Salangen Helserehab” and “Elvelund”. Follow this road, Highway 84, for a few minutes until you come to “Laberg”. When you see the sign toward Garsnes Brygge, turn right and follow the road.
Distance 12.5km round-trip with 880m ascent. Allow 4-5 hours.
Grade Moderate. Some off-track walking to reach Lifjellet summit
Season/s June-October
Map Topographical maps on-line at GotTur.no
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources Nil. If staying at Garsnes Brygge, staff can provide some info.
Photos Google Photos album
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Map of Sommarsetvatnet route and elevation of hike

Barn Bluff circuit

A less-busy alternative to Cradle Mountain, with equally impressive views and a slightly harder scramble to the top.

Having climbed Cradle Mountain a few times, Barn Bluff looked like a good alternative for a day-trip. It’s Tasmania’s fourth-highest peak, and looks like a barn… This is my second attempt; I’d tried just over a year ago and was thwarted by the weather. (Despite having wet-weather gear, I wasn’t equipped to deal with driving sleet and turned back at Kitchen Hut.)

Today starts ominously overcast. I start pretty early as I’ve got an evening flight out of Launceston. I’m staying nearby, at the Cradle Mountain Highlanders cottages just outside the park (I prefer to stay at the very basic Waldheim Cabins which are inside the park, but none were available). So it’s a short drive to the start of the track at Ronny Creek, and I set off at 6:30am.

The walk to Barn Bluff starts on the Overland Track at Ronny Creek, although it would be just as feasible to commence from the Dove Lake car park. There’s a raised timber boardwalk for the first section across the grassland and then a well-constructed track with stone steps, so it’s easy walking, even though I’m climbing fairly steeply up past Crater Lake and onto Crater Peak lookout.

After 3.6km the track reaches an exposed and often windy plateau and from here it’s fairly flat, sometimes on boardwalk and sometimes on gravel. The morning is still very misty, which brings out the autumn colours in the deciduous beech, or fagus.

After 5.8km I pass Kitchen Hut (where I gave up last time) and shortly after that the turn-off to the Face Track, as I continue down the Overland Track. Another 3km of walking and I reach the well-marked junction, where I turn right (off the Overland Track) and down Barn Bluff Track.

As I peer into the mist, I question whether I should continue… but press on regardless. Miracles may happen. The weather does change very quickly, even though all I’ve seen for the last three hours is different shades of misty grey.

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It does feel rather miraculous when, half an hour later Barn Bluff materializes out of the mist, with blue sky behind it. From the foot of the mountain the path to the summit is very steep as it makes it way up and over large boulders and scree, marked by a series of cairns that are not always obvious. The route heads up the middle of the rocky peak, following a steep valley, and then follows the ridge up to the summit. As I climb, Cradle Mountain pokes its head up though the clouds, in the distance.

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From the top, Cradle Mountain is (partly) visible to the north, and Lake Will is below, looking to the south-east. It’s an impressive view.

It’s taken me three and half hours to cover the 12.5km up the summit, reaching it around 10am, so I’ve still got most of the day ahead. After half an hour, I start the descent. It’s still misty as I retrace my steps along the ridge on the Barn Bluff track. I’m now seeing a few more people, who are coming up the track.

The mist lifts a little – and a few walkers have said the Lake Rodway track is clearer. So, 800m after the Barn Bluff track joins the Overland Track, I veer right onto the Lake Rodway Track.

This is a rougher track than the Overland Track, and it descends steeply down to Lake Rodway and Flynns Tarn and then ascends up to the Twisted Lakes. This is a very photogenic area; unfortunately the early afternoon light is not ideal.

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Twisted Lakes, with Cradle Mountain behind

I continue up the Lake Rodway Track towards Hansons Peak, with Cradle Mountain now behind me.

Soon Dove Lake is in sight again as I swing around the east side of Hanson Peak, with Cradle Mountain to my left and the Dove Lake car park on the right.

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The track now descends fairly steeply, until it joins the Dove Lake Circuit track shortly before the car park.

From here the walk is almost over – I skirt around the car park, and walk the final three kilometres back to Ronny Creek car park via the Cradle Valley Boardwalk. It’s been a very enjoyable day, despite the overcast start, and it feels good to have made it to the top of Barn Bluff 13 months after my first attempt.

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Location Ronny Creek car park near the end of Dove Lake Road.
Cradle Mountain National Park is about 2.5 hours from Launceston, via Sheffield or Mole Creek.
Distance 27.5km circuit as walked. 24km return to Barn Bluff (shortest route)
Grade Moderate. 1125m total ascent.
Season/s All year round; may be challenging/difficult in winter
Map TasMap “Cradle Mountain Day Walks”
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Photos Google Photos gallery
Resources Day Walks Tasmania (book) has track notes for this walk
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Map of Cradle Valley (day walks) with Barn Bluff hiking route

Kitchen Hut, Cradle Mountain

A planned hike to Barn Bluff is thwarted by bad weather, and becomes a misty walk to Kitchen Hut!

Arriving late the previous evening in Cradle Mountain, I’ve booked one of the basic Waldheim Cabins which are inside the park so I can get an early start the following morning. The evening is clear, and while taking some night shots from Lake Dove, I capture the faint glow of the Aurora Australis (southern lights) – the only time I’ve seen them in Tasmania.

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Unfortunately, the next morning is very overcast and misty, as I set off very early by torch-light from the Ronny Creek car park. Shortly after the Overland Track boardwalk ends and I veer right onto the Horse Track, I follow a wombat who leads the way up the Overland Track, seemingly unaware of my presence (or just preferring to stick to the well-made track).

By the time I reach the plateau, there’s a combination of sleet and rain (not exactly sure which, but it’s both painful when it hits your face and very cold). I reach Kitchen Hut, where I take shelter and warm up a little, while I consider my options… It’s now getting light, but visibility is very limited and there’s not much chance of a view fro Barn Bluff (or Cradle Mountain, which I can’t even see from the hut).

I head back, this time taking the Overland Track.

It remains misty, with limited visibility. I can just see the other side of Lake Dove from Marion’s Lookout, below.

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Descending to Crater Lake, I pass the old boat shed.

Crater Falls is more impressive than usual though from the overnight rain. It’s only a 5m drop, but surrounded by moss and lichen as it cascades down next to the path.

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Photo stops aside, it’s a quick descent to the car and breakfast at Cradle Mountain lodge! It’s been a short three-hour walk (including half an hour trying to warm up in Kitchens Hut) and I’m back at Ronny Creek by 9am. dsc00659

[Just over a year later, I’m more successful in my attempt, and reach Barn Bluff on a day that starts almost as overcast, but clears up in time!]

Location Ronny Creek car park near the end of Dove Lake Road.
Cradle Mountain National Park is about 2.5 hours from Launceston, via Sheffield or Mole Creek.
Distance Approx 11.5km
Grade Easy. ~400m total ascent.
Season/s All year round; may be challenging/difficult in winter
Map TasMap “Cradle Mountain Day Walks”
Resources Day Walks Tasmania (book) has track notes for this walk

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