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Central North Island's Best Day Walks

Some of the best adventures in the central north island - by foot.

  • 7

Created by Roadtrippers Australasia - October 9th 2017

Huka Falls Walks

The Huka Falls are the largest falls on the Waikato River, near Taupo on New Zealand's North Island. In fact, they are the most visited natural attraction in New Zealand.

The Waikato river is one of New Zealand's longest rivers and it drains Lake Taupo - the largest freshwater lake in all of Australasia. At Huka Falls, the Waikato River which is normally 100m wide, is squeezed through a 20 metre wide gorge and over a 20m drop. Every second up to 220,000 litres of water gushes through the gorge and shoots out over 8 metres beyond to create a beautful blue/green pool. The name Huka is the Maori word for 'foam', which is appropriate as the falling water and rapids certainly resembles foam, especially under flooding conditions.

Huka Falls is located in Wairakei Park. This is only a short 5 minute drive north of Lake Taupo. Or you can choose the 30 minute riverside walk as a way to get to the several viewing platforms that are available.

Rotopounamu Track

Rotopounamu fills a crater nestled into the western side of Mount Pihanga. It is nine metres deep and covers one square kilometre. The name of the lake comes from the Maori words 'roto' (lake) and 'pounamu' (greenstone).

Beginning opposite the parking area, the track winds gently uphill to the track junction. To walk around the lake, turn right and follow a short section of gravelled track before dropping down towards Five Minute Beach. Here a broad tree stump provides a good spot to view the lake.

Long Beach sweeps along the eastern side of the lake and is an ideal spot for a picnic or rest stop. There is a toilet here.

The track continues to the northern shore where three of the lake's four tributary streams enter the lake. The lake usually has no visible outflow, however when the water levels are low a small outflow can be seen near the shore on the southern side of the lake.

Continuing on, you pass Ten Minute Beach and soon return to the track junction. From here it is downhill to the carpark. Allow two hours for a leisurely walk around the lake.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

19.4 km one way

Walking and tramping 5 hr 30 min - 7 hour 30 min

Among its highlights are steaming vents and hot springs, old lava flows, beautiful water-filled explosion craters and stunning views. On clear days you can see Mount Taranaki in the west, Mount Ngauruhoe, the Kaimanawa Ranges, Lake Taupo and beyond.

Winter tramping
Walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in winter requires special skills and preparation. Additional hazards are present: snow and ice, avalanche risk, and subzero temperatures.

If you are well prepared with proper winter clothing, equipment and skills - it can be a fantastic experience.

Snow and ice cover a lot of the track. Alpine equipment and skills are required. If you don't have these, consider a guided trip with one of the guiding companies that operate in winter:
Adrift Outdoors Phone: 0800 462 374
Adventure Outdoors Phone: 0800 386 925
Tongariro Guided Walks Phone: 0800 429 255

There are limited transport services in the winter. Experienced independent walkers can drive to either end of the track, walk part way (i.e. to the snowline) and return to their vehicle. Guided trips include return transport.

Water is not available on the track so please bring 2 litres per person. Water from upper Mangatepopo Stream, Emerald Lakes, Blue Lake and Ketetahi Springs is not suitable for drinking due to high volcanic mineral content, acidity and the risk of giardia.

Emerald and Blue Lakes are mostly not visible in the winter as they are often frozen and covered by snow. However the thermal steaming and volcanic features of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe surround you.

The winter environment at Tongariro is frequently cold, wet and windy. For your safety, it is essential to be well dressed for winter conditions.
Daylight hours are short and temperatures are often below freezing.
Snow and ice is common in higher areas and sometimes on lower areas. Deep snow can hide track markers. And at times surface conditions can be hard ice.

Parts of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing passes through avalanche terrain. You should be prepared for avalanche risk, and know when it's not safe to go.

Most of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is simple terrain, however the section that crosses over Red Crater between South Crater and Emerald Lakes contains challenging and complex terrain, and the section from Blue Lake to Ketetahi contains challenging terrain.

If you are going into places avalanches could occur, be sure you : have checked the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) and the Avalanche Terrain Exposure scale system (ATES) for the area where you want to go
have the skills for the ATES class you are going into and have checked what avalanche advisory and alert information is available from the DOC visitor centre nearest the area where you want to go. Please take an avalanche transceiver, avalanche probe and a snow shovel. Know how to use these tools.

Volcanic risk
This is an active volcanic area, and eruptions are possible at any time without warning. Active volcanic vents on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing are Mount Ngauruhoe, Red Crater, and Te Maari Craters. Volcanic hazard zones surround all of these vents. If you are within one of these areas when an eruption happens, you may be in danger.

Check the latest volcanic activity information before you go, at the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre and on the Geonet website.

What to wear and take with you : Crampons and ice axe - and know how to use them
Snow gaiters
Avalanche probe, snow shovel and transceiver
Sturdy hiking boots
Waterproof jacket and over-trousers
Warm thermal fabric under-clothing
Warm hat and gloves
First aid kit
Sunscreen, hat and sunglasses
A map and compass or GPS
High energy food and water

Tokaanu Thermal Walk

Loop Track - 20 Minutes

This short walk provides an interesting glimpse of a natural thermal area. See steaming hot mineral pools set in sinter basins and spluttering mud pools amidst the native bush. For hundreds of years, Maori have used the geothermal resources of this area for cooking, bathing and leisure. Share in this tradition by having a therapeutic and relaxing swim at the nearby Tokaanu Thermal Pools. Rainbow trout can often be seen here in the cold Tokaanu stream that flows beside the thermal area.

Getting there: The walk begins from Tokaanu Thermal Pools complex (6 km from Turangi on SH 41).

Know before you go: Thermal areas are changeable by nature so please keep to the track and children should be supervised at all times.

Aratiatia Rapids lookout walk

Time: 10 min Distance: 620 m

The track leading to the two lookout points begins 50 metres from the bridge on the true right of the river. Before the water was diverted to the power station in 1964, the Aratiatia Rapids were the largest in Australasia - the Waikato River dropping 28 metres in just one kilometre. Today their full potential can still be seen during the scheduled daily releases. Each release lasts 15 minutes. Opening times: 10 am; 12 noon; 2 pm (and also 4 pm 1 October - 31 March)

The tiers of the rapids and steep walls of the gorge are remnants of an ancient volcano. It is said the the name "Aratiatia" comes from the meaning "stairway of Tia". Tia was a leader from the waka Te Arawa, and passed through the gorge with a small party on route to discovering Lake Taupo. These are also the famous rapids used in the filming of the barrel escape scene in Peter Jackson's movie, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Spa Park to Huka Falls Walk

Time: 1 hr 30 min Distance: 3 km

This walking track allows you to walk rather than drive to the Huka Falls from Taupo. It's a pleasant walk for the whole family, starting from Spa Park and winding along the banks of the Waikato River.

From the car park walk five minutes down to the river's edge where you'll cross the Otumuheke Stream, a naturally hot stream which flows into the Waikato. The well-defined track then continues along the riverbank and offers lovely views along the way.

Return via the same track or arrange transport from Huka Falls carpark.

For a longer walk, continue from Huka Falls along the Aratiatia Rapids Track. This track is for walkers only, so to mountain bike from Spa Park to Huka Falls take the Rotary Ride.

Getting there: For Spa Park, turn right off Tongariro Street into Spa Road at the northern end of Taupo, then left into County Avenue and drive into Spa Thermal Park.

Helpful hints: Volunteers from the Craters of the Moon Trust have assisted with the management of the Huka Falls since 2000. Visitors are given a warm welcome from local volunteers who run the information kiosk, where you can buy refreshments or use the toilets for 50 cents. But please note that the car park is locked overnight from 6 pm - 8 am in summer (daylight savings), and 5:30 pm - 8 am in winter.

Waitonga Falls Track

Tongariro National Park’s highest waterfall, the 39 metre Waitonga Falls, is reached via a well-formed track through mountain beech and kaikawaka (mountain cedar) forest.

On clear calm days there are fantastic views of Mount Ruapehu and the surrounding countryside. You can see reflections of the mountain in the Rotokawa pools, part of an alpine wetland area.