The track starts behind the famously elegant Grand Chateau in Whakapapa, and winds through red tussock, mountain hebe and beech forest to the Mangatepopo Hut. It crosses mainly smaller river beds and can be fairly muddy when raining. If you look to the right you will glimpse Mt Ngaruhoe.
Day 2 involves a fascinating walk up the lava flows of the Mangatepopo Valley past Soda Springs and up to the South Crater. The climb here is quite steep and the rock can be quite slippery in places. Continuing on to the Red Crater you catch whiffs of sulphur in the air. A great photo opportunity presents itself as you look down on the brilliant Emerald and the Blue Lakes, which are old explosion craters filled with mineral-laden water. The track then leads across tortuous terrain to the Ketetahi Hut, near an active hot spring area.
On Day 3 a steep descent into a volcanic wonderland of lava formations and waterfalls leads to Oturere Hut, and Day 4 involves numerous stream crossings on the way to Waihohonu Hut. The final day sees a climb to the Tama Saddle and Tama Lakes before passing the Taranaki Falls and returning to the Whakapapa Village.
The Department of Conservation recommends that you have good warm clothing, waterproof and windproof parka, leggings, comfortable well constructed hiking boots, hat and 30+ sunscreen. Jeans are not recommended! There is rain water for drinking at the huts. Gas heating is available but you need to take a cooking pot, utensils, sleeping bag, food and toilet paper with you.
Between Mt Tongariro and Mt Ruapehu, Whakapapa.
Allow 4 to 5 days.