Tongariro Crossing Waterfalls
Tongariro National Park / Ruapehu District / near Whakapapa Village, Manawatu-Wanganui Region (North Island), New Zealand
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Tongariro Crossing Waterfalls page was my waterfalling excuse to talk about the unforgettable hike between three active volcanos in a moonscape that was said to be the finest day tramp in all of New Zealand. We had to wait almost three days due to bad weather before we were finally able to make the demanding 17km (nearly 8-hour) tramp. So we were glad that we were flexible enough in our trip planning to at least wait out the particular series of storms that conspired to keep us from finally doing this much-anticipated hike.
The waterfalls that Julie and I encountered on this hike was Soda Springs and some obscure waterfall that I'm calling the "Ketetahi Hut Waterfall." There was also another waterfall near the end of the track, but we missed it as we were probably looking forward to finishing off the long hike and so we completely forgot about that last one. That said, we didn't necessarily have to do the entire tramp to visit all the waterfalls, but this was an example where the scenery and the experience of the Tongariro Crossing far outweighed the waterfalls as motivating factors.
Since we were staying in Whakapapa Village, we were able to make a booking for one of the popular shuttle services that took us to the trailhead at the end of Mangatepopo Rd and picked us up from the large car park at the end of the track at the far northern side of Tongariro National Park. We made this booking the evening before when we learned that the weather was predicted to clear up the next day.
When we were picked up from our accommodation at the agreed upon meeting time of about 8am, we were then dropped off to start off the hike at about 8:20am. At that point, we were part of a long train of trampers doing the one-way shuttle hike where the clear day afforded us gorgeous views of Mt Ngauruhoe, Mt Tongariro, and Mt Ruapehu - the three main volcanos providing the reason for Tongariro National Park's existence. The initial part of the track went through open tussock terrain with a gently increasing slope passing by some obscure tiny cascades in some of the gullies along the track as well as the Mangatepopo Hut. After almost 90 minutes from the trailhead, we eventually reached the Soda Springs waterfall, which was right at the start of the first serious climb.
True to its name, the waterfall emerged at the base of some cliffs as a spring. I'd imagine they put the "soda" in its name due to the water being laced with minerals and compounds as it undoubtedly traveled through the rich volcanic soil and aquifers on its way to this point. I was able to scramble to get a closer look at it, but I only went as far as the terrain would allow me as the ground became increasingly marshy and swampy the closer to the falls I went.
After getting our fill of the modestly-sized 15m falls, Julie and I then proceeded onto a steep and rugged climb on an ancient lava flow to the so-called Mangatepopo Saddle. We ended up spending about 45 minutes on this relentless climb that ascended 400m in 1.5km, where some sections even required us to use our hands as well as our legs to continue climbing. Once we made it up to the saddle, we earned some commanding views towards the west and northwest of the park (basically back in the direction we had come).
Next, we then hiked through an eerily flat area called the South Crater. This section went right in between both Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe, and there was even a side detour leading to the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe, which we didn't have the energy to do nor did we have the will as the clear skies were suddenly starting to give way to some clouds.
Once we made it past the end of the South Crater, we then made another climb. During this section, we were taxing our legs that were already feeling it from the initial climb up to the Mangatepopo Saddle. Further adding to the drama of the scenery was that we were really surrounded by barren moonscapes where it truly felt like we were in some place that humans were not supposed to be.
We made a climb up to another "gathering place" where we noticed some people were chilling out before continuing the climb. At least at this point, we knew that we would be making way up to the rim of the so-called Red Crater. During this ascent, there was another detour heading to the summit of Mt Tongariro, which we also didn't do. Plus, this section of track felt more like it was prone to be a little more slippery due to the loose pebbles that almost acted like ball bearings on the hard-packed dirt track. Julie and I felt this climb was perhaps the most dramatic section of the hike in terms of scenery (as well as the drama of expending a lot of energy to make it to the highest point of our tramp).
Eventually after an hour of hiking from the Mangatepopo Saddle, we began our descent from the rim of the Red Crater, and that was where we started to see the colourful Emerald Lakes. This might be the most photogenic part of the hike as the colourful lakes contrasted the moonscapes left behind by the volcanic activity that continue to rule this area. However, that descent was on loose scree so we were essentially sliding our way down, and we couldn't imagine how anyone would be able to hike up to the Red Crater in the reverse direction.
After making it down to the Emerald Lakes and having a picnic lunch, we then traversed another open and flat crater area called the Central Crater. Eventually after making it to the far end of this crater, the track then left the volcanic moonscapes and began a dramatic change of scenery as we started to return to tussock grasslands with dramatic views of the lakes and settlements just north of Tongariro National Park. After about another 75 minutes of hiking after leaving the Emerald Lakes, we eventually made it to the busy Ketetahi Hut.
Continuing on with the hike, we then continued our descent through the grassy tundra-like tussock lands before we started to notice an interesting two-tiered waterfall that came from a thermal creek. I wasn't sure if it had a name or if it was more than just another ephemeral waterfall, but I decided to call it the "Ketetahi Hut Falls" because it was so close to the mountain hut we had just arrived at. Just upstream from a creek crossing of the falls, there looked to be steam rising for a hot spring. I wasn't sure if people used to soak in that spring or not, but perhaps this was what the signs were warning us about urging visitors not to trespass into the Ketetahi Hot Springs area, which was said to be a Maori sacred site. Since the track passed through private Maori lands with permission from the landowners to allow the crossing to occur, it was best not to give reason to close off this hike completely by not respecting their wishes.
So we didn't go closer for a look, and we merely continued our descent as the scenery eventually turned into lush forest, which contrasted mightily from the barren and unforgiving landscapes we had just crossed to get here. We started to walk besides some stream, and it was probably around this point that we neglected to check out the last waterfall on this track (probably also unnamed). Eventually after about 7.5 hours from the start of the track, we made it to the car park at the end, where we waited for about 15 minutes for the shuttle to show up (one of 2 or 3 different pick-up times) and take us back to Whakapapa Village.
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This was about as close to Soda Springs as I could get. This preceded the steep climb up to the Mangatepopo Saddle
Almost to the apex of the Tongariro Crossing at the rim of the Red Crater, which dropped off to our right
Looking down at the dramatic Emerald Lakes as we were descending the loose volcanic scree from the rim of the Red Crater
Change of scenery as we left behind the desolate volcanic moonscapes towards tussock fields with expansive views of the lakes and farms to the north of Tongariro National Park
Lots of other trampers embarking on the Tongariro Crossing
Looking back at the signage at the start of the Tongariro Crossing
Looking towards Mt Ruapehu in the distance
This was one of the waterfalls we saw near the beginning of the hike
Looking back downhill as some other trampers behind us were eventually going to catch up to us
Walking on boardwalk that traversed some of the marshier sections of track
Getting closer to the steep uphill climb as the open scenery started to give way to imposing mountains and lava flows
Distant view of Soda Springs in context
A closer look at Soda Springs
Starting the brutal uphill climb up to the Mangatepopo Saddle with Mt Ngauruhoe looking imposing right above us
Looking back down at trampers who haven't quite gotten started on the uphill hike up to Mangatepopo Saddle
Direct eye-level look at Soda Springs from the steep uphill climb
Looking up at the ancient lava flow that we had to climb as we were following the poles
Assessing our progress as we looked back down at other trampers making their way up
Looking back down at the trail to the Mangatepopo Saddle from higher up the track. From this vantage point, I was hoping this photo might show just how rugged and steep this climb was
A small gathering of people as we had finally made it up to the Mangatepopo Saddle
Looking back down the slope from the Mangatepopo Saddle
After our rest on the Mangatepopo Saddle, we continued following the poles and climbed our way up towards the South Crater
Looking towards some snow along the crater walls of the South Crater
On the flat South Crater as we made our traverse across this pretty long section
Looking down at the desolate landscape as we made our way up to the rim of the Red Crater
Context of people on the edge taking a break before finishing off the climb up to the highest point of the Tongariro Crossing at the Red Crater
Looking back across the South Crater
Looking across a gorge towards the aptly named rim of the Rim Crater
Following some people down the slippery scree slope towards the Emerald Lakes
The further down the scree we went, the more of the dramatic Emerald Lakes could be seen
Looking across one of the Emerald Lakes (more like pools)
View towards another one of the attractive lakes in the area
Looking towards the Red Crater from within the Central Crater
Once we got past the Central Crater, the scenery to the north of Tongariro National Park started to open up
Volcanic moonscapes started to give way to brown tussock grasslands
Julie further up ahead of me while we were making our way to the Ketetahi Hut
Looking ahead towards the Ketetahi Hut
A lot of people were taking rest at the Ketetahi Hut before wrapping up the Tongariro Crossing
Looking down towards the thermal cascade that I called "Ketetahi Hut Falls"
Looking down at the context of the "Ketetahi Hut Falls"
Looking upstream towards what appeared to be a hot spring, that I believe might have been tapu
Eventually the track descended deep enough to where we re-entered lush temperate forest
Looking along a stream from a bridge on the Tongariro Crossing Track
Julie on the home stretch of the Tongariro Crossing
Joining in with the many other people who had just completed the Tongariro Crossing tramp and were awaiting the shuttle bus back towards Whakapapa Village
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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS
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I believe there were shuttle services from Whakapapa Village
, National Park
, and as far as Ohakune
. If you were somehow able to arrange for your own shuttle, here's the route that was taken (at least in our experience, where we caught such a shuttle from Whakapapa Village
From Whakapapa Village
, the van drove about 6km back downhill along SH48 to the SH47, then turned right onto SH47. It then drove the next 4.5km to the Mangatepopo Road on the right. The van took the unsealed road for nearly 6km to its end where we began the hike.
In order to drive to the other end of the Tongariro Crossing, we would have had to keep driving for another 13km beyond the turnoff for Mangatepopo Rd to the junction with SH46. Then turn right onto SH46 and drive for the next 6km to another unsealed road on the right, and at the end of that unsealed road (1km from the highway) was the large car park for the other end of Tongariro Crossing. However, with the shuttle service, there were pre-determined pick-up times (made known at the time of drop-off) from this other end of the crossing back to Whakapapa Village
For context, Whakapapa Village
was about 2 hours drive (143km) north of Whanganui
, which itself was about 2.5 hours drive (193km) north of Wellington
. From the other direction, Whakapapa Village
was about 3 hours drive (225km) south of Hamilton
, which itself was about 90 minutes drive (125km) south of Auckland
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For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.
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MAP OF THE FALLS
Click here for the full World of Waterfalls map
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For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.
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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES
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