Backpack to Tama Lakes

Rate this Adventure New Zealand Tongariro Northern Circuit

Added by Sophie Burling

Great reward for such an easily accessible location. Snow capped mountains, wild landscapes, blue alpine lakes, and wide open spaces.

The Tama Lakes trail can be walked easily as a day hike but we chose to overnight to escape the crowds (very popular hike) and fully enjoy the landscape, as well as the beautiful stars, sunrise and sunset. We walked the track in early winter (June) which I think is the prettiest time to explore the area.

The trail begins as part of the Tongariro Northern Circuit, leaving from the end of Ngauruhoe Place, by the Skotel parking lot. The beginning of the track is also the Taranaki Falls track, and taking the upper track is easier walking with better views of the mountains. The trail is very well formed and extremely well maintained. 

After about an hour gently climbing through open tussock land you come to the top of Taranaki falls, a crystal clear river winding through grey, lichen crusted rock before spilling off the edge into the abyss below, the valley beneath the perfect cone of Mt Ngauruhoe opening up beneath you. Here the rail splits and you can either complete the Taranaki falls loop, continue on on the Northern Circuit (or Round the Mountain), or strike out for Tama Lakes. From Taranaki Falls it is 1.5-2 hours further to reach the lakes. 

Lower Tama Lake is a large, glowing blue lake nestled into an explosion crater, steep sided and almost perfectly round. Sandy flats at its mouth are criss-crossed by snaking streams of water, sluicing through the silt. Ruapehu stands imposing and alone on the skyline to the right. Rolling hills stretch to the east, late afternoon sun making their tussock clad mounding forms glow golden green, clouds throwing patchy shadows over the landscape. 

A climb up a steep rocky slope leads you up Tama saddle at 1440m, to the viewpoint over Upper and Lower Tama Lakes. Upper Tama Lake is more intimate feeling housed under that surreal conical peak of Ngauruhoe, which seems so close. Seeing as we hiked in June, snow already blanketed the mountain and lay over the saddle in patches. Areas in the craters hidden from the low traveling sun, were already well established in snow. Alpine herbs bravely jut from the exposed landscape, clawing from the settling snow, hardened against the bone chilling wind that seems to go right through you. Everything is warm hued in oranges and browns, dramatically offset by the harsh coldness of the landscape. 

A short walk down the Ngauruhoe side of Tama saddle brings you to a small flat area. We pitched out tent here, nestled in beside a rocky shelter for protection from the howling winds that frequent the area. As the sun set, we explored around our camp without our packs, admiring the view from rocky outcrops, soaking in the immense silence and solitude.

I spent a few hours outside in the dark later in the evening admiring the stars and doing some astrophotography. The clear skies and vast, humbling milky way above made the ice forming on my clothes, over my camera, and in my eyelashes worth it! Rising before dawn gave way to a stunning sunrise as the still sky turned various shades of blue, pink and yellow, painting the snow slopes of Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. The sun on our faces was very welcome after a cold and uncomfortable night in an ice-lined tent being buffeted by wind.

On the return hike we detoured to the lower Taranaki Falls trail, which brings you to the base of the magnificent falls. The falls spill out from a fissure in a rocky cliff face, falling into a small blue pool below, ringed by smooth grey boulders. This water then becomes the Wairere stream. Climbing over the mossy rocks behind the waterfall really lets you appreciate their power as the water pounds overhead, assailing you with noise and saturating your clothes with spray. The trail continues to shoulder the Wairere stream, winding in and out of beech forest until remerging at the carpark.

Pack List

  • Hiking shoes
  • Water
  • Many warm layers (gets very cold at night and can be a windy location as it's very exposed)
  • Waterproof and windproof layers
  • Meals if overnighting + cooker
  • Tent
  • Sleeping pad + sleeping bag
  • Camera

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Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Photography

Skill Level:



Year Round

Trail Type:



10.6 Miles

Elev. Gain:

1312.3 Feet



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Added by Sophie Burling

I love getting out and exploring wild places in my own backyard and abroad! I'm also passionate about photography. Primarily I ride showjumping horses, breeding, training and competing them and I'm also studying towards a BSc majoring in Genetics at Massey University.

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