The Tama Lakes hike is one of the lesser-known walks in New Zealand. The 17km hiking trail is a great alternative to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing as it’s less challenging, but has an equally breath-taking scenery. Volcanoes, waterfalls and alpine landscape: what more could you possibly want from a hike?
After eight years I was finally back in New Zealand, this time on the North Island. Thanks to bagging myself a ridiculously cheap flight I now had 12 days to explore the North. My first stop was the Tongariro National Park. The number one thing on my list of things to do during my stay was the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of New Zealand’s most popular day hikes. Unfortunately it started to rain just hours after my arrival in Auckland and the rain seemed to follow me South as I made my way to the Tongariro National Park.
My first day in the area was a wet one thanks to constant rain. Thankfully I had planned for bad weather and booked an extra night in the hostel. I was determined to do the hike in decent weather conditions to be able to capture the experience.
You can imagine my disappointment when I got up at 6am the second morning, only to find out that due to extreme winds the visibility on the trail was horrendous and hostel staff were advising only pros to attempt the hike in these conditions. The weather at lower altitude looked a lot more promising, so I decided to the Tama Lakes Trail instead.
Tama Lakes Hike
The starting location of this hike is at Ngauruhoe Place, just a short walk from the visitor centre Whakapapa Village. So unless you’re based in the village, you’ll need a car or share a ride with someone to get you to the starting point. There is a car park available at the Visitor Centre of Whakapapa, which is free of charge. The Tama Lakes Walk is a loop, no need to mess about with sorting out transport to pick you up at the other end.
Ngauruhoe Place – Taranaki Falls Walk
The first section of the Tama Lakes Hike will take you to the picturesque Taranaki Falls. In order to get there you can choose between the Lower or The Upper Falls Track. I recommend choosing one on the way out there and leave the other for the way back. This way you can mix things up a little and have something to look forward to on the way back.
Both the Lower and the Upper Taranaki Falls Trail will take you through some lush-green forests, which to me (coming from the land of dark, pine forests – Germany) had a very fairy-talesque feel to them and not the kind where little red riding hood gets eaten by a wolf. Anyway, I digress.
After approximately one hour you’ll get to the Taranaki Falls. The perfect spot to have a little break before you continue on to the next part of the hike.
TOP TIP: Short on time or don’t feel up for a full day hike? Just do this part of the hike. The Taranaki Falls Walk is an easy 2 hour loop with plenty of visual rewards.
Taranaki Falls – Lower Tama Lake
This section is the longest one of the Tama Lakes hike. Continue on the Tama Lakes trail, like all hiking trails in New Zealand, this is very well sign posted. The path will take you through the extremely photogenic grassland and stunning alpine landscape.
Even though it was late autumn (May), it was very mild. It was warm enough to hike in a t-shirt and roll up the legs of my hiking pants. I noticed a very abrupt change in conditions about half way between the Taranaki Falls and the Lower Tama Lake. The wind was suddenly very strong and only continued to get stronger the closer I got to the lakes.
The Tama Lakes Track is known to be very windy, so be sure to pack a windproof jacket, even if it seems like a warm and mild day when you set off.
After you cross a little stream you will get to a turn-off point. Continue left to the Tama Lakes as the main track will take you to the Northern Circuit, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.
Shortly after you will reach the Lower Tama Lake (1240 metres), a beautiful blue volcanic lake. There is a view point here which is a nice spot for a photo break or a picnic lunch.
Lower Tama Lake – Upper Tama Lake
Once I reached the Lower Lake the wind had gotten so strong that I had to wear gloves and cover my face with my hood and scarf as much as possible. The last part of the hike presented me with quite a challenge.
The track to the Upper Tama Lake is made up of loose gravel and follows a very steep ledge to the top of the Upper Lake viewpoint. As soon as I started walking up the ledge the wind started carrying my legs to the left. By that point I was low on energy and didn’t have enough strength to push myself up the final part. I found shelter behind a large rock on the ledge and decided to wait there for my hiking buddies to return.
So instead of a nice picture from the top, I thought why not share the story of how I went from super chilled to a panic-fuelled search mission in volcanic mud. I suddenly had a horrible thought. Where did I put the keys for my rental car? I left my sheltered spot to find some even ground. I opened up my backpack to search every nook and cranny of the bag. Nothing. Had I lost the keys somewhere on the trail? My head was filled with a horrible vision of having to call my rental car company in Auckland to ask for emergency assistance. After 10 minutes of digging through my pack in the mud I finally found them in a tiny pocket on the belt.
After all that panic I was more than ready for lunch and picnic with a view more than made up for it.
The return hike will take you along the same path and depending on your speed last 2.5 – 3 hours.
Convinced that the Tama Lakes Hike is for you? Here is a summary of all the facts and tips you need to know before walking the track.
- Length: 17km
- Time: 5-7 hours return (depending on the amount of photo breaks you take)
- Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
- Dogs: No
- Toilets: No, just good old mother nature
Tama Lakes Hike Map
What to take on your Tama Lakes Hike
I would recommend wearing warm layers and taking a wind & water proof jacket. If you’re walking the track during off-season, consider taking gloves, a scarf and hat to keep you warm. Make sure to take plenty of water & food as this is a day hike and you will be walking constantly for several hours.
Pop into the Whakapapa Visitor Center before you start your hike to find out more about the current track and weather conditions.
Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the scenery and maybe an extra battery. I promise you won’t be short of things to photograph during this hike.
Love hiking as much as I do? Read more about my hiking experiences around the world in Hiking Kotor Bay: Wild Beauty & Unexpected Encounters.
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