Although popular, the track offers more of a backcountry experience than other tracks in the park.
In the context of a five day hike, the track is not difficult. Overall it sticks to a consistent altitude, though there are tedious steep sections.
There are significant un-bridged river crossings that may block travel during periods of rainfall.
Experienced hikers can complete the track year round. The track is mostly below the stable winter snowline, but is frequently snow covered for short periods. Sever weather is another winter hazard.
The track circumnavigates Mount Ruapehu, crossing the desolate Rangipo Desert on its eastern flank. The desert is unique, formed by volcanic sterilisation. The track includes the complete range of landscapes on offer in the park, alongside constant impressive views. Arguably, the Northern Circuit offers the same, in a more condensed package and an alpine traverse, while the Round the Mountain track compensates with solitude.
The track starts from Whakapapa village, but crosses Ohakune Mountain Road, making it possible to complete either half separately.
• Waihohonu hut needs to be pre booked as it is also part of the Northern Circuit, which is classed as a ‘Great Walk’. All other huts operate on a ‘first in’ basis, paid for with standard hut tickets.
• Mangaturuturu hut has bunk space for ten people only. Arrive early during peak season.
• There’s no shame in hitching a ride up the three kilometre stretch of Ohakune Mountain Road…. OK, there is some shame.
The track starts from Whakapapa village. Naked Bus provide a daily scheduled service to Whakapapa.
Matai Shuttles, based in Ohakune, provide transport to the track ends on Ohakune Mountain Road, and the Waihohnu track end on State Highway 1.