If you lack the fitness, energy, or inclination to complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, this walk is a fabulous alternative (or walk both if you are staying in the region for a couple of days).
Shorter, less arduous and nowhere near as popular as the renowned Tongariro Alpine Crossing, it is nevertheless a spectacular track. The terrain includes volcanic lava, waterfalls, alpine shrubs, beech forest and tussock. And best of all you won't be sharing the track with hordes of trampers.
On a clear day, you will enjoy magnificent views of Mt Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu and Tongariro, two volcanic lakes – the lower and upper Tama Lakes, plus expansive views towards Desert Road.
The track starts from the end of Ngauruhoe Place, the first street on the left after the Chateau. There is a small car park at the end of the street, otherwise heaps of parking in nearby Whakapapa Village. The track to the Tama Lakes is an extension of the Taranaki Falls Loop Track, (be sure to take the other side of the loop track on your return journey, as the terrain is quite different). From the start point it is probably easiest to walk the upper section on the way and take the lower section past the impressive falls on the return.
When you branch off from the Taranaki Falls Track, follow the track that leads to the Tama Lakes and the Historic Waihohonu Hut (built in 1904 and no longer used) and the newer 28 bunk Waihohonu Hut. The route to the Tama Lakes is signposted and branches off to the left of the main track well before you reach the hut.
Conditions can change rapidly in this region so be prepared to turn back in adverse weather. In strong winds, the Tama Saddle acts as a funnel so always take a windproof layer, warm clothing, hat, scarf, gloves and a raincoat.
Allow 4- 5 hrs return.