Time: 5.5 to 6 hours
Distance: 14 kms
The route from Oturere Hut to Mangatepopo follows the famous Tongariro Crossing, although in the opposite direction from the more popular way. Be warned this section of the track will be incredibly busy and after two days of relative wilderness hiking, it was a bit of shock to me to come across so many people.
However the day started with a flat hike through even more incredible scenery. The scenery for the first hour and a half is truly out of this world, it really does feel like you are walking through some alien landscape. All the time Ngauruhoe is looking down on you from high and when you do glance up, you can clearly see the Crossing hikers streaming like ants over the peak at Red Crater and down to the Emerald Lakes.
About 3 to 4 kilometres from Oturere, the track climbs steeply to meet the Crossing at the Emerald Lakes. From here there are stunning views back to the east overlooking the surreal, stark landscape you have just traversed and onwards to the contrasting forest-clad Kaimanawa Ranges.
Turning left and against the steady flow of Crossing trampers, the route climbs to the summit of Red Crater and possibly the highlight of the four day tramp. At the 1868m peak there is an amazing 360 degree view encompassing the Ngauruhoe and Tongariro peaks as well as the Red Crater itself. On clear days Mt. Taranaki can be seen off to the south-west.
I stopped at the top for lunch and a well-deserved break, and chatted with other hikers, most of whom were heading to Oturere. It was going to be a busy night at the hut that night!
From Red Crater it's downhill all the way to Mangatepopo, a welcome relief for my legs after the 500m climb up from Oturere. Also by now the Crossing horde was petering out, which was handy as the route down from Red Crater whilst not difficult is narrow. Before dropping into South Crater, it's worth taking a last east-ward glimpse from the Mangatepopo saddle.
As the track crosses the barren South Crater, westward views start to appear with an amazing scene from the edge of the crater. Here the descent really begins and DOC have made a new track down to the Soda Springs avoiding the old more direct route which was called the 'Devil's Staircase' if I remember correctly.
The new route does meander a bit but is probably easier on the legs than the old one. At the bottom there are some long drops for those in need of a 'pit stop'.
From here there is a short side trip to Soda Springs with Mangatepopo Hut just over 90 minutes away. The hut is spacious again a couple of bunk rooms and a large campsite at the rear.
The hut has a warden and comes with gas cookers and heaters. Due to the hut only being 30 minutes from the road end, it's a great place to spend the night so you can make an early start on the Crossing the next day. Consequently for me it was the busiest hut on the circuit.Day Four - Mangatepopo Hut to Whakapapa Village >>>
Category: Great Walk Hut
Heating: Log Burner
Water: Rain water tank
Cost: Great Walk Hut ticket