HIKING THE TAMA LAKES TRACK TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK
The Tama Lakes Track in the heart of Ruapehu and UNESCO Dual World Heritage site Tongariro National Park, is one of New Zealand's lesser known day walks, but is by no means any less incredible! This spectacular day walk boasts some of the most incredible views of Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe, and is surrounded by ancient lava flows, volcanic plains and of course the end goal which is the Lower and Upper Tama Lakes.
I first heard about the Tama Lakes track after I had completed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing for a second time and was looking for other options to hike in the area. After reading a little more about the Tama Lakes, the relatively easy hike involved and the absolutely magical views attainable, it left me wondering why this one isn't more well known and as popular as its neighbour the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
In my opinion the Tama Lakes track is much friendlier than the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, there are far less people, the track is a lot wider and well kept, and the views from the saddles of both the Lower Tama Lake and the Upper Tama Lake are astounding.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT THE TAMA LAKES TRACK
Distance: 17.6km return
Location: Whakapapa Village, Ruapehu, Tongariro National Park
Getting there: Travel to Whakapapa Village in Ruapehu. There is plenty of day parking available near the Tongariro Chateau and surrounding area. The Tama Lakes track begins on the Taranaki Falls Walking Track, 100 m below the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre on Ngauruhoe Place. Once reaching Taranaki Falls lookout, carry on to the Tama Lakes Track.
Time: 5-6 hours return via the same track
Elevation gain: 541 metres
Difficulty: Advanced (although I would stay this is more intermediate - advanced only during the winter months due to the alpine environment)
Accommodation: Camping permitted 500m off any track. Accommodation available at Whakapapa Village.
Safety: The track is fairly exposed for most of the way, and because you are entering an alpine zone, it is recommended you check the weather forecast and take extra warm clothes just in case you get caught out.
WHAT CAMERA GEAR I TOOK
Canon 5DMkiv body
Canon 16-35mm lens
Tamron 70-200 lens
Nisi Filters (10 stop, 6 stop and 0.9nd grad)
Lightweight travelling tripod
Spare battery x 2, charger and spare memory card
THE PHOTOS AND THE HIKE
The Tama Lakes track begins on the Taranaki Falls Walking Track which is an easy grade track that takes you to the beautiful Taranaki Falls lookout and continues down to the falls. Consisting of a walk through alpine tussock, and then through incredible Beech and Broadleaf forest, this track is magic just on its own.
When you reach the lookout you will see the magnificent 20 metre Taranaki Falls. Instead of taking the track down to the falls, you will carry on upwards and the track turns into the Tama Lakes Track.
This next part of the hike is on the well formed Tama Lakes track that crosses undulating alpine tussock, alpine streams, ancient lava flows and volcanic fields. I found this section of the walk quite easy and thoroughly enjoyed looking at the views of Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu from the path.
Further along the track you will branch to the left and after a short way you will find yourself at an incredible view over the Lower Tama Lake. I didn't take any photos from this location as I wanted to continue on to the Upper Tama Lake and get an elevated view over the Lower Tama Lake. This was however a good little spot to have a drink and short rest before the ascent to the Upper Tama Lake.
The ascent to the Upper Tama Lake is a steady climb but absolutely worth the extra effort to get there. From the saddle there are grand views over both sides of the trail.
On one side of the trail you have an incredible view over the Lower Tama Lake with Mount Ruapheu sitting so perfectly in the background, and then to the other side there is again a magnificent view this time with Mount Ngauruhoe and the Upper Tama Lake in the foreground.
There's also an opportunity to get out the long zoom lens and photograph Mount Taranaki peaking above the clouds in the distance!
BEING THERE TO PHOTOGRAPH THE SUNSET
I decided to hike the Tama Lakes Track just after lunchtime so that I would make it to the saddle of the Upper Tama Lakes by golden hour and sunset. Choosing to do this meant that I had golden light on both Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe during the golden hour, and colourful clouds for sunset.
It did mean that I had to hike back in the dark, but once off the saddle the trail is well maintained and I felt safe doing it by torch light. Please note however, I did have very good weather and it wasn't peak winter season so there was no danger from snow or slippery surfaces when I did this.
The other option would be to camp overnight and then you can enjoy the best of both golden light hours at sunset and sunrise, as well as some New Zealand astrophotography.
"I have listed the Tama Lakes Track as one of my Top 5 North Island Day Hikes and I would absolutely encourage anyone who is thinking of doing it, to get out there and experience this amazing hike and the incredible views that come with it."
I hope this blog might provide some inspiration to complete the Tama Lakes track and have the best time doing it.