The 17 km return trail from Whakapapa village to Tama Lakes is an excellent warm-up for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, and an interesting hike in its own right, crossing ancient lava flows and icy mountain streams. The lakes fill craters left by volcanic explosions on Tama saddle, between Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom), with outstanding panoramic views across the National Park. The hike to Upper Tama Lake takes 5-6 hours return, although care should be taken in high winds as the final stretch of the route over the Tama saddle is very exposed and the ground is loose underfoot.
The stunning Taranaki Falls tumble over the edge of a lava flow along the route, making rainbows in the afternoon sun. A shorter loop walk from Whakapapa to the waterfall, through birdsong-filled native bush, takes around 2 hours.