For sheer joy of damp, tussock-pulling athleticism, Mangatepopo rivals the Darrans and some parts of North Wales. But not all climbers are equal to the demands of such sporting rigours. More pragmatic visitors to these walls have steered clear of such routes, preserving both their mystique and the national park values. Yet there is much more to Mangatepopo. For a crag with a big-time atmosphere, Mangatepopo is surprisingly accessible, and there is solid rock with a pleasant, north facing aspect. Not all routes are psychologically demanding; there are many short, well-protected climbs that are ideal for learning to place natural protection. Developing the ability to find and place gear is essential before tackling the longer climbs, which include multipitch adventures through some spectacularly steep terrain. The crag’s long history means many styles of climbing are represented, including some aid routes and some bolted lines. Sport climbing, it should be said, has never really caught on here and is unlikely to. The summits of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe lie at the head of the valley, but most climbing is on Pukekaikiore on the valley’s south side. Pukekaikiore is thought to be one of the older vents of the Tongariro complex, and the lower cliffs bear the scars of the last ice age, when glaciers flowed down from Tongariro into the valley. If it is adventure you are after, there are plenty to be had. Perhaps Grant Davidson summed it up best in an early guide to the crag, when he wrote: ‘Take any description with a grain of salt, take a helmet and a good friend (perhaps not too good – epics sometimes involve yelling matches), watch out for loose rock and the weather, and good luck!’
The Mangatepopo valley lies beneath Tongariro and Ngauruhoe on the western side of Tongariro National Park. Access is by an unsealed road off SH47, which leads to a carpark under a small hill called Pukeonake. Although not such a problem for those who only park here during the day, be aware that theft and vandalism are rife.
From the carpark it is a 30 to 45 minute walk up the valley to the crags.
The Mangatepopo Hut is ideally situated as a base from which to climb, and is maintained by the park. However, from Labour weekend until the end of Queen’s Birthday weekend, the hut is on the Tongariro Circuit Great Walk. Dated Great Walk passes are required to stay at the hut during this time, which should be purchased before you arrive. There is an extra charge for passes bought from hut wardens.
Camping is prohibited within 500m of the track, but there is a campsite by the hut. You can use the hut facilities while camping there.