The Tongariro National Park is the beating heart of New Zealand’s North Island, and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its combination of stunning natural beauty and Maori cultural significance. The National Park is dominated by three volcanoes, and the Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu certainly live up to their reputations, with the latter two both used for the filming of Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Each of the volcanoes is active, and the 1978m tall Mount Tongariro erupted as recently 2012. Strangely enough, this hasn’t put off keen skiers and hikers from visiting the volcanoes, as they’re drawn by the North Island’s finest skiing facilities and a landscape of unforgettable scenery. The park is characterised by diversity, with vibrant mountain pastures, stunning lakes and a number of hot springs and waterfalls. Here are a few things not to miss when you visit…
New Zealand’s most popular one day walk
The Tongariro Crossing is conquered by over 70,000 people each year, and sees you traverse through the remarkable volcanic landscape around Mt Tongariro, alongside lava flows, lakes and craters. The track starts in the Mangatepopo Valley, before beginning the ascent up past the Soda Springs and toward the South Crater of Tongariro. As you head toward the volcano’s peak, you will take a ridge that leads to the still active Red Crater, and the highest point in the journey at an altitude of over 1800m. From there you will reap the rewards of your endeavour so far, with panoramic views, including the imposing silhouette of Mt Taranaki to the west.
If that wasn’t picturesque enough, as the track begins to descend you will come across three craters filled with crystal clear water, known as the Emerald Lakes, and coloured by minerals in the surrounding geothermal area. Continuing down will take you past another filled crater called Blue Lake, before the descent becomes less volcanic, and you reach a lush, refreshingly green forest. The average walker should take around eight hours to complete the trek, and transport needs to be arranged to pick you up at the end of the route.
The Tongariro Northern Circuit
For those looking for a more adventurous walk over the course of a few days, the Tongariro National Park is also home to one New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. The Northern Circuit is a 43km track which meanders around the Tongariro and the Ngauruhoe volcanoes. A walk through the theatrical volcanic landscape with its eerily coloured lakes, glacial valleys and craters puts you within touching distance of the best sights in this incredible World Heritage area. The entire walk takes around four days to complete, and is recommended for those with good levels of fitness.
Despite the ski fields in the Tongariro National Park being based on the active volcanoes, tourists still flock to the excellent resorts to enjoy both the fantastic snow conditions and the incredible panoramic views. Mt Ruapehu is home to two separate ski areas: Whakapapa and Turoa. Whakapapa has a designated beginner’s area, called Happy Valley, which provides a fantastic place for families to learn how to ski together. On the volcano’s western slopes, Turoa is suitable for all levels of ability, and is a particular favourite for snowboarders looking to challenge themselves on the natural half pipes formed by ancient lava flows. It’s normal for the season to begin in July and last until the end of spring. During the summer months, another definite for your itinerary is the chairlift from Whakapapa, which offers great views of the surrounding landscape.
On The Water
If the thought of volcanoes and lava filled craters fills you with dread and is a bit too hot for your liking, then there are countless activities on the nearby Tongariro River which might help to cool you down. Whether it’s white water rafting, kayaking or some old fashioned trout fishing, the waters of the Tongariro are full of potential adventure- without the prospect of getting boiled alive.