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Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park

TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK

You’ve probably seen and heard of this region long before you’ll get to step foot in it. If you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, you may be familiar with some of this volcanic landscape especially the mountain that depicts Mt Doom. And if you’re someone who likes to take long strolls across an active volcano past steaming vents, across vast ridges, alongside bright crater lakes and down moonscape valleys, you’ll be aware that the Tongariro Crossing is regarded as one of the world’s best one day walks.

our first national park

This region that encompasses three active volcanoes was established in 1894 as New Zealand’s first National Park – which is probably why it’s sometimes referred to it simply as ‘National Park’. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site with dual status that recognises not only the outstanding landscape, but also the spiritual and cultural significance the landscape holds for the local Māori people and it also holds.

Mountain bikers and climbers flock to this area in summer for some challenging climbs. From late June to early November, the North Island skiers and snowboarders dash down the snowy slopes of Mount Ruapehu’s three ski fields which are serviced by the small town of Ohakune (also famed for a giant carrot – yes, it’s a thing).

FIVE MIGHTY MOUNTAINS – THREE ACTIVE VOLCANOES

Tongariro National Park is centered around five volcanoes, three of which are active, but don’t worry, they are constantly monitored and we will not go near them if there is an active risk. At 2797 metres, Ruapehu is the tallest of the mountains in this area and also one of the world’s most active volcanoes – having last erupted in 2007. Its frequent rumblings are reflected in its name which means 'pit of sound' in Māori. The mountain has eight permanent glaciers and small snowfields at the summit even in summer.

eruptions galore

Mount Tongariro is the northernmost and lowest peak in the park (1967m) and in 2012 the craters on its northern slopes erupted – closing down part of the hiking track for a few months. Northeast of Mt Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe (2287m) is the youngest volcano and its steep symmetrical cone rises out of a stark landscape. It’s considered active even though its last eruption was in 1977.

The two northernmost volcanoes (Pihanga and the Kakaramea-Tihia Massif) are dormant – having last erupted 200,000 years ago. Māori legend has it that the three active volcanoes were strong warriors who fought amongst each other for the female affections of Pihanga, thereby creating the dramatic landscape you see today.

THE TONGARIRO ALPINE CROSSING

Justifiably known as one of the world’s best day-hikes, the Tongariro Crossing is like a rite of passage for many Kiwis and international visitors.

It’s a 19.4km trek up-crater and down-crater over layers of ancient lava flows while being rewarded with astonishing views of volcanic peaks, red Mars-like craters and the emerald and blue lakes. The hike which rises to an altitude of 1120m is challenging but doable within seven to eight hours for most people with reasonable fitness.

tongariro on tour

If you’re on a Haka tour with us, we’ll organise everything for your Tongariro Crossing hike add-on, and if you stay at our Haka Lodge in Taupō, our amazing lodge staff will give you heaps of advice and book your shuttle transport to and from the crossing in advance.

The weather can change dramatically and quickly in this region, so prepare for encountering all conditions with adequate warm clothing layers, sunscreen, good footwear, energy-giving snacks and thirst-quenching water. The Crossing is part of the multi-day Tongariro Northern Circuit, which passes over Mt Tongariro and around Mt Ngāuruhoe and is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.

TONGARIRO STARS AS LORD OF THE RINGS LOCATIONS

When travelling the rugged Tongariro landscapes, Lord of the Rings fans may get flashbacks to the Peter Jackson films as this region is the cinematic double for the menacing Mordor and surrounding lands. Tolkien's motley crew of hobbits, elves, wizards, and other armed fellows roamed this land in the hopes of throwing the one ring into the fiery depths of Mount Doom (a.k.a Mount Ngauruhoe).

As well as Mordor and Mt Doom, Tongariro National Park features in scenes depicting the jagged rocks of Emyn Muil and Black Gate. Two of Gollum’s fishing spots are also to be found here: the beautiful Tawhai Falls and the magnificent Mangawhero Falls that tumble over the edge of ancient lava flow –“the rock and pool, is nice and cool.”. (Visit the statue of Gollum fishing in Matamata to complete your Gollum pilgrimage!). As some of the alpine desert flora within Tongariro National Park is so unique, Peter Jackson’s film crew placed down boardwalks and matting to help conserve the vegetation and wildlife. And, out of respect to the local Māori, the movie makers avoided capturing any footage of the mountain summits which are considered sacred to Māori.

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