May 29, 2020

Tongariro National Park


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Lichen-covered volcanic slopes and barren lava flows, hot springs alongside snowfields, tussock lands and native beech forests, Tongariro National Park is an area with a rich diversity of landscapes and ecosystems.

The park encompasses an area abundant with historical, cultural and spiritual significance. Boasting outstanding volcanic features and impressive views of three spectacular mountains - Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu - this is both New Zealand’s oldest National Park and a dual World Heritage area.

Tongariro National Park is centrally located in the North Island, so conveniently located for those travelling from either the north or the south.


Interesting facts

  • The mountains at the heart of the park have cultural and religious significance for the Maori people and symbolise their spiritual links to the environment.
  • In 1887, a deed was signed between the Crown and the paramount chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa declaring the area sacred in order to preserve the sanctity and natural beauty of the three volcanic peaks.
  • Tongariro National Park was established by statute in 1894 and since then has grown in size from 2640 ha to around 79600 ha.


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Hiking opportunities 

In and around both Whakapapa Village and Ohakune are a number of short walking tracks from around 20 mins duration to longer day hikes up to 8 hours, so there are plenty of options if time is limited or if you have a full day to explore the park. There are also a number of multi-day hikes with hut accommodation.

Our Picks:

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

(19.4km one way, 7-8 hrs, challenging)

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is considered the best one-day walk in New Zealand, and with its varied and spectacular scenery and diverse terrain, it is easy to see why. Alpine vegetation, cold mountain springs and steaming vents, ancient lava flows, glacial valleys, emerald lakes and amazing views … this one-day hike allows you to experience it all.

The recommended direction to walk is from the Mangatepopo Road end (1120m), crossing over the saddle between Mounts Ngauruhoe and Tongariro, and passing through the craters of Tongariro before descending past Ketetahi Hut to the road end at 760m.


Taranaki Falls

(6km loop, 2 hrs, easy)

This easy walking track is one of the more popular short walks within the Park. It forms a loop from Whakapapa Village which can be walked in either direction; if taking the ‘lower’ track (clockwise direction), this passes through tussock and alpine shrublands before entering beech forest with abundant native birdlife. On a clear day, stunning views of Mounts Ngauruhoe, Tongariro and Pukekaikiore can be seen. Once the edge of the forest is reached, the track passes over the Wairere Stream with great views of a small narrow gorge. Further up the track, the 20m high Taranaki Falls come into view as they tumble over the edge of a large lava flow formed 15000 years ago during the eruption of Ruapehu.

From the falls, a climb of 100 steps leads to a forest of endemic mountain toatoa. A junction in the track leads you on to either the Tama Lakes (full day hike) or back to Whakapapa Village across a series of eroded gullies formed by weather action on volcanic soils. Layers of pumice and ash from previous eruptions can be seen before the track crosses through a field of red tussock and manuka as it reaches the village.


Tama Lakes

(17km, 5-6 hrs return, moderate fitness required)

The first section of the track to Tama Lakes begins on the Taranaki Falls Track; take a few moments at the falls to enjoy the view and the sounds as the falls plummet off the cliff into the pool below. From the Falls Track, the path crosses undulating tussock fields and alpine landscape before climbing up to Lower Tama Lake (1240m); on a sunny day, a mirror image of Mt Ruapehu can be seen in the lake.

The path then climbs quite steeply up to a viewpoint of Upper Tama Lake (1440m) – hiking poles can be helpful here for the sharp ascent on loose soils. From here, enjoy the rewarding panoramic views of Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe, and if the day is clear you can often see the peak of Mt Taranaki in the distance.

Return via the same track to the junction with the Taranaki Falls track; here you can either take the upper or lower Taranaki falls track back to Whakapapa Village.


Silica Rapids

(7km loop, 2 ½ hr, easy)

The track begins in Whakapapa Village, meandering through beech forest before crossing a bubbling stream with a gold-toned bed, the result of iron-oxide clays from upstream swamps. A section of boardwalk then crosses swampy ground where freshwater crayfish (koura) inhabit pools. From the boardwalk, enjoy great views of the mountains before the track enters dense bush as it follows the stream up to Punaruku Falls. The track emerges from a forest of snow totara and bog pine into fields of alpine herbs and flowers such as mountain daisies, harebells and ourisia.

The Silica Rapids can be found a little further along, where the stream bed widens and becomes a series of shallow terraces coated in creamy-white deposits. The Rapids are the result of water rich in aluminium and silicate minerals flowing from the lava cliffs at the head of the valley. As the water gathers speed it becomes aerated, depositing the minerals on the stream bed.

From the Rapids, the track climbs onto a tussock-covered lava flow, then descends through tussock and sub-alpine shrubs before joining a road back to the village.


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Hassle-free hiking

Join us on one of our North Island trips and let us take the hassle out of your planning.

Ultimate North

This 8 day Kiwi style trip is the ideal choice for those who have a little less time but want to experience the very best that the North Island can offer. Discover the surreal volcanic wonderland of Tongariro National Park, staying high above the world in an alpine hut. 


Northern Portion

Our 5 day Northern Portion offers the best of both worlds, exciting hiking trails by day and stunning hotel accommodation by night. The Tongariro Crossing is a real highlight of this trip with the added bonus of staying two nights in a hotel on the edge of the park, providing spectacular room views and a great opportunity for you to explore the area at your leisure.


Tongariro Hike

If you have a long weekend coming up, ask us about the 3 day Tongariro Hike! You won't find a better way to spend your weekend than hiking around alpine lakes, sparkling rivers, breath-taking lunar landscapes, lush rainforest and alpine meadows. Check out New Zealand'd highest mountain, Mt Ruapehu (2797 meters) and grab a drink at NZ's highest cafe.


Hot tips

Grab a coffee and a bit to eat in between discovering some of the great short walks within the park or relax over a drink and dinner at the end of the day, enjoying the view over the park as the sun sets.

Whakapapa village has a number of great dining options, from the alpine-themed Tussock Bar & Restaurant to the relaxed Pihanga Cafe and more formal Ruapehu Room, all within the Chateau Tongariro. The Skotel Restaurant and Bar offers the chance to unwind over a drink or a meal, while watching the sun set over Mt Ngauruhoe.

The weather in New Zealand’s mountains can be unpredictable and change rapidly, so it would be a good idea to allow yourself an extra day or two in the park so you can pick the best weather day to complete the Tongariro Crossing. The Northern Portion and Tongariro Hike both offer extended stays in the park to allow you to experience the Tongariro Hike on the better day.

Be prepared for cold, windy and wet conditions even if you are beginning your hike on a clear, calm and sunny day. Ensure you take at the very least, sturdy footwear, a rain jacket, warm clothing, sunhat, sunblock, lunch, snacks and a full water bottle. Potable water is limited.

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