Tongariro National Park is very close to Taupo City and its namesake lake, 325 km by road south of Auckland and 330 km north of Wellington, on the so-called Volcanic Plateau, in the center of the North Island, New Zealand. It has an extension of 796 km², a little bigger than Singapore. It consists of 3 volcanoes and its surroundings:
- Mount Tongariro, to the north, which despite giving its name to the national park, is the lowest (1968 m altitude) and least relevant. It briefly erupted in 2012, forcing the closing of hiking trails.
- Mount Ngauruhoe, immediately south of the previous one, is an almost perfect volcano 2287 m high, which was used to film the Mount of Destiny from the Lord of the Rings movies.
- Mount Ruapehu, the largest, highest (2797 m) and most active of the three volcanoes, about 10 km south of the previous ones, is the most inaccessible on foot, but there are several ski slopes on its slopes, the most important ones in the North Island. Its last eruption was in 1996, although there are continuous alerts, the last in April 2019.
WHAT TO DO IN TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK
Access to the national park is free. Visitors, nationals and foreigners, come here for two main reasons:
- Hiking; if something has made the park famous (Lord of the Rings movies aside), are its trekking areas:
- The most known and frequented section is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, almost 20 km long, a linear route that is made in one day through the northern area of the park. The clinbs to the summits of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe mountains are in this section and can be made.
- Most of the above is a section of the North Circuit of Tongariro, a two to four day trek, which is one of the nine Great Walks of New Zealand.
- Another route, from three to six days, is the so-called Round the Mountain Track, around Mount Ruapehu.
- Apart from these, there are many short routes appropriate for walking during a day.
- Skiing on the slopes enabled for this purpose on the soples of Ruapehu volcano. The most important is in Whakapapa, but there is a second one in Turoa, which is accessed from Ohakune. The winter season is from June to October. The one-day pass for the ski lifts costs NZ $ 80 and can be used on both.
Other less popular but equally interesting activities:
- There are also some attractive routes for mountain bike lovers, but they do not pass through the central areas of the park. All can be done on our own by having a good map or in a group through an excursion. The most popular are:
- Ohakune Old Coach Road. The most popular, connects the train stations of Ohakune and Horopito by a rail that should have been converted into a railway line, but was not completed. The star is the Hapuawhenua viaduct, a magnificent bridge made of metal and wood in the style of the Canadian Kinsol Trestle; There are also some tunnels. 15 km.
- Fishers Track, 27 km, it starts at National Village Park, from where most of it is downhill. It is considered the most scenic.
- 42nd Traverse. 46 km and intermediate level.
- In the limits of the park in the east area we find Tongariro River, a popular place for rafting in New Zealand. The price is around NZ $ 150 per person for 2.5 hours, including all equipment. Tongariro River Rafting and Rafting New Zealand companies have excellent ratings. The same companies also usually offer freshwater fishing excursions.
- If we want to see the park comfortably and from a different point of view, Mountain Air company offers several scenic flights that fly over the park, NZ $ 125 per person.
- There are also climbing areas, but they are only recommended for experts.
The use of drones is not allowed.
WHEN TO GO
The volcanoes in Tongariro National Park are the most significant elevation that the winds find in their passage through the North Island, and rains are very frequent, as well as snow in winter. Even if it does not rain or snow it is very likely that the tops, or much of the plateau are covered with clouds. The temperature can vary dramatically, even on the same day. The maximum is around 25 ° C in summer and the minimum is -10 ° C in winter. During many summers, the tops of the three volcanoes are covered with snow and on the top of Mount Ruapehu snow is common throughout the year.
Needless to say, for most the best time to visit the park is summer (end of December, January, February and beginning of March), but even in summer it is possible that clouds or rain occupy the Park for days, so if the forecast is bad weather, for those who start and finish their trip in Auckland (the vast majority of travelers) it is recommended to continue the trip and try the visit when returning. Luckily the park is still not crowded considering its size and the number of tourists who visit it, so this is not an inconvenience to visit it in high season, especially for those who travel the country by motorhome, although it is convenient to book accommodation in advance at this time.
Winter, from May to October, is the time for ski lovers.
HOW TO GET TO TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK
The park is well connected by road. The three main towns, where we will find accommodation of all kinds, from ski resorts to campsites and a hostel, as well as shops and restaurants, are National Park Village, Ohakune and Whakapapa, all in the western part of the park:
- InterCity company has regular services, at least two a day, from the main cities in the North Island to National Park Village and Ohakune, although interestingly, not from Taupo. The trips from these cities cost from 40 NZ $. Naked Bus company no longer exists, it was absorbed by InterCity.
- To get from Taupo you have to take the InterCity to Turangi (5 a day, 40 minutes, from NZ $ 20) and from there change to a Tongariro Expeditions company shuttle.
- National Park Village and Ohakune also have a train station on the Northern Explorer line, between Auckland and Wellington, managed by KiwiRail Scenic. The train runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. It costs from 199 NZ $ for an adult, and allows unlimited stops in one direction, being able to take the train again and continue the trip days later.
- There are no buses to Whakapapa Village, which is curiously the main town because it is at the base of the ski slopes, but shuttles frequently leave National Park Village.
WHERE TO STAY AND EAT
Only in Whakapapa there are more than 15 accommodations for those who practice skiing and camping. There are also more than 15 accommodations in National Park Village, including another campsite and two hostels. Ohakune is bigger than the other two villages together, there are more than 30 accommodations of all prices.
All accommodations offer transportation for a price that varies according to distance, to the ski slopes or to the start of the most important hiking trails. Many have restaurants or cafes, and there are also independent restaurants, especially in Ohakune.
Remember that free camping is not allowed in New Zealand.