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Tongariro National Park

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Tongariro National Park [1] is New Zealand's first national park and a World Heritage site. The park contains 3 active volcanos as well as 2 major skifields.


Chateau Tongariro


In 1993 Tongariro National Park became the first property to be inscribed on the World Heritage List under the revised criteria describing cultural landscapes. The mountains at the heart of the park have cultural and religious significance for the Maori people and symbolize the spiritual links between this community and its environment. The park has active and extinct volcanoes, a diverse range of ecosystems and some spectacular landscapes.

Established in 1887, Tongariro was the first national park in New Zealand and the fourth in the world. It is also a dual World Heritage area, a status which recognises the park's important Maori cultural and spiritual associations as well as its outstanding volcanic features.

It is a place of extremes and surprises, a place to explore and remember. From herb fields to forests, from tranquil lakes to desert-like plateau and active volcanoes - Tongariro has them all.

Location Tongariro National Park is located in the central North Island of New Zealand. The nearest towns are Turangi, National Park and Ohakune.

Flora and fauna[edit]

Weather changes very quickly here. Take good clothing even on sunny days. Cases of hypothermia are relatively common on this track due to poorly equipped people attempting the walk.

Get in[edit]

The Department Of Conservation (DOC) no longer likes people to leave their cars at the Mangatepopo end of the track due to a high number of thefts so the shuttles from Ketatahi at the end of the day do not drop people off at the Mangatepopo carpark. They will only drop you on the main road which is 7 kilometres from the carpark. Instead DOC is trying to encourage people to leave their cars at Whakapapa Village and get a shuttle to the start of the track and the shuttles from the end drop you back to Whakapapa village for $15

Tongariro Alpine Crossing[edit]

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a crossing of Mt Tongariro near Turangi, is extremely popular. It is crowded in summer. It is a great crossing in winter but due to snow, alpine skills, ice axe and crampons are essential. In winter, a high standard of navigational skill may be required as the poles marking the track may be buried in snow and mist may reduce visbility to 10m or less. In winter it is highly recommend to hire the services of local guiding companies.

This is a lengthy day walk from Mangatepopo road end to the Ketatahi road. Steep climbs, good views, volcanic terrain and colourful lakes. This is an alpine crossing, dangerous in bad weather. The only water en route is at two huts; one at the start of the track and the other at the end.

A side trip to the summit of Ngauruhoe adds two hours of mostly hard, steep walking, but provides excellent views on a good day, and a great run down the scree slopes on the way back. A short and easy side trip (one hour return from Red Crater) can be made to the much less spectacular summit of Tongariro.

Red Crater can be entered from near the Emerald Lakes by walking up the steaming slope south of the lakes. Frodo and Sam walked up this slope during their vacation in Mordor. Blue Lake is sacred to Maori and is tapu, so treat it with respect.

The track can be very busy, especially during summer where it can be an almost solid line of people as the tour buses all arrive between 7-8am. If possible try get to the start of the track before then and it will seem like you've got the whole place to yourself.

A more intensive option than the one-day walk is to do the three-day northern circuit. This begins at Mangatepopo or Whakapapa, heads over the crossing (Camping is possible in the north end of South Crater, there is usually water flowing from a spring here, but not in very dry weather), then makes a short detour to Blue Lake, then down to Oturere Hut. Lava formations make Oturere Valley fantastic in miserable weather. Oturere Hut has a great waterfall nearby.

From Oturere head across desert, then through beech forest to Waihohonu Hut. Another side trip leads to the stunning Ohinepango cold springs (15 minutes from the hut), then the track heads over the gentle Tama Saddle and back to Whakapapa. A side trip on this section leads to two deep explosion craters which form Tama Lakes.

There are camping spots by the stream or cold springs (to the north of Waihohonu Hut, not Ohinepango Springs, which are to the south) in Waihohonu Valley, and beside Upper Tama Lake (a bit hard to get to)

If hitch-hiking, the easiest way to the circuit is from the Desert Road (State Highway One, the main Auckland-Wellington road), taking the track to Waihohonu Hut (1 to 2 hours). You’ll need a map to know where to find the start of the track.

In good weather it’s possible to complete the circuit in two days, but three or four is more sensible.

It is advisable to arrange transportation to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

For Guides

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Whakapapa Visitor Centre, at the heart of the village is an ideal location for all who are interested in Earth sciences. The centre boasts two audio-visual displays and is a great place to buy postcards or souvenirs.

From the Visitor Centre there are several shorter treks (half day or less), particularly Taranaki Falls (approximately 3 hours). This is a great walk that takes you through forest and across scrubland and even across the lava line of past volcanic explosions.
Lava Line Sign

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Drink[edit][add listing]

Be very careful drinking water in the park. All of the huts have tanks to store rain water but in some, this is contaminated with giardia. Stream water can contain heavy metals from the volcanos. The positive of this is that the stream beds can have spectacular colours.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

Good place to stay for starting the crossing is the campsite in Turangi. You can arrange your pickup there.

  • The Crossing Backpackers, Erua Road East (off SH4), 07 892 2894, [2]. Backpackers and lodge with dorms, rooms and motel style family units. Global Gossip computers and WiFi, on site paintball arena, lots of free parking, big screen TV and Projector Room and much more. Price range from $15-120.
  • The Park Hotel Ruapehu, 2/6 Millar Street, National Park Village, [3]. affordable accommodation to suit all budgets - upmarket dorms, private rooms and motel style family units. Free parking, large lounge with open fireplace, on-site bar and restaurant. Tongariro Crossing packages including breakfast, packed lunches and transport to and from the track.
  • Riverstone Backpackers [4], Tongariro Alpine Crossing Transport, phone 64 7 386 7004, 222 Tautahanga Rd Turangi. Purpose built 18 person character backpackers. Set amongst native gardens with new kitchen, open plan living area and huge sun deck. Heaters in all bedrooms, blankets, full laundry facilities and always-hot showers. Log burning fire, fully insulated building and windows double-glazed. BBQ, hammocks, walk in drying room, and specialised gear storage facilities for snow and fishing gear. Fast Internet, Skype and laptop access.
  • Tongariro Holiday Park State Highway 47 Phone 07 386 8062. Positioned in the middle of the start and finish point it is in an excellent location to do the crossing without spending ages on a bus, has room for tents, campervans with electrical feed and a wide range of cabins. Site facilities include hot showers, laundry, communal kitchen with oven, hobs etc, tv and games room and a spa.prices range from $17-160

Stay safe[edit]

Get out[edit]

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