Tongariro National Park earned dual UNESCO World Heritage status for its combination of Maori cultural and natural features. Located on the central North Island, the park offers visitors several options for exploring the volcanic terrain. If you want to shorten the multi-day Tongariro Northern Circuit, a New Zealand Great Walk, then consider the popular Tongariro Alpine Crossing day hike.
Those who tackle the 26-mile (43-kilometer) Northern Circuit must make Great Walk reservations and book hut (or campsite) tickets in advance. Typically, hikers opt for the 12-mile (19-kilometer) Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The moderately challenging route takes you past lava flows, volcanic craters, and the Emerald Lakes (or optional side trip to the summit of Mt. Ngauruhoe). Alternatively, explore easier nature trails or see Tongariro National Park from above by helicopter. Two of New Zealand’s largest ski resorts are located on Mt. Ruapehu.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Check for hiking track and weather conditions, avalanche reports, and volcanic eruption risk, including explosion pits and lava flows on Tongariro.
- Most alpine routes are located above the treeline. Bring a waterproof raincoat and pants, warm gloves and hat, wool or fleece layers, and sun protection.
- Don’t forget sturdy hiking footwear, water, high-energy food, first aid, and a map.
- You’ll find maps and information about weather, hiking tracks, and current trail conditions, plus 24-hour phone access, at the visitor center located in Whakapapa Village.
How to Get There
Equidistant from Auckland and Wellington on the North Island, Tongariro National Park is easily reached via paved roads. The Northern Explorer scenic railway stops at National Park station, or shuttle bus service—departing from National Park Village, Taupo, Turangi, or the Base Camp or Ketetahi parking lots—can take you to Whakapapa Village and the hiking trails,
When to Get There
The Great Walks season typically runs from mid-October until the end of April. The track can get crowded, so it’s best to arrive early in the day and take your time. Before setting out, be sure to check the latest forecast, as the weather is changeable in every season and can reach extremes of cold and wind, even in summer.
Why Tongariro Is Culturally Significant
New Zealand’s oldest national park lies at the end of a 1,550-mile (2,494 kilometer) string of volcanoes. The UNESCO-listed area is sacred to the Maori people as a connection point between earth and sky. Also within the park, the Pihanga Scenic Reserve includes Lake Rotopounamu, Mt. Pihanga, and the Kakaramea-Tihia Massif. The reserve is especially significant to the Maori people, who celebrate the love between Pihanga—considered a powerful female mountain—and her equally strong male counterpart, Tongariro.