Tongariro National Park, located in the central part of New Zealand’s North Island, is home to three active volcanoes: Mount Ruapehu (the highest peak on the island), Mount Tongariro, and Mount Ngauruho. It is one of the most popular places on the North Island for day, multi-day and winter sports. The island’s two main ski fields are on Ruapehu. The park was New Zealand’s first national park and is listed as a World Heritage Site.
Three volcanoes dominate the landscape: Ruapehu (2,797 m), Ngauruho (2,291 m) and Tongariro (1967 m). Geologically, Ngauruhoe is a secondary vent of Tongariro, but is otherwise considered a separate mountain. They are all active: Tongariro last erupted in November 2012, Ruapehu in 2007 and Ngauruho in 1977. Ruapehu also has a crater lake that can sometimes overflow into nearby rivers and form lahars; on Christmas Eve 1953 151 people died when one such flood destroyed the Tanjivai railroad bridge minutes before the Wellington-Oakland night express was due to depart. There are also a large number of dormant and extinct volcanoes scattered across the landscape.
Tongariro National Park Attractions
Wakapapa Visitor Center (Tongariro National Park Visitor Center), Wakapapapa Village, ☏ +64 7-892 3729. December-March from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm; April-November 8: 00 am to 5: 00 pm; closed December 25. Get current information on trails, ski areas, weather and avalanches. See exhibits on volcanoes, flora and fauna, and the history of the park. Buy maps, souvenirs, postcards, books and clothing. Get cabin tickets, hunting and fishing permits and order Great Walks. The lobby is open 24 hours a day, with a pay phone, weather and track information. Duty-free admission. A small fee for two audio-visual shows.
What to do.
Skiing and other winter sports. Winter. Mount Ruapehu has two ski resorts, Wakapapa (near the national park) and Turoa (near Ohakune). The hike to the top of Mount Ruapehu from either ski resort is worth the effort. The views of the crater are breathtaking.
Short summer hikes on Ruapehu, Mt. Bruce Road. Short (up to 2 hours) summer volcanic walks.
Climb to Ruapehu Crater. Climb to the top of the Dome overlooking Crater Lake. The crater could explode at any time. As of May 2016, the Department of Conservation recommends that you do not go outside the Dome equipment shed or inside the crater within 400 m of the lake.
Walking. There is a range of walks, from very short to week-long. Of the Visitor Center, there are several short hikes (half day or less). Taranaki Falls (about 3 hours) is a great walk that takes you through the forest, through the bush, and even through the lava line of past volcanic explosions.