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BUG New Zealand travel guidebook

Destination guides > Pacific Islands > New Zealand > Manawatu-Wanganui > Ruapehu District > Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park – New Zealand’s first, and the world’s fourth, national park – encompasses several of the North Island’s largest active volcanoes, including Mounts Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. The majestic Mount Ngauruhoe is perhaps the most easily recognisable with its distinct conical features, while neighbouring Mount Ruapehu is the largest skiing and snowboarding area in New Zealand, home to the Whakapapa and Turoa ski resorts. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


There are several excellent hiking trails in Tongariro National Park including the four-day Tongariro Northern Circuit, the six-day Round the Mountain and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, widely considered New Zealand’s best one-day walk. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing traverses a spectacular volcanic setting of craters, lava flows and thermal lakes.
Several companies operate transport to and from the trailhead from Taupo, Turangi, Ohakune and National Park Village, making the Tongariro Alpine Crossing a popular day trip. The park also has some good shorter walks from Whakapapa village as well as the climb to Mount Ngauruhoe’s summit.


In April 2008, tragedy hit when a group of students and a teacher were swept away by a flash flood while canyoning in Tongariro National Park. Six students and one teacher were killed.

Practical information

Whakapapa Visitor Centre

State Highway 48, Whakapapa Village
Tel (07) 892 3729
Open 8am-5pm daily

Coming & going

Although both Taupo and Turangi make good bases for Tongariro National Park, the smaller towns of National Park and Whakapapa Village are a more convenient alternative. National Park is on the rail line for trains between Auckland and Wellington and is also a stop for long-distance coach services. There are shuttle buses connecting National Park and Whakapapa Village.


Several hostels in Taupo organise transport to and from Tongariro National Park specifically aimed at day-trippers hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Hiking

Hiking is the main attraction at Tongariro National Park. There is a wide selection of walks that range from an easy 15-minute stroll to demanding multi-day treks.

SHORT WALKS FROM WHAKAPAPA VILLAGE

There are several day walks from Whakapapa Village, with most of them departing from near the information centre.


The shortest is the Whakapapa Nature Walk (15 minutes) that starts 250m from the information centre taking in some of the regions unique flora.


The Mounds Walk (20 minutes) starts 5km south of the information centre. This interpretive walk takes you past mounds that were formed thousands of years ago by Ruapehu’s volcanic activity.


The Ridge Track (30-40 minutes) is another short walk that departs from the information centre. This walk climbs through beech forest to the ridge where you are rewarded by panoramic views.


The varied Silica Rapids Walk (7km, 2½ hours) leaves from the information centre and follows a stream before arriving at Silica Rapids.


Taranaki Falls Walk (6km, 2 hours) is a longer walk that takes you to Taranaki Falls, which drop over a lava flow into a pool surrounded by boulders.


Whakapapaiti Valley Walk (4-5 hours) is a diverse walk through beech forest and along mountain ridges with fabulous views.

TONGARIRO ALPINE CROSSING

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing (17km, 6-8 hours) is the most popular hiking trail in the park and many people describe it as the world’s best one day hike. It starts with a climb up to the saddle between the summits of Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro and passes breathtaking scenery and then travels downhill to the finish line at Ketetahi car park.
There are several side trips that you can take; these include climbing to the summits of both Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro and a short hike to Soda Springs.


You can walk this trail in either direction but most people start in the Mangatepopo Valley as this route involves less climbing. Much of the hike is over steep volcanic rock and it is recommended that you only undertake this trek if you’re reasonably fit.


Most people complete the Crossing in one day, but there are two huts and campsites on the track so you may want to make it a two-day hike if you plan on tackling some of the side trips. Some people spend the first night at Mangatepopo hut so they can get an early start the following morning and beat the crowds that arrive by bus between 7.30am and 8.30am. It is possible to combine part of the Northern Circuit with the Tongariro Crossing, which enables you to start the walk from Whakapapa Village – this option involves hiking between Whakapapa and Mangatepopo Hut and adds an extra 8.5km (3-5 hours) to the hike.

Transport to the Crossing

Several companies operate shuttle buses for hikers tackling the Crossing.


There are several shuttle bus services between National Park Village and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing including a daily shuttle operated by Plateau Lodge (tel (07) 892 2993), which costs $25 return.


Tongariro National Park Shuttle Transport (tel (06) 385 8561) run a shuttle from Ohakune. The return trip costs $25.


Alpine Hotbus (tel 0508 468 287) operates a daily shuttle bus for hikers tackling the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It departs Taupo at 6.15am with an additional 5.30am service during summer (Nov-Apr) and Turangi at 7am with an additional 6.15am service during summer (Nov-Apr). The return fare is $35 from Taupo and $45 from Turangi.


The car park at the trailheads is notorious for theft and even if you have your own car it is advisable to take one of the shuttle buses.

TONGARIRO NORTHERN CIRCUIT

The Department of Conservation (DOC) classifies the Tongariro Northern Circuit (50km, 3-4 days) as one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. It takes in the more spectacular parts of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, including the saddle between Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro. Most people start and finish the Northern Circuit at Whakapapa Village, but some people start at Mangatepopo as this ties in nicely with many of the shuttle bus operators who drop off here for hikers doing the Tongariro Crossing.


The Northern Circuit is broken into four main sections, each ending at a hut making it possible to spend four days on the Circuit.


If you’re starting at Whakapapa, the first section goes from Whakapapa Village to Mangatepopo Hut (8.5km, 3-5 hours) where it meets up with the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. You get a nice view of Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro but this stretch can get muddy after wet weather.


The next section goes between Mangatepopo Hut and Oturere Hut (11km, 5½ hours). The stretch between Mangatepopo Hut and Emerald Lake follows the same route as the Tongariro Crossing along the saddle between the two mountains. It is possible to make side trips from here to the summit of both Mount Ngauruhoe (3 hours return) and Mount Tongariro (2 hours return). At Emerald Lake the track splits between the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and Northern Circuit, which descends into the Oturere Valley with views of the valley and the Rangipo Desert.


The section between Oturere Hut and Waihohonu Hut (8.5km, 3 hours) is a fairly easy day that passes several streams and open fields of volcanic gravel.


The home stretch from Waihohonu Hut back to Whakapapa Village (15½km, 5½ hours) follows the Waihohonu Stream before climbing the often windswept Tama Saddle. The track passes the lovely Taranaki Falls about an hour before it ends back at Whakapapa Village.

MOUNT RUAPEHU CRATER CLIMB

The Mount Ruapehu Crater Climb (5 hours) is the most challenging one-day hike on the national park. You need to take the Waterfall Express chairlift to the start of the walk. There are two main routes to the crater, but they are unmarked making it essential to bring along a good map and compass. During winter you’ll need crampons, an ice axe and to be experienced in hiking and climbing in extreme conditions.

ROUND THE MOUNTAIN

The Round the Mountain hike (4-6 days) circumnavigates Mount Ruapehu and is accessible from either Turoa Ski Area (near Ohakune) or from Whakapapa Village. This hike features great mountain views, particularly of Mount Ruapehu, and is ideal for people who find the more popular walks too crowded.

Skiing & snowboarding

The Mount Ruapehu Ski Area is New Zealand’s largest and has two resorts, one on either side of the mountain.


Snowboarders and skiers alike love Turoa, which features long runs and New Zealand’s longest vertical drop (720m). Most people skiing at Turoa stay at Ohakune, which is only 17km away.


On north western side of the mountain is Whakapapa. It boasts great views of Mt Taranaki and is a popular resort for beginners while still providing challenging runs for more advanced skiers. Whakapapa has its own village on the mountain but many people base themselves at National Park Village, which is only a short distance away.


There are several lift passes available that allow you to ski at both ski areas. The Rocket Pass is designed for beginners and features three days of lessons, ski or snowboard rental and lift tickets for $285. Alternatively a one-day lift pass is $83 or $113 for a lift pass with ski rental or $123 for a lift pass and snowboard rental.


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