Tongariro National Park

By Emily

What is Tongariro National Park?

Tongariro National Park is one of three UNESCO World Heritage sites in New Zealand. This stunning place of beauty is known for its diverse landscape including incredible volcanic peaks, alpine meadows, stunning waterfalls and emerald lakes.

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Text: Tongariro National Park, New Zealand. Images: views of the volcanic mountainous terrain.
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Nestled in the heart of the North Island, Tongariro National Park is the oldest National Park in New Zealand, and one of the oldest in the world. The park lies in the shadows of three active volcanoes: Mount Tongariro, Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe.

Tongariro National Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers and anyone who enjoys stunning mountain scenery. The site is also a popular destination for Lord of the Rings fans after Mount Ngauruhoe served as the filming location for Mount Doom in the popular trilogy.

Why is Tongariro National Park a UNESCO World Heritage site?

Tongariro National Park was declared a UNESCO site back in 1993. It was the first place in New Zealand to make it onto this important list. According to the UNESCO website, Tongariro’s mountains “have cultural and religious significance for the Maori people and symbolize the spiritual links between this community and its environment.” The park is also a UNESCO site because of its geological interest – active and extinct volcanoes – as well as its variety of ecosystems and “spectacular landscapes.”

View of a very dry landscape and volcano.

What can you expect on a visit to Tongariro National Park?

Tongariro is a place of raw beauty and adventure. If you enjoy the great outdoors, Tongariro is a must-visit while in New Zealand.

The landscape is filled with incredible volcanoes, stunning lakes and towering waterfalls. The main activity in Tongariro is hiking. There’s a range of shorter and longer hikes available which allow you to explore this magnificent destination.

Tongariro is known for its unique volcanic landscape and one of the best ways to experience this is by tackling the Tongariro Crossing. This day hike has been voted one of the best day hikes in the entire world. The hike is a challenging 12 miles (19.4km) in length and requires some organisation ahead of time. Hikers are taken on a journey across a vast and eerie volcanic landscape with views like no other.

Tongariro National Park is also home to the Northern Circuit hike. This is one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks. If hiking isn’t your thing, there are several other activities including white river water rafting and skiing during the winter months.

View over a meadow to mountains.

Is Tongariro worth visiting?

Tongariro National Park is absolutely worth visiting. This unique National Park is one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand.

If you’re not a keen hiker, I’d still recommend a visit to Tongariro on your road trip through New Zealand. Just a drive through this incredible area boasts spectacular scenery and the chance to see volcanoes.

View of a dry mountainous landscape with, below, two lakes of brilliant aqua blue.

What sort of travelers would like Tongariro?

Tongariro is a true place of raw, wondrous beauty and I believe it’s a destination anyone can enjoy. For those who love nature, hiking and being out in the wilderness, Tongariro National Park is particularly special.

The Tongariro Crossing itself is a long hike and might not be suitable for everyone, especially children. However, there are several other shorter hikes in the park including Taranaki Falls.

Tips for visiting the park

If you’re planning to hike the famous Tongariro Crossing, it’s important to plan ahead of time. You’ll need to have a shuttle organised to complete the hike. These need to be booked well in advance.

While the Tongariro Crossing is the park’s main attraction, there are several other hikes to do in the area. Consider spending more than a day in the area to see more of this wondrous place. A personal favourite hike of mine is the Tama Lakes hike.

The weather can be very unpredictable here. The forecast is rarely 100% accurate. You’re heading out into a wild, alpine environment so it’s important to be prepared. Be sure to have layers, waterproof clothing, sun protection and suitable shoes.

Tongariro is also a fantastic ski destination. While the crossing itself isn’t doable in the winter months, you can still explore the park.

If you have a campervan, there’s a fantastic freedom camping spot in the National Park village. This is owned by KiwiCamp. The camping itself is free and you’ll be able to use the bathrooms. For warm showers or to use the kitchen, you’ll need to pay.

Otherwise, there are plenty of other accommodations in National Park village.

Where is Tongariro National Park?

Tongariro is in the center of New Zealand’s North Island. The visitor center is in the village of Whakapapa.

Tongariro is just over an hour’s drive from the nearby town of Taupo. If you’re heading down from Auckland, you’re looking at a 4-hour drive.

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The best way to get to Tongariro National Park is by driving. There is ample free parking in the National Park. However, if you’re planning to do the Tongariro Crossing, you’ll need to book a shuttle.

For those without a car, InterCity Busses run a service through the park. You’ll struggle to get around when you’re there, but some of the shuttle busses do stop at hostels and hotels.

For more information about Tongariro National Park, including its opening hours and visitor fees, see its official website.

Text and photos provided by Emily of Journey by Backpack.

Have you been to Tongariro? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!

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