In search of fairy folk at Mount Ngongotaha

In the hills above Rotorua, are pale-skinned spirits lurking?

Just 10 km northwest of Rotorua is the town of Ngongotaha, sitting at the foothills of the mountain of the same name. Villagers call their spot the 'Sunny side of the Mountain' and are proud to live near a place of legendary significance.

Ancient Māori stories speak of an ancestral figure called Ihenga, a famous explorer who discovered patupaiarehe (mystical or fairy people) living on the mountain. It is said that Ihenga was exploring the mountain when one of these pale spirit beings appeared and offered him a drink of water from a calabash or gourd. This is the origin of the mountain’s name, with ‘ngongo’ meaning to drink and ‘tahā’ a calabash.

Formed by several eruptions, Mount Ngongotaha is the largest of the rhyolitic dome volcanoes in the Rotorua volcanic centre. Today the mountain forms part of a scenic reserve of 524 hectares and includes popular walking tracks that allows visitors beautiful views of regenerating bush, native forests including large Rata trees and striking flora and fauna. The size and majesty of the surroundings and the density of the native bush mean the story of Ihenga and the patupairehe won’t be far from your mind as you near the summit.

There are two accessible walking tracks within the reserve:

Loop Track

This track hosts a short walk which is perfect for families with younger children, with an easy gradient on even surfaces through unspoiled native bush. A viewing platform featuring a 40 metre tall rata tree is a highlight of the walk.

Jubilee Track

This track was originally cut on Jubilee Day January 1890, marking 50 years since the arrival of Captain Hobson in Waitangi. This track will take you up to the summit of Ngongotaha, starting from the Violet Bonnington Reserve. It’s fairly steep in places, so take your time reading the interpretation panels along the way and learn about the plants and wildlife that live within the scenic reserve.

Once at the top, stop for a breath and admire the stunning views over the lake, the city of Rotorua and its surrounds, before descending back into the home of the patupairehe.

InterCity runs daily buses to Rotorua from towns and cities around the North Island, with fares starting from just $1 plus booking fee.

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