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All three volcanoes are very much alive, with Mount Tongariro erupting as recently as August 2012. But this doesn’t deter people from skiing down the slopes and hiking to the craters – a monitoring system provides early warning of eruptions.
The park's most celebrated activity is the 'Tongariro Alpine Crossing', a one-day trek that traverses the otherworldly terrain along the slopes of all three mountains.
Steaming craters, old lava flows and thermal lakes make the walk an unforgettable experience.
At 2797, 2291 and 1968 metres respectively, Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro are sizeable volcanoes. Tongariro's huge massif extends over 18 kilometres in length - classic, cone-shaped Ngauruhoe is actually one of Tongariro's vents. Ruapehu had the honour of playing Mordor and the Emyn Muil in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the near-perfect conical shape of Ngauruhoe was the basis for Mount Doom.
The mountains of this national park have deep spiritual significance for the Maori people. Legend has it that the high priest Ngatoroirangi was frozen in a snowstorm while exploring Tongariro and called to Hawaiki, the traditional Polynesian homeland of the Maori, for fire. His prayer was answered, via the channel we now call the Pacific Rim of Fire, and the mountain erupted.
The lower slopes of the mountains are blanketed with forest where alpine herbs, tussocks, flax and low-growing shrubs provide a habitat for many native birds. New Zealand's only native mammals, short and long tailed bats, also live in the park.
The walk known as the Tongariro Northern Circuit is served by four Department of Conservation 'Great Walk' huts. DOC also has a number of 'Serviced' and 'Basic' huts in other parts of the park. At Whakapapa village there is a range of accommodation available from campsites to resort hotels. The most luxurious accommodation within the park is the historic Bayview Chateau Tongariro. Bookings are required in peak season.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing and other walks
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, completed by about 70,000 hikers every summer, features phenomenal volcanic scenery and fine views of Lake Taupo and Mt Taranaki. Overnight challenges include the four-day Northern Circuit and the six-day Round the Mountain track - one of New Zealand's Great Walks. The park also offers many shorter walks to waterfalls and fascinating volcanic features, including the crater of Ruapehu.
More information can be found here.
Enjoy excellent skiing and boarding at Mount Ruapehu's ski areas - Whakapapa and Turoa. For non-skiers there is tobogganing and tubing or just drive up to see the spectacular view. The ski season usually begins in July and often runs until late spring. In summer, at Whakapapa, scenic chairlift rides and guided hikes to Ruapehu's Crater Lake are also available.
The Tongariro River provides an invigorating dip into the world of white water rafting. A succession of grade 3 rapids promises an exciting trip. Fly fishermen enthuse about the rainbow trout that are prolific in the streams and rivers around the park.
- With adequate clothing, equipment and experience, visitors can enjoy the park at any time of year
- Fill in an intention form at the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre if you plan to overnight in a hikers' hut
- Take sunscreen and sunglasses, summer or winter
- Before departing on a walk, check at the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre for up-to-date information on weather, volcanic activity and track conditions
- When packing for an adventure in the park, be prepared for all weather eventualities.