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Although it is the South Island that is typically known for its stunning mountain vistas, snow-capped peaks and alpine scenery, the North Island has its own national park to complete with the likes of Fiordland and Mount Cook. Just south of Lake Taupo, the incredible Tongariro National Park is definitely a highlight of the North Island. Here are a few reasons why this park should be on your New Zealand travel itinerary.
SEE THE PEAKS FROM WHAKAPAPA
One of the main reasons people visit Tongariro is its world class ski fields. People of all skill levels can try their luck on the slopes. In Whakapapa village, you will find plenty of accommodation options and scenic walking tracks. Don’t forget to stop in at the Knoll Ridge Cafe on your way to the top of the mountain. If you don’t want to head to the frosty peaks, the views from the bottom are just as impressive. From Whakapapa the views of Mount Ngauruhoe are incredible, if you can get a slight break in the cloud cover. You’ll get a beautiful panorama from the grounds near Chateau Tongariro of the mountains. The hotel itself is an architectural gem in the North Island, built in 1929.
DRIVE THE DESERT ROAD
A highlight of the area is the scenic Desert Road, which skirts the eastern fringes of Tongariro National Park. The landscape here is unlike anywhere else in the country. The barren hills have many scenic walks, and you’ll get some great views of the volcanic peaks. The Desert Road gives visitors a unique perspective on Tongariro. The scenery here is a far cry from New Zealand’s normal green, hilly vistas. The effects of past volcanic eruptions on the land are evident here. Make sure you drive carefully in the area, as the weather is unpredictable and it is not uncommon for Tongariro to experience heavy rainfall.
TAKE THE ALPINE CROSSING
The best way to see a destination is on foot, and that is certainly true of Tongariro National Park. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the most popular day walks in New Zealand, and for good reason. The Alpine Crossing is almost 20 kilometres long, and passes by lakes and volcanic craters. The terrain can be challenging, and conditions in the region can be unpredictable. To make your journey easier you can get a shuttle to take you to the beginning of the crossing and pick you up at the end of the day. Note that there are parking restrictions in the area, so the shuttle is a good way to make sure you do not end up paying any fines. If you are attempting the crossing it is best to do it in the summer months. It’s easy to visit Tongariro National Park. The park is over four hours from Auckland. You can hire a car from Taupo or Rotorua and take the scenic drive south towards the park.