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There’s so much to Tongariro National Park which makes it a real favourite with all Kiwis - there’s a lot of beauty on the surface you can’t ignore, but Tongariro has a few more strings to its bow which makes it a super special place. It’s easy to get to, there’s heaps to do and you have all kinds of options for where to stay, from pitching your own tent to the luxurious ‘Grand Chateau’, a Kiwi icon. Smack bang in the middle of the North Island, about the same distance between Auckland and Wellington, whether you’re travelling by yourself or on a guided tour, Tongariro is an absolute must on any North Island road trip.
Our favourite things to do in Tongariro
We admit we love our creature comforts, so for us it’s getting out on one of our favourite walks from Whakapapa, like the Taranaki Falls or Silica Rapids, before heading back to the Chateau for a sauna and swim in the heated pool before a celebration dinner in the Ruapehu room.
Other activities we love in Tongariro:
Walking and hiking - there are so many tracks and trails to choose, from shorter walks around Whakapapa Village, the world famous Tongariro Crossing and even challenging yourself by aiming for the peaks of Mt Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe - if you go in summer these peaks are challenging but accessible to fit, well equipped hikers.
Skiing & Snowboarding - Like so many Kiwis, we learnt to ski on Mt Ruapehu! The two main ski fields in the North Island are here, Whakapapa, just up the road from the village, and Turoa, accessed from Ohakune at the southern end of the park.
Lord of the Rings - Did you know that both Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu were became Mt Doom from Lord of the Rings? Yep, it is. There are other LOTR & Hobbit filming sites in the park too, like Mordor, which was filmed at Whakapapa skifield, just up the road from the National Park village.
Something you can’t do anywhere else but Tongariro
The Whakapapa skifield cafe, open all year, will make you a coffee at the altitude of 2020m / 6630 feet, which makes it the highest cup of coffee in New Zealand!
Kiwi Favourites in Tongariro
There are lots of things we love from all our family holidays here, staying at the Chateau, hiking the Tongariro crossing, learning to ski at Whakapapa at school camp, but what make Kiwis most proud of about Tongariro is its special place in our history. In 1887, the volcanic peaks of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro were gifted to the nation by the chief of the Ngati Tuwharetoa tribe, Horonuku Te Heuheu. This was the first example anywhere in the world of an indigenous people giving land to a colonizing government, for all citizens to enjoy. This story, along with the spiritual significance of the land now inside the national park, makes Tongariro the only dual cultural and natural World Heritage Area site in New Zealand and one of only around 30 in the entire world. Tongariro is one of a kind and is a powerful symbol in the New Zealand story.
How to fit Tongariro National Park into your North Island Itinerary
To locals in a hurry, its under four hours run from either Auckland or Wellington, but with so much cool stuff to look at that’s not for us! From Auckland, we always take our time through the best of the North Island on our way to Tongariro, heading south you can visit Hobbiton and the Rotorua lakes before New Zealand’s ‘Great Lake' Taupo and the volcanic plateau of Tongariro. You can make it down to Wellington from Tongariro easily in a single day to catch a ferry over to the South Island, or take your time and go the long way, through Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa on your way down to the capital, which is what we always do!
Here’s our suggested itinerary from Auckland to Tongariro, and on to Wellington, with a little art deco side trip thrown in for fun
Auckland to Rotorua (via the Karangahake Gorge, sweet little spot rated by Lonely Planet!), stop off at Lake Tarawera before heading through to Rotorua for 2 nights to see everything the in the Maori culture capital. From Rotorua head south to check out the Wai O Tapu geothermal valley and the Lady Knox Geyser, onward to the Huka Falls and round the Lake Taupo before getting into Whakapapa Village and the Chateau Tongariro mid afternoon with plenty of time and daylight left for some some of the great Tongariro short walks right on your doorstep.
From Tongariro we head right off the beaten track, over to ’The Bay' (to Kiwis from this part of the country, that means Hawke’s Bay, home to outstanding vineyards, fruit orchards and the best weather in NZ!) For a food & wine theme to your trip through to Wellington, after a night in Napier, pass through the Wairarapa towns of Martinborough and Carterton, adding a real Kiwi ‘flavour’ to your trip in more ways than one.
How to get to Tongariro National Park
Flights to Tongariro National Park:
You can’t fly to directly to Tongariro, the nearest airports are Taupo (1.5 hours, 105km / 60 miles), Whanganui (2 hours 145km / 90 miles) and Palmerston North (3 hours, 215 km / 135 miles). These drive times are to Whakapapa village, where the main visitor centre and entry point into the national park.
Train from Auckland to Tongariro National Park:
There are only two national parks in New Zealand you can get to by train (Pop Quiz: What’s the other?), the Northern Explorer from Auckland runs only on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays from North to South, leaving Auckland at 07.45am and arriving at National Park Station at 1.15pm.
Train from Wellington to Tongariro National Park:
Going north, the train runs on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays (we’re sorry, we’re just a little country, we don’t have enough trains to go every day!) departing Wellington at 07.55am and arriving at National Park Station at 1.15pm.
From Auckland to Tongariro by road:
Aucklanders will tell you it takes five hours but we prefer to relax and take our time, stop for a coffee along the way, see the sights. Even better, overnight in Rotorua or check out Hobbiton. The 370 km / 230 mile trip from Auckland to Whakapapa trip takes at least 5 hours.
From Rotorua to Tongariro by road:
A much more relaxed way to go, you’ve got to check out Wai O Tapu geothermal valley on the way out of town, the Huka Falls and plenty of stops around ‘Great Lake’ Taupo are a must. So many Kiwi holiday memories in all the bachs (Kiwi Translate: Holiday House) from town through to Five Mile bay! It’s a pretty cruisey 3 hour run to cover the 185km / 115 miles.
From Wellington to Tongariro by road:
Being the capital city and HQ for all our government departments, Wellington has much more serious and realistic people when it come to drive times. Any ‘Wellingtonian’ will tell you it take about the same time to get to Tongariro as it does from Auckland, even though it’s a wee bit closer. Five hours is a minimum, six is much more comfortable for the 345 km / 215 miles.
Tongariro National Park Entry Points:
At 80,000 square km / 200,000 acres she’s a fair old size, Tongariro, and if you look at a map you’ll see our excellent highway system runs right round the outside. You have really good views of the volcanoes all the way around and there's access at several different places like Ohakune and the Mangetepopo Carpark, but the main entry point into the park is the National Park Village at Whakapapa. This is where the visitor centre and accommodation inside the park is located, and where we love to stay most of all, at the Chateau Tongariro.
Weather in Tongariro National Park:
Especially if you want to get outside and do some walking, make sure you check the weather or ask your guide. It’s a high plateau of the North Island and conditions can change quickly. That’s the great thing about staying in village, all the walks are right on your doorstep and you can tailor your walk to suit the conditions.
Tongariro National Park Average Temperatures:
Summer, December – February. High: 68F, 20°C. Low: 50F, 10°C.
Autumn, March – May: High 58°F, 16°C. Low: 42°F, 6°C.
Winter, June – August. High: 53F, 12°C Low: 39F, 4°C
Spring, September – November. High: 61F, 16°C Low: 43F, 6°C
Something you didn’t known about Tongariro National Park
The original land was gifted to the nation by the local Maori chief, the first time this happened anywhere in the world. Tongariro is the oldest national park in New Zealand (1896) and the sixth (or fourth, depending where you read) oldest in the world behind Bogd Khan Uul (Mongolia 1783), Yellowstone (USA 1872), Royal (Australia 1879), Banff (Canada 1885), and Yoho (Canada 1886). Keep this handy for your next pub quiz, you never know when they’ll ask you to ‘name the six oldest national parks in the world’!
Kiwi Tip for Tongariro
There’s no better place in the country to see (and maybe climb) volcanoes! The easiest to get to is Mt Ruapehu, just follow the road from Whakapapa to the ‘Top of the Bruce’ and the skifield and you’re there. The chairlift runs in summer to give you a bit of a leg up too. For super keen hikers, you can actually make the summit of all three volcanoes in two days!
Visiting Tongariro National Park with MoaTrek:
Most of us are North Islanders by birth, which means we’ve spent countless days on the good old Kiwi summer holiday in and around Tongariro National Park, which is why it’s a must-see on all our North Island itineraries. We taking our time around the shores of Lake Taupo and always stay at the Grand Chateau Tongariro, there are no surroundings quite like those right out your door at the Chateau.
At MoaTrek we all grew up here and have a lifetime of Kiwi holiday spots we’d love to share with you on our small group tours on your ‘Trip of a Lifetime’ to New Zealand. Find out more about our tours here or drop us a line, we’d love to hear all about your big trip. Cheers!
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