While everyone in New Zealand is pushing you to go to the Southern Island as fast as possible, you should at least spend a couple of days “up north” and enjoy the most amazing place in the Northern Island, called Tongariro National Park.
A great part of New Zealand’s Northern Island is volcanic and this shows well in the area around Tongariro. You can get the first sight of it while driving down south from Auckland. During the first couple of hours of the drive, the landscape is all quite Hobbiton-like: little green hills, some trees and flowers all over if you’re in the right season. But then all of a sudden a big white mass enters the horizon… it’s the snow capped volcanoes of Tongariro National Park.
Tongariro is one of the 28 mixed cultural and natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Established in 1887, this is the world’s 4th national park. Three major volcanoes dominate the grounds, Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. All of them still active, all of them still dangerous, Tongariro has erupted in November 2012 for the last time. The park became a Heritage Site because of the important Maori cultural and spiritual associations as well as its volcanism. Most people who travel here do so for the outstanding natural beauty and the world famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
When looking at Tongariro from the outside it looks unapproachable and threatening. When walking into the park, you will find it is truly one of the most spectacular sceneries you will encounter while in New Zealand. The grounds are a mix of desert, mountains, forests and volcanoes.
Why go there? We didn’t really see any cultural sights, if that’s what you are coming for you are better off in Rotorua a bit further up north. However if you love hiking, you have come to the right spot. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the most adventurous and famous day hikes in all of New Zealand. Why? It’s beautiful, unique but yet treacherous. Snow may be present until well in December, the volcanoes are always ready to rumble and it can be extremely windy.
While we were there, the crossing had been unofficially closed for a couple of days in a row because of extremely strong winds. Every morning, crowds will gather at the DOC office (Department of Conservation) in Whakapapa Village where the weather predictions and advise whether you should hike or not are being updated. As we planned on doing the 4-day Tongariro Northern Circuit, we were lucky and eventually we able to walk the best part of the trail on the best possible day… What the best part of the trail was? The Crater Lakes, Red Crater, Central Crater, Blue Lake, Mt. Ngauruhoe … basically all of it! Not an experienced hiker? Then this hike is not for you. People die on the tramp each year because they come unprepared. Make sure you know what you are doing… other than that, I’d say enjoy hiking and enjoy Tongariro National Park!
Best time to visit:
if you are hiking, then summer, if you love skiing, then winter.
How to get there and where to stay:
The best way to get there is by car, it’s about a 4 hour drive from Auckland. There’s buses also but they won’t be able to transport you around the park so a car is definitely more convenient. If you are planning on hiking the Alpine Crossing, you walk from A to B and additional transportation, which can be arranged with several companies, is necessary.
Where to stay:
Whakapapa Village is the only town inside the park but there’s not much to do there. We stayed on a campsite in National Park Village, from where we had stunning views of the volcanoes when the sky cleared.
Bring groceries from the city because it’s pretty expensive to get your things there. For dinner, go to The Station, we loved the food.
This article was submitted by Antonette Spaan, the female half of we12travel