- Hiking / Trekking
- Ski resort
- Unesco World Heritage
Founded in 1887, the Tongariro National Park is the oldest of New Zealand's national parks. If you're a Lord of the Rings fan, then you'll be swept away. The Tongariro National Park was one of the sets and in certain parts you'll believe you're in Mordor itself!
The park is home to New Zealand's best known trails, the Tongariro Northern Circuit, which takes 3 days and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, that covers 16.4km. The latter has often been quoted as being the best hike in the world.
And if you give it try, you'll understand why! Between six and eight hours walk will get you to fields of volanic rocks, volcanoes, craters and brightly colored lakes. I love this trek, hence the reason why I've done it twice. From the beginning of Fall, snow begins to cover the volcanoes, leaving a white blanket that makes them even more visually impressive.
However don't expect to be alone on this trail, as every day tourists flock to the area! Even though it's a long walk and climbs about 900 meters, it's still a hike that is relatively easy to do - be warned, though, that in some parts it gets steep. I admit that I was worn out by a section that had been chiseled into steps. And, if you've got the energy, you can climb to the summit of Tongariro, from where you'll get a panoramic view of its volcanic neighbors. If the sky is clear, you'll even be able to see Mount Taranaki's crater in the distance.
The first time I tried to do the Tongarino hike, there was dense fog and I couldn't even see the mountain! I decided to give up and headed to Lake Taupo instead. I returned last year and this time the sun was out! The morning after my arrival, I was up at 7.30am to catch the bus that goes to the start point. It doesn't run back and forth, so you get dropped off and then picked up a the other end - check out the details with your hotel/hostel.
The Tongarino hike isn't difficult, but the first part is steep and the terrain rocky. Anyone with weak ankles should take care. I found the view over the two lakes to be the best part. The end of the hike is woody and tiredness sets in, so I was happy to reach the parking lot!
You can also do the 2 to 3 day Northern Circuit hike, which gives you more time to enjoy the surroundings. The villages around the park are geared towards hiking, so apart from that, there's not much else to do.