Tongariro National Park
Tongariro National Park is an associative cultural landscape of active volcanic mountains that hold a number of Maori religious sites. It is situated on the North Island of New Zealand.
Tongariro National Park was the fourth National Park established in the world. The active volcanic mountains Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro are located in the centre of the park. The mountain summits are of great significance for the cultural identity of the local Maori people.
Map of Tongariro National ParkLoad map
We were sitting in Wellington having (probably) another pricey NZ beer. It was Friday afternoon and we were planning to drive to Tongariro the next day (Saturday) with the Transalpine Crossing, New Zealand's most famous hike, planned for Sunday. It was then that we decided to check the national park website again to take a look at the trail. But instead we found a big info box stating that a Rahui had been put in place and all trails were closed. Rahui wtf?
You need to know that Tongariro is still a holy site for the local Maori. That's also why it's a mixed site. When someone dies in the National Park, they believe the spirits of the mountain need a time of peace. So they close down all trails along the mountain and that's a rahui. This happens repeatedly each year as hikers regularly die on the mountain. In an effort to make the risks associated to the crossing, the authorities in 2007 renamed the trail from "Tongariro Crossing" to "Tongariro Transalpine Crossing".
To cope we rearranged our plans and hiked on Monday. And while Sunday was sunny, Monday was the opposite: rainy and windy. Views were really limited and when we came down the mountain I was fully soaked. Luckily, we also visited the Southern part of the National Park on Saturday, so I got some nice views.
In the end, it turns out that the rahui was put in place thanks to a German hiker. He was a terminal cancer patient and had the hike on his bucket list. His son is so proud his father died on the mountain and that his father was clearly in shape for the strenuous trail. Seeing he died, he clearly wasn't and I find this line of very egoistical and really irresponsible.
Tongariro is roughly half way between Auckland and Wellington (at a bit more than 4h each). The next big town is Taupo. Closer is Turangi, a sleepy tourist town for tourists visiting. From both, you can arrange a shuttle to the national park and back.
There are several parts of the national park you can visit with a car on your own. The best trip is along Ohakune Mountain Road which takes you up Mount Ruapehu and offers several viewpoints and small hikes along the way. It's also a good road, unlike the dust road to the Mangatepopo parking lot.
Doing the Transalpine Crossing
The trail runs from the Mangatepopo parking lot to the Ketetahi parking lot. You can hike both ways, but starting Mangatepopo is the less strenuous option as it lies higher than Ketetahi.
The only option to park your car is in any case at Ketehahi. All other parking lots cannot be used for a full day and NZ is serious about enforcing these rules. If you plan a multi day hike, you need to arrange transport and separate parking with a tour operator as no overnight parking is available. There also plenty of warning signs regarding break ins.
The parking lot at Ketehahi is well signposted. It says "mountain shuttle" and we were initially left wondering if it applied to our shuttle company. But it's a generic parking lot for all operators. The guards will ask you what operator you are with when you pull up and nod. If you forgot to make a reservation, you can get a parking spot and bus ticket on site.
From the parking lot, the shuttles pick you up and drop you off at Mangatepopo where the trail starts. In the car and at the trail head, they will talk a little history, how this is still a religious sight for the local Maori population and wish you good luck.
Initially, the hike is quite relaxed. When you reach the final warning sign, the trail kicks in. The sign actually tells you that you should return if you had a hard time reaching it, because it's only to get way worse. And, yes, it does, and you will notice pretty much immediately. This is serious hiking and requires serious hiking equipment. Along the paths are sufficient toilet facilities, but nothing else, so bring sufficient food and drinks. The next shops are in Turangi.
While You Are There
A visit of the Maori settlements and sites around Rotorua is am ust. Most visitors will probably stop at Wai-O-Tapu, but the site was too touristy and fell short of similar sites I had seen in Bolivia. I preferred the lake in Rotorua and Whakarewarewa, a tribal village on the outskirts of town with it's own geyser.
Another stop for many is in Mata, on the road to Auckland. It's here that the Shire from LotR was filmed. It's quite pricey and the visiting experience underwhelming. And I nearly forgot: Tongariro was used for the Morder scenes.
I visited Tongariro National Park in 2007.
It is a lovely park situated in the center of the North Island of New Zealand.
Tongariro is best known in popular culture as the real life location of Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings Movies.
Getting here is easy to do by car and there are many tours and trekking options inside the park.
Read more about Tongariro National Park on my website.
From the moment you walk along the rise and see the volcanic plain stretching across to the mountains it becomes clear: this is Mordor. It's not surprising, then, that Peter Jackson filmed scenes from The Lord of the Rings in Tongariro National Park. I hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in 2010, and it was the best hike I did in New Zealand and was a fantastic way to see the park. From the eastern side of the trail, the lower stretches follow a stream through woodlands, but the vegetation soon disappears giving great views of the forests below and fumaroles steaming off the side of the mountain. Upon reaching the summit, hikers cross a volcanic plain dominated by Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, which are still active. The climb up the saddle of Mount Tongariro, the highest point of the trail, rewarded me with an incredible vista across the North Island. The Tongariro Crossing is a one day hike I highly recommend if you want to get a good feel for the park. Just be sure to bring plenty of water!
Logistics: The hike is best done with either a car at each end of the trail or by arranging a taxi or shuttle to drop and/or pick you up.
There are three snow capped peaks within the national park, all of which are active volcanoes. I have witnessed on several occasions smoke, ash and lava spewing from various vents on the mountains, particularly Mt.Ngauruhoe. The crater lake on the summit of Mount Ruapehu periodically overflows, tipping its contents of hot water down its slopes.
Despite these hazards, in the summer the mountains are used by trampers following the various trails marked out on the landscape. In the winter it is a mecca for ski fanatics, with chair lifts and rope tows heading off in all directions.
There is a plethora of lodges on Mount Ruapehu, as well as at its foot. The area can be reached by rail services from Auckland and Wellington
The most magnificent sight was an early morning - snow covered Ngauruhoe volcanoe on pink sky. I will never forget it.
In general - incredible mix of fierce wilderness, unusual beauty and hospitality of local people. If you are lucky enough to visit the site - try at least the track named Tongariro Crossing (consult tourism bureau before - often weather up there is too dangerous). It takes rather weary day, but it is incredible to walk so quickly from forests through tussock above snow line and back.
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