New Zealand’s oldest national park and the fourth national park to be created in the world, Tongariro National Park is internationally recognized for its outstanding volcanic features and is historically venerated by the Maori people. The park encircles three volcanoes, Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Raupahu and covers almost 80,000 hectares of contrasting terrain. The three volcanoes are active, Raupehu being one of the most active volcanoes in the world, but that does not deter visitors from hiking up to the top and gazing out into the exotic conic formations.
Located at the heart of North Island, the park is the most popular in New Zealand and is ideal for day or overnight hiking, mountain biking, adventure kayaking, or river rafting. The volcanic nature of the region is responsible for Tongariro’s hot springs, boiling mud pools, fumaroles, and craters. The many craters nearing the mountain tops are a result of frequent eruptions over the last 250,000 years, and some of the most iconic ones are Crater Lake, Blue Lake, and Emerald Lake.
The lower slopes of the mountains are blanketed with forest where alpine herbs, flax and low-growing shrubs provide a habitat for many native birds, such as the kereru (native pigeon), tree ferntiwaiwaka (fantail), toutouwai (robin), riroriro (grey warbler) and miromiro (tomtit). In addition, New Zealand’s only native mammals, short and long tailed bats, also live in the park, so there is no shortage of native wildlife or scenery to marvel at.
The mountains of the park have deep spiritual meaning for the Maori people. According to legend, the high priest Ngatoroirangi was frozen in a snowstorm while exploring Tongariro and he called to Hawaiki, the traditional Polynesian homeland of the Maori, for fire. His prayer was answered, via the channel that is now called the Pacific Rim of Fire, and the mountain erupted.
For Lord of the Rings fans, Mount Tongariro, Ruapehu and the surroundings are one of the few locations used in the filming of Mordor, specifically. Look out for the eye of Sauron!