Five Fantastic Ways to see Tongariro National Park

Tongariro Alpine Crossing summer
Tongariro Alpine Crossing summer
Silica Rapids track, Tongariro National Park
Silica Rapids track, Tongariro National Park

Centered on three volcanoes – Ruapehu, Ngāuruhoe and Tongariro – New Zealand’s oldest national park is a spectacular landscape of steaming craters, alpine rock gardens, surreal lakes and tumbling waterfalls. It all adds up to a truly amazing adventure playground, with activities to suit all ages and abilities – and from effortless to extreme.

  1. Tongariro Northern Circuit
    Tongariro Northern Circuit Oturere to Waihohonu 2 (credit Lee Slater)

    Get the backstory at Whakapapa Visitor Centre

Did you know that Tongariro National Park holds dual UNESCO World Heritage status for both its cultural and natural significance? That’s just part of the park’s long and dramatic story which entwines Māori ancestry, volcanic eruptions, conservation, recreation and much more.

A trip to the Whakapapa Visitor Centre will bring the landscape to life. Colourful displays illuminate all sorts of topics, and it has a shop with history books, field guides and NZ-made gifts, along with a helpful iSite. It’s a must-visit for first-timers and anyone seeking activity advice and weather forecasts.

  1. Scale Mt Ruapehu’s heights on the Skyline Gondola

Whakapapa Village is the access point for gondola trips up mighty Mount Ruapehu, the North Island’s highest peak at 2797m (9176ft). The state-of-the art Sky Waka whizzes up its slopes in six thrilling minutes, with eye-popping views all around and as far away as Mt Taranaki to the west.

At the top of the gondola, 2020m above sea level, the architecturally magnificent Knoll Ridge Chalet is a warm and comfortable place to survey the grandeur while enjoying a coffee or meal from the cafe or restaurant. Fit, well-prepared walkers can venture further up Mt Ruapehu on foot via the Skyline Track, a fairly strenuous two-hour return hike to a lookout point that feels like it’s on top of the world.

  1. Go exploring on spectacular short walks

    Taranaki Falls, Tongariro National Park
    Taranaki Falls, Tongariro National Park

DOC’s Walks in and around Tongariro National Park booklet details a dozen or so well-marked trails, and is an essential companion for exploration. Starting from Whakapapa Village and more or less a loop, Taranaki Falls is deservedly popular for its variety of volcanic landforms, alpine shrublands and beech forest. There are plenty of views too, of Ngāuruhoe’s symmetrical cone and across the plateau, as well as a close-up of Taranaki Falls as they tumble 20 metres over a 15,000-year-old lava flow.

Also accessed from Whakapapa, the Silica Rapids track features spectacular geological oddities including the Whakapapanui streambed which gets its vibrant gold colour from iron oxide clays upstream. It also features some unusual alpine vegetation, and beech forest from which delightful little forest birds may appear.

Other highly memorable short walks are accessible from Ohakune Mountain Road on the southern side of Mt Ruapehu. A great pick is the 90-minute return track to Waitonga Falls, Tongariro National Park’s highest waterfall. Notable trees include mountain beech and kaikawaka (mountain cedar), and the track passes Rotokawa, an alpine bog where the reflection of Mt Ruapehu can be seen on still days. The Falls themselves are 39m high and quite the sight! 

  1. Lace up your tramping boots for a big day out

Tongariro Northern Circuit
Tongariro Northern Circuit Crossing Emerald Lakes 1 (credit Lee Slater)

World-famous and well worth the considerable physical effort – on a fine day, that is – the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is an unforgettable day tramp through a remarkable landscape of active volcanoes, fumaroles, giant lava fields, a bright red crater and emerald green lakes with mind-blowing views over Lake Taupō.

A couple of hours shorter (5–6 hours) and reaching a lower altitude (and therefore a possible option if weather conditions prevent hiking the Crossing), the Tama Lakes Track is a richly rewarding day hike that passes the dramatic Taranaki Falls before heading up to the tussocky saddle between Ruapehu and Ngāuruhoe. Hidden away here are the very odd, old explosion craters known as the Tama Lakes.

Fifteen minutes’ drive up the view-filled Ohakune Mountain Road, the Lake Surprise Track is well worth the 5-hour effort. It traverses epic boulder fields, bluffs and scree slopes with alpine gardens boasting a colourful array of flowers, lichens and moss, and a waterfall cascading over an ancient lava flow. It also passes an historic tramping hut nestled amongst stunted forest. Ever-changing views stretch from Ruapehu’s peak to the edges of the volcanic plateau. 

  1. Pack your rucksack and head out on a multi-day mission

    Mangatepopo Hut, Tongariro Northern Circuit
    Mangatepopo Hut, Tongariro Northern Circuit

With a bunch of neat huts and hundreds of kilometres of tracks to explore, Tongariro National Park volcanic wonderland offers amazing multi-day tramping adventures. One of these is a NZ Great Walk, the Tongariro Northern Circuit, a 3–4 day journey commonly started (and finished) at Whakapapa Village. It traverses a significant stretch of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing complete with craters and surreal lakes, the super-rocky Oturere Valley, unique alpine forest, and Tama saddle where a detour leads to the amazing lakes. It also passes the tumbling Taranaki Falls on the way back down to Whakapapa Village.

A more remote and advanced adventure than the Northern Circuit, the 4–6 day Round the Mountain Track is a mostly alpine journey across a variety of landscapes from mountain beech forest, tussock country and alpine herb fields, to desert lands and glacial river valleys. Starting from Whakapapa, it takes in some of the park’s most famous sights including Taranaki Falls, Tama Lakes, Waitonga Falls, Lake Surprise and the Silica Rapids. There are also views of the Rangipo desert, with its barren and peculiar beauty. Six huts along the way each have their own character, too.

Read about Ruapehu’s remarkable must-dos


The towns of Ohakune, National Park Village and Whakapapa Village are great bases to stay, with excellent visitor services including accommodation, dining and helpful local tour operators who offer great trips with all logistics sorted for you. Read more at or visit the i-SITE Visitor Information Centres in Whakapapa, Ohakune or Taumarunui.

Hikers taking a break in the Tongariro National Park
Hikers taking a break in the Tongariro National Park