Tongariro National Park And Surrounds
By Bachchat staff
Tongariro is the oldest national park in New Zealand and a dual World Heritage Area. In 1887 the sacred mountains, Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe were gifted to the people of New Zealand by the Paramount Chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa, Horonuku Te Heu Heu Tukino.
Ruapehu is New Zealand’s most accessible live volcano. In winter skiers and snow-boarders flock to Ruapehu’s three ski areas: the north-facing slopes of Whakapapa, Turoa in the south west, or the club field of Tukino on the eastern side.
The Mount Ruapehu Crater Climb combines volcanic terrain with snow, glaciers, the geothermal crater lake and spectacular views of the central plateau. In the summer you can take a chairlift from Whakapapa Ski Area to the Knoll Ridge Cafe, which is 2020m above sea level.
From Knoll Ridge the 7kms return hike takes about 5 hours. Climb Knoll Ridge, across to Restful Ridge and up onto the Dome Ridge . You follow the Dome Ridge around to the Dome shelter where you can take in a wonderful view of the crater lake. At 2670m above sea level, you have unsurpassed views of the Central North Island and on a clear day will be able see both the east and west coastlines.
Once you have had lunch and got your breath back it is around a 2hr walk back down to the chair lift. Be aware that an ice axe and crampons may be required. Since there are potential hazards from weather, avalanches or volcanic activity make sure you are fully prepared and find out about conditions before you set off. If you are unsure, the safest option is a guided walk (departing daily, weather permitting, during the summer season).
Tongariro by train
Train enthusiasts can admire the Central Plateau from the windows of the Overlander, which stops at Ohakune and National Park. The Main Trunk Line between Auckland and Wellington was finally opened in November 1908 after 23 years of construction through some very rugged bush country in the Ruapehu District. Deep ravines necessitated some remarkable engineering feats including several viaducts, tunnels and the famous Raurimu Spiral.
While the last section of the line was being built rail passengers would stay the night in Ohakune and were carried to the northern rail head at Raurimu by stage coach. A considerable network of bush tramways fed the Ohakune and National Park Railway Stations which then became centres for massive timber extraction from the native forests.
The main heritage features remaining today are the Raurimu Spiral that allows the track to climb 132 metres in nine kilometres on to the plateau at Waimarino (now National Park), Hapuawhenua, Taonui, and Makatote Viaducts,Taumarunui, National Park and Ohakune Stations, and memorials of the Last Spike ceremony and the Tangiwai bridge disaster of 1952.
The Ohakune Old Coach Road, which once linked the railheads at Ohakune and Raurimu, was restored and opened in 2010 to walkers and mountainbikers as part of the Mountains to Sea Trail. From Horopito the trail descends 14kms to Ohakune Railway Station. This easy trail features beautiful forest, viaducts and railway remains.
At the junction of SH 47 and SH 4, National Park Village is a popular base for outdoorsy types- it’s close to the Whakapapa Ski Field and is also a base for mountainbiking and hiking, kayaking and Whanganui River trips. Transport leaves from National Park Village for those wanting to hike the stunning Tongariro Alpine Crossing. In the area around National Park Village there are great mountain bike tracks, including the famous 42 Traverse, a rugged 46km beauty.
At nearby Raurimu, a viewing platform overlooks the North Island Main Trunk Railway’s Raurimu Spiral. Quad bike tours, horse trekking, and Whanganui River rafting expeditions depart from here. Continuing onwards, the village of Raetihi is a gateway to the mountains, and home to the old Raetihi Royal Theatre, the Waimarino Museum, and a glow worm grotto.
Visitors can stroll along the Makotuku River Track, or catch the Raetihi Country Market, on the 3rd Saturday of the month. Ohakune is ten minutes further east, by car, and seems like the big smoke by comparision.
A fast-growing ski hub, Ohakune offers easy access to the Turoa ski slopes. In town, there are plenty of vibrant venues to check out after a day spent on the slopes. Life quietens down in summer, but the Ohakune Mountain Road opens up a range of hikes and a stunning scenic drive through dense mountain beech forest, bonsai-like dwarf shrubs, and alpine flowers and shrubs.
From Ohakune, SH 49 continues on to the Tangiwai rail disaster memorial. Here, in 1953, a lahar flooded the Whangaehu River and destroyed the Tangiwai Railway Bridge, which killed 153 people when the train plunged into the river.
Over the railway line is the desert oasis of Waiouru, home to the NZ Army’s largest training camp and the renowned Army Memorial Museum, where a sensitively curated collection captivates military enthusiasts and civilians alike. Completing the loop around the mountains of the Central Plateau, the stretch of SH 1 that crosses the dry, desolate landscape of the Rangipo Desert is known as the Desert Road.
If you’re traveling in rough weather, be sure to check that this road is open, as it is dangerous to pass in freezing conditions.
Where to stay
What to do
- Bike the Ohakune Old Coach Road
- Visit the Army Memorial Museum at Waiouru
- See blue ducks at Ruatiti
- Have lunch at The Chateau
- Challenge yourself with the 42 Traverse
Department of Conservation - Activities in Tongariro National Park
www.mtruapehu.com - Mt Ruapehu Whakapapa & Turoa Ski Areas
www.tukino.co.nz -Tukino Club Ski Field
www.nzcycletrail.com -The Mountains To Sea Trail
- From Rotorua by road: 177km
- From New Plymouth by road: 250km
- From Hamilton by road: 254km