As you explore this rugged and otherworldly landscape, you might feel like you’re travelling alongside Frodo and Sam on their way to bring the ring to Mount Doom. Or, you might even feel like you have somehow been transported to another planet - one with craters, emerald lakes and strangely shaped mounds of volcanic rock.

Tongariro National Park is a vast protected wilderness, home to three towering snow-capped volcanoes - Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. The park was gifted to the nation of New Zealand in 1887 by Horonuku Te Heuheu, the chief of the Ngati Tuwharetoa tribe.

This park has the distinct status of being a “Dual World Heritage Site” - which means that it is recognized both for its geological wonders and its Maori cultural and spiritual significance. It's a must-do on any North Island road trip.

The park also attracts hikers from across the world, to one of the country’s most iconic alpine day walks, The Tongariro Crossing.

Where is Tongariro National Park?

Tongariro National Park Location Map

Tongariro & Lord of the Rings

If you’re a Tolkien fan, you’ll immediately recognize the towering cone of Mount Ngauruhoe as Mount Doom from Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of the books. The barren plains, rocky slopes and scrubland throughout the park was used as the intimidating, sinister landscapes of Mordor.

When you see the steep bluffs and jagged volcanic rocks of this strange landscape in person, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how the location-scouting crew was inspired. 

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Boromir said, “One does not simply walk into Mordor,”

However, with a shuttle service that drops you off at the beginning of the Tongariro Crossing Trail, you can.

Shuttle transport is recommended for longer walks on the Tongariro Crossing, as there is now a 4 hour parking restriction at Mangatepopo. The full hike is 12 miles (19.4 km) and it takes most hikers 7-8 hours to explore this wild and untamed landscape.

The shuttles will get you to the beginning of the track at between 8-9am, so you have plenty of time to hike the full trail before dark.

Waterfall and Gollum's pool - Tongariro National Park Tours

Other Attractions in Tongariro National Park

  • Scenic Flights: Seeing this amazing landscape from above will give you a different perspective that will take your breath away.

  • Skiing: Mt. Ruapehu, Whakapapa and Turoa Ski Areas offer fantastic natural skiing and snowboarding, with huge powder-filled basins and vast lift-accessed backcountry.

  • Waterfalls: There are several beautiful waterfalls you can hike to in the area, including Tawhai Falls, Silica Rapids, Waitonga Falls and Taranaki Falls.

  • Spot a Blue Duck: The rare and beautiful Blue Duck is native to this natural habitat and is often seen swimming in the clear rivers, giving a shrill “whio” whistle call.
Beautiful clear river and Mt Tongariro - National Park Tours

Short Walks & Hikes in Tongariro National Park

Here are a few other great hikes within the park. Be sure to visit the Department of Conversation (DOC) Visitor Centre if you plan to overnight in a hiker’s hut.

  • Three Volcanoes Hike: If you are a super keen hiker, it is possible to make the summit of all three volcanoes in two days. You’ll climb Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe on the first day and Mount Ruapehu on the second day.
  • Tupapakurua Falls Track: This five hour return track will take you through the lush Erua Forest to the stunning Taranaki Lookout. It is sign marked as “Fisher Track” at the end of Carroll Street, across the railway line in the National Park Village.
  • Tawhai Falls: For a really quick hike, take the 20 minute stroll to Tawhai Falls, which was used in the Lord of the Rings scene in which Gollum is fishing in a pool.
  • Silica Rapids: See the unusual creamy-white streams cascading over terraces of silica. This 4.3 mile (7km) hike begins at the DOC Visitor Centre in Whakapapa Village and offers jaw-dropping views of Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu.
  • Lake Surprise: This five-hour backcountry hike will take you through some truly gorgeous unspoiled volcanic terrain and ends at a picturesque lake set within a forest of beech and tussock. (Hike with caution in winter, as the terrain can be icy and slippery.)
Walker at the Blue Lakes - Tongariro National Park Tours

How to get to Tongariro National Park

The nearest towns to Tongariro National Park are Turangi, National Park Village, Ohakune, Raetihi and Waiouru. All of these towns can be reached via car, as they are located along the four highways that encircle the park.

You can reach Turangi and Waiouru via State Highway 1 along the east of the park and State Highway 4 (which passes west of the park) will take you to Raetihi and National Park Village.

From Auckland you’re looking at a 5 hour drive, but we’d suggest some stops on the way such as Hobbiton, Rotorua Lakes and Taupo.

You can also reach National Park Village and Ohakune by train, on the main line between Auckland and Wellington. If you want to fly into the region, the nearest airport is 50 km north of Turangi at Taupo.

The Landscape And Climate

It’s possible to hike the Tongariro Crossing all year round. However, summer (November-April) is the most popular time to enjoy the hike. The weather is the most pleasant at this time of year, but there are around 1,000 people per day hiking the track. If you want to avoid the crowds, you’ll need to start early in the morning.

Another option is to hike the trail in the winter (July to September) when it is covered in snow and ice. You don’t need any special mountaineering experience, but you will need to go with an experienced local guide.

Volcanic landscape on Tongariro National Park Tours

Accommodation

You’ll find a range of accommodation in Tongariro National Park, from budget hostels and motels to luxurious lodges.

One of the most iconic hotels in the region is the Chateau Tongariro Hotel (pictured just below), surrounded by the dramatic peaks of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu.

It features classic 1930s architecture, with a stunning lodge, classic cocktails and live piano music. There’s even a spa and sauna to soothe your joints after all of your outdoor activities.

It is best to reserve your stay ahead (especially in peak season) as accommodation in this region is often booked up quickly.

Chateau Tongariro Hotel

Local Information About Tongariro National Park

Stop at the supermarket in Turangi to get the supplies you need before heading into the National Park. There is a small supermarket at the petrol station at the turn-off for Whakapapa and Turangi, but it has a smaller selection and higher prices.

If you need to hire skiing and alpine trekking gear, you’ll find it at the Alpine Centre or Ski Biz in Ruapehu. You’ll also find several souvenir shops where you can pick up a memento of your trip.

When it comes to restaurants, there is a small assortment to choose from offering everything from simple cafe food to casual dining to luxurious fine cuisine.

Visiting Tongariro National Park With MoaTrek

Many of our staff grew up in the North Island, which means that we have spent many summer holidays exploring Tongariro National Park. We know it well and we love to show our guests the highlights.

We have four small group tours that visit Tongariro National Park:

Kakapo 21 day tour
Kaka 17 day tour
Kakariki 16 day tour
Kiwi 12 day tour

MoaTrek tours stop around the lake at Taupo for lunch on our way to Tongariro National Park. The afternoon you arrive you can either relax in your hotel, the Chateau Tongariro, and enjoy the close-up views of the mountains - Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu or walk to the Taranaki Falls. This is a classic North Island walking trail with gentle terrain, great views and unique native plants. The next day after a relaxing breakfast we drive up the mountain road to the Top of the Bruce to enjoy the panorama of the volcanic plateau.

Tours You’ll Love