The Things You Can’t Miss in the Tongariro National Park
New Zealand’s first national park is the place to be for volcanic landscapes. Mt Ruapehu, Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe steal the show with their volcanic peaks. There are several ways to embrace the breathtaking landscapes surrounding them (mostly hiking but we’ll do our best to be varied) which we’ll go over in this list of the best things to do in the Tongariro National Park!
This list of must-dos in the Tongariro National Park is just a few things we think you can’t miss in the Tongariro National Park. If you do have more time here, check out our Tongariro National Park destination category for more inspiration for your travel itinerary.
1. Hike the Tongariro Crossing
If you know anything about the Tongariro National Park… No, more like, if you know anything about New Zealand then it will be no surprise that the Tongariro Crossing tops our list of the best things to do in the Tongariro National Park. This is the most popular day hike (usually takes 6-8 hours to complete one way) in the whole country and for good reason: red craters, vibrant green and blue lakes, mountain scenery and breathtaking views around every corner. Nevertheless, it’s a hike into an ever-changing weather environment so be prepared by following our Guide to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Location: Most start the hike from the Mangatepopo Road end. However, there are parking restrictions during the busy seasons in New Zealand so follow the advice in Tongariro Crossing Accommodation & Transport Guide or check out some of our recommended shuttle companies below!
Active Outdoor Adventures: Top Transport for the Tongariro Crossing
One of the most popular shuttle operators offering door-to-door services from Turangi and National Park Village, as well as park n’ ride services from the secure and private Ketetahi car park (Tongariro Transport Hub), Active Outdoor Adventures is an awesome go-to to get to the Tongariro Crossing. With modern vans, reasonable rates and run by a local Maori family, your ride isn’t just comfortable but has cultural elements injected into the experience. They’re safety aware and keep an eye on conditions, and even offer optional walking poles if needed. Book your Tongariro transport at activeoutdooradventures.co.nz.
National Park Shuttles: Ride with the Locals to the Tongariro Crossing
Need more transport options for the Tongariro Crossing? Ride with National Park Shuttles and hear about the magical tales of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing straight from the people of the homeland. Providing shuttles from National Park Village and the Ketetahi car park (Tongariro Transport Hub), National Park Shuttles will keep you entertained the whole way. They’ll also make sure you’re safe from drop-off until the end of your trip, so you never get the feeling that you’re just another number on the bus. Book your trip to the Tongariro Crossing at nationalparkshuttles.com.
2. Ski Down an Active Volcano
New Zealand’s largest ski fields are right here on New Zealand’s largest volcano. In the winter months, Mt Ruapehu becomes a hub for skiing and snowboarding with two large ski fields and a smaller club field on the mountain. What’s more, Mt Ruapehu is an active volcano so you can tick “skiing down an active volcano” off your bucket list! Find out more about the ski season in Ski Season in New Zealand: North Island or South Island?
Location: Ski fields on Mt Ruapehu include Whakapapa with the access road from Whakapapa Village, Turoa accessed from Ohakune, and Tukino accessed down the Tukino Road.
3. Cycle the Old Coach Road
There are so many awesome bike trails around the Tongariro National Park, which you can wise up on with the 11 Epic Bike Trails Around Tongariro National Park. However, an unmissable bike trail has to be the Ohakune Old Coach Road! Bike along a historic trail with a mix of forest, railway relics and views over the rural countryside. The 15km (9 miles) one-way trail takes around 2h20mins to complete by bike or 4h30min to walk. Transport to one end of the track is available with TCB in Ohakune then the trail leads all the way back to Ohakune.
Location: Start from either Matapuna Road in Horopito or Ohakune Railway Station where the Old Coach Road is signposted.
4. Hike to the Tama Lakes
Well, this is the Tongariro National Park! There are a lot of hikes! The next unmissable hike on our list is to the Tama Lakes. It has views that rival that of the Tongariro Crossing except this hike can be done in winter, is 5-6 hours return and has a lot less “logistics” to work out in terms of transport – just walk back the same way. Hike over tussock lands to some vibrant lakes with the backdrop of the mighty Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom) and Mt Ruapehu.
Location: Start from the Taranaki Falls track accessed from Whakapapa Village. There is a side track clearly signposted just above Taranaki Falls.
5. Check Out Tawhai Falls
Don’t worry, it’s not all a strenuous workout to see some cool stuff in the Tongariro National Park. Tawhai Falls is the most accessible waterfall in Tongariro by being a mere 20-minute return walk from the roadside. It’s definitely worth the photo stop. For many more walks in the Tongariro National Park, have a browse of the 13 Best Walks Around National Park Village & Whakapapa Village and 12 Best Walks in Turangi.
Location: On State Highway 48, 4km (2 miles) from Whakapapa village.
6. Have High Tea in the Chateau Tongariro [CLOSED]
Update: Due to the derelict state of the building, Chateau Tongariro is no longer accepting bookings.
For those looking for something alternative to do in the hiking and mountain biking mecca of New Zealand, look no further than the Chateau Tongariro! Gaze upon Mt Ngauruhoe from the comfort of an armchair while you stuff your face on fancy cakes and sip on tea. Sounds pretty good, right?
Location: The large yellow building at the entrance to Whakapapa Village.
7. Tramp the Tongariro Circuit
And for those seeking more adventure in the Tongariro National Park, do one of New Zealand’s Great Walks! The Tongariro Northern Circuit is a 42km (26 miles) loop through some of the best volcanic scenery of the national park. It includes the Tongariro Crossing and Tama Lakes mentioned above, but will also get you into more secluded sections of the national park to experience the true volcanic wilderness.
Location: The most popular access is from Whakapapa Village. Alternative accesses include the Mangatepopo Road, Ketetahi Road and the Desert Road (State Highway 1).
8. Check Out Taranaki Falls
More waterfalls! This time, Taranaki Falls is one a 2-hour loop accessed from Whakapapa Village. This long drop 20m (66ft) waterfall is impressive whatever the season. There are views from the base of the waterfall and from the top (if you dare get close enough). Find out more about this walk and other short walks nearby in the 13 Best Walks Around National Park Village & Whakapapa Village.
Location: Ngauruhoe Terrace, Whakapapa Village.
9. Tramp the Round the Mountain Track
Another multi-day hike and a great alternative to the Tongariro Northern Circuit is the Round the Mountain Track. This 66km (41 miles) track around Mt Ruapehu takes 4-6 days to complete. You’ll experience a mix of forest, waterfalls, tussock and volcanic landscape, as well as serenity away from the more popular tracks in the Tongariro National Park. We also feature this one in the 12 Awesome Alternatives to the New Zealand Great Walks.
Location: Popular access is from Whakapapa Village. Alternatively, you can start along the Desert Road (State Highway 1), Ohakune Mountain Road, Tukino Road and even the Tongariro Northern Circuit.
10. See the Lord of the Rings Filming Location at Mangawhero Falls
Yes, it’s another waterfall but this one featured in The Lord of the Rings! Head up the Ohakune Mountain Road and you’ll come across signs for the Mangawhero Falls. There are a couple of viewpoints for this 28m (92ft) waterfall which takes a mere 20 minutes to walk to from the roadside. Learn more about the Lord of the Rings filming locations nearby in The Famous Lord of the Rings Filming Locations in Ruapehu.
Location: 16km (10 miles) up the Ohakune Mountain Road.
11. Discover the Birthplace of the Haka at the Historical Site of Opotaka
The place where the haka performed by the All Blacks rugby team was born, Opotaka is a historical site well worth checking out on your way in or out of the Tongariro National Park. Wander among the grounds to capture amazing views of Mt Tongariro across Lake Rotoaira and discover old kumara (sweet potato) pits where Maori villagers here used to store food. Learn more about the Maori haka that originated here in The Maori Haka: Its Meaning & History.
Location: Signposted off State Highway 47, approximately 12.8km (8 miles) from Turangi.
12. Test Your Skills at Rock Climbing
From outdoor climbing ventures to indoor walls saving you from the wet weather, Tongariro offers plenty of exciting options when it comes to climbing. One of the best-established climbing routes is at Meads Wall on Mt Ruapehu, where you can hire gear from some of the ski rental shops in National Park Village should you be a seasoned climber. Otherwise, try climbing out at one of the nearby climbing walls in National Park Village, Ohakune and Turangi.
Location: Meads Wall – From the Whakapapa ski area base, turn left when facing Lorenzo’s Cafe and past the Sky Waka and chairlifts. Follow faint trails until you reach, well, a rock wall!
13. See the White Water of the Silica Rapids
One of the more underrated short walks in the Tongariro National Park, the first part of the Silica Rapids Track follows a stream in beech forest before emerging onto exposed tussock land. Halfway through, you’ll see the creamy silica terraces from a viewing platform. Continue on the track to meet up with the Bruce Road where you can return along the roadside and back to the starting point. However, we think it’s more scenic to return the same way.
Location: 250 metres (273 yards) above the Whakapapa Village Visitor Centre.
14. Delve into the Ruapehu Forest on the Mangawhero Forest Track
One of the most picturesque walks that’s easy to access from Ohakune is the Mangawhero Forest Walk. At the bottom of the Ohakune Mountain Road, the one-hour loop walk takes you through a majestic stand of mature native forest alongside the Mangawhero River. There’s also a short nature walk connected to the trail with information panels on some of the trees you’ll find in the forest.
Location: Start from the bottom of the Ohakune Mountain Road opposite the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre.
15. Take on the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail
The top of the Ohakune Mountain Road on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu is the official start of the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail. Travel on this epic cycle journey on a 3-6 day, 217km (135-mile) challenge from Mt Ruapehu to the end of the Whanganui River. Highlights of the trail include the volcanic landscapes of the Tongariro National Park, the remarkable forest in the Whanganui National Park and the Bridge to Nowhere. Mountain bike hire and shuttle operators in Ohakune and National Park Village will be able to help you plan your adventure.
Location: Start from the base of Turoa Ski Field, at the top of the Ohakune Mountain Road.
More Things to Do in the Tongariro National Park
That’s it for our list of the best things to do in the Tongariro National Park, but it’s by no means the end of our Tongariro advice! Set your eyes on more of our marvellous guides to plan more of your trip:
- The Guide to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- 10 Best Things to Do in National Park Village
- 16 Best Things to Do in Ohakune
Finally, if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in our Tongariro National Park destination category.