Things You Can’t Miss in the Tongariro National Park
New Zealand’s first national park is the place to be for volcanic landscapes in New Zealand. 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 Tongariro National Park must-dos!
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. Nevertheless, if you do have more time here, check out our Tongariro National Park – Guide for Backpackers for more inspiration for your travel itinerary, as well as 11 Best Backpacker Hostels in Tongariro National Park for places to stay.
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 Tongariro National Park must-do list. This is the most popular day hike (usually takes 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 every-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 our Tongariro Crossing guide for the best access depending on the season.
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. Get your Mt Ruapehu lift pass here.
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 Mountain Biking in Ruapehu. However, that unmissable bike trail has to be the Old Coach Road! Bike along a historic trail with a mix of forest, railway relics and views over the rural countryside. The 15km 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’s 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 is 5-6 hours return and has a lot less “logistics” to work out in terms of transport. 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.
Location: On State Highway 48, 4km from Whakapapa village.
6. Have High Tea in the Chateau Tongariro
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: 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 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 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 near Whakapapa here.
Location: 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 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.
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 waterfalls which takes a mere 20 minutes to walk to from the roadside. Learn more about the Lord of the Rings filming locations in the Tongariro National Park here.
Location: 16km up the Ohakune Mountain Road.