During your journey planning you must undeniably have come across one of the most famous national parks in New Zealand : the Dual World Heritage area of Tongariro National Park. World famous for one of the best day hikes in the world, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, this volcanic region is quite extraordinary.
While the day hike may draw all the attention and is a must-do here, there are many other ways to enjoy the park.
Let's start with the Tongariro Alpine Crossing itself. If you want to get the most out of the day hike, we suggest you organize your own transportation, if possible. Since the track is not a loop track, you need to find a way to get back to the start of the track to pick up your vehicle at the end of the day. If you have some friends with a car as well, you could drop off a car at the end of the track at the start of the day so that you can jump in and drive back to the start. The reason we say is because most shuttle transportation drop off people at the start at the track around the same times in the morning, which means you'll be in the company of a whole lot of people during the day. While it doesn't change the scenery obviously, wouldn't it be better to enjoy this a little more privately. So if you can organize your transfers to and from the start of the track without having to use shuttles, we recommend you start walking slightly later than everyone else. Even a 10am departure in the morning will get you back for dinner at your accommodation on time.
To get the absolute most out of the park on a hike, you must do the Tongariro Northern Circuit. For the very fit people it can be done in 2 days, but more comfortably it is done in 3-4 days. You'll join the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and see the main features of the track, but go far beyond that as well. You'll pass a variety of moon landscapes, more crater lakes and circuit around Mt Ruapehu as well. This is an epic hiking adventure in some of the most surreal landscapes.
For a slightly different view of the volcanoes, the Mt Urchin track on the eastern side of the National Park, off State Highway 1 just before the Desert Road, is a 3-4 hour return hike providing you with an alpine experience and incredible views of Lake Taupo and the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park. For the traveler with a bit less time this is a great option.
A more relaxed and family friendly walk is a 1 hour stroll around the beautiful and picturesque Lake Rotopounamu. Or you may just want to hang out on its white sandy beach and go for a refreshing swim in the cool water.
Another popular activity in the National Park is mountain biking. You can hire a bike from various locations in National Park Village, and the variety of trails are sure to get you excited, not to mention the spectacular landscapes.
In winter the main activity is skiing. Mt Ruapehu offers 2 ski fields, one in Turoa and the other in Whakapapa, which is also the largest ski field of New Zealand. During the weekends and school holidays the mountain is busy with ski revellers, so the best time to go skiing would be during the week. It is a pretty special experience to ski on an active volcanoe!
A little bit further in Turangi you can experience world-class trout fishing on the Tongariro River, a premier fly fishing water. It is the most fished river in the country with a world-wide reputation for the size, number and vigour of the trout and the challenge they present to anglers.
Other activities in and around the National Park include Tongariro River Rafting, scenic flights over the volcanoes departing from Taupo and 4WD Quad biking.