The oldest national park in New Zealand, and one of only three UNESCO World Heritage sites in the country (along with Te Wahipounamu including Fjordland, and five Subantarctic Islands), Tongariro National Park is an incredible place. Most people will visit to walk the justly famous Tongaririo Alpine Crossing, but there is much more to the park and the surrounding area worth exploring.
National Park is the closest town to the park, located just beyond the boundary. At 825m above sea level it is the highest town in the country. It has a population of around 200, but 1,500 beds in visitor accommodation. There is little itself in town, but the views across SH4 to the volcanoes of Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Ruapehu are pretty special, particularly at sunset.
Heading alongside Tongariro National Park on SH47 are the pleasant Mahuia Rapids, with a moody Mount Ngauruhoe in the distance.
Heading into the park itself is the short Mounds Walk with more views of the volcanoes, and on the side of Mount Ruapehu the Whakapapa ski field area with ski lodges and the Sky Waka.
A little further up the road is Tawhai Falls (Gollums Pool), a 13m high waterfall that featured in the Lord of the Rings as where Frodo and Faramir capture Gollum.
There are some amazing multi-day hikes in the park, including the Tongaririo Northern Circuit and the Around the Mountain Circuit, plus shorter day walks around Whakapapa and the Skyline Walk from the top of the Sky Waka.
Heading north out of the park along SH47 is the interesting Te Porere Redoubt. This is where the last major battle of the New Zealand Wars was fought on 4 October 1869. Maori build a European style redoubt to unsuccessfully hold the British at bay, though the leader Te Kooti managed to escape.
There is more Maori history at the beautiful Opotaka, once a pa site (fortified village), with stunning views across Lake Rotoaira toward Tongaririo National Park.
These show the difference a little photo tweaking can have…
A fair amount of restoration work was undertaken in the 1980s, including replica buildings, an approach frowned upon from a heritage perspective these days.
A little further along SH47 is the lovely Lake Rotopounamu Track. A complete circuit of the lake takes 2.5-3 hours, I only had time to walk to 5 minute beach, a 30 mins walk from the car park through native bush to the shallow lake.
At the peak of SH47 is the scenic Te Ponanga Saddle View Point with epic views over Lake Taupo.
The final stop was at Tokaanu to visit the thermal pools. Unfortunately they were closed for renovation in April 2022 but a unexpected surprise was the free Thermal Walk that goes around the pools, filled with geothermal wonders.