Tongariro: New Zealand’s oldest national park

In a country littered with spectacular national parks, there’s something pretty special about holding the distinction of being the first. Tongariro was designated in 1887. Not only was it the first in New Zealand, but it was only the fourth national park ever to be created in the world. Since then, the area has been recognised by UNESCO as a dual World Heritage Site, with both its natural and cultural characteristics deemed worthy of such status. Here are some of the Tongariro National Park attractions that you can expect.

Tongariro National Park Attractions: New Zealand
Tongariro National Park: Photo (c) albertpalenshoots

Tongariro National Park Attractions

Culturally significant

According to Maori legend, the navigator and priest Ngatoro-i-rangi had been exploring this mountainous region and had grown so exhausted he was close to death. He sent a message to his sisters to send him fire and they did so, creating the volcanoes that stretch across the island, finally reaching Ngatoro-i-rangi where he stood on the slopes of Mount Tongariro. In 1887, keen to prevent the land that enclosed the sacred peaks of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu, Maori chief Te Heuheu Tukino IV gifted the land to the New Zealand government, making it the first such gift from an indigenous people to their nation anywhere on the planet.

Tongariro National Park Attractions
Tongariro National Park: Photo Daniel Chodusov / CC BY-ND 2.0

A stunning natural landscape

Located on North Island, Tongariro National Park is centred on not one but three volcanoes: Tongariro, the shortest at 1967m, Ngauruhoe at 2287m and mighty Ruapehu at a towering 2797m, making it the highest point on the island. Unsurprisingly, there’s some great skiing to be had, but it says something about the quality of the scenery when you realise that more visitors come to the park in summer for hiking than they do for winter sports. That doesn’t mean they won’t see snow: Mount Ruapehu has a permanent snow cap and is also home to the only glaciers on North Island.

Alpine meadows

One of the park’s charms in the warmer months is the rainbow of colours from the beautiful vegetation that carpets the mountains’ lower slopes. Mountain buttercups, daisies, purple parahebe, blue gentian and ice-white foxgloves combine to create one of the prettiest palettes on North Island. Add to this a selection of delicate orchids and this is heaven for flower fans. Providing stature are stands of mountain beech and also mountain cedar, the latter easy to pick out with its twisted trunk.

Twitchers’ paradise

As you hike the trails of Tongariro National Park, you’ll be treated to the sight of some very special flora and fauna. Keen twitchers will have a field day; as well as commonly seen birds such as robins, tui, bellbirds and wood pigeons, you have a chance to spot the more elusive fernbirds, whio (blue duck) and brown kiwi, the latter found in a sanctuary located in the adjacent Tongariro Forest Conservation Area. Keep your eyes peeled and you may even be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the kaka, native falcon and parakeets which occasionally make an appearance.

About JuliaHammond


Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel's Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt's Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

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3 Responses

  1. 5 Most Romantic New Zealand Destinations | Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] is easily the top honeymoon destination in the country, which speaks for its romantic vibe. The world class hiking opportunities include Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which has been listed by many as the top hiking trail in the […]

  2. 5 Reasons To Take NZ's Northern Explorer Train | Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] of North Island’s most spectacular landscapes. The highlight for many is passing within sight of Tongariro National Park and if the weather holds, you’ll be rewarded with superb views of Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe, […]

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    […] is a fan favorite day-long hike across what’s left of Mount Tongariro. It’s a 20 km hike that takes you atop the […]


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