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- 12 May 2021, 3 nights
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UNESCO World Heritage Site Tongariro National Park is as culturally important to the indigenous Māori as it is to the landscape of North Island. Mount Ngauruhoe is world-famous as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films, but the neighbouring Ruapehu and Tongariro mountains are equally imposing. Hike or bike among craters, lakes and towering peaks, or take advantage of the numerous places to sample local cuisine.
Most hostels in Tongariro National Park give out free maps and there are communal kitchens for travellers on a budget. There are TV rooms in several places, along with hiking or skiing equipment to hire. Stay in a timber lodge, splash out at a Tongariro hostel with a hot springs pool or sleep in one with an Alpine-themed bedroom. More adventurous travellers can choose a hostel built around an 8m climbing wall, while others might opt to unwind with a beer on the outdoor terrace.
Whakapapa Village is the only village in the national park, so lots of walking trails start here and the ski fields are close by. National Park Village on the western edge is a base for many visitors, with plenty of restaurants and bars. The biggest town nearby is Taumarunui. Originally a Māori settlement, it's now an area packed with cycling tours and mountain biking tracks. For a trip back to pioneer days, spend an afternoon exploring historic Raetihi or the Wild West-style settlement in the Ruatiti Valley.
Activities in Tongariro National Park are all about enjoying the scenery. Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, an 8-hour route that encompasses vivid green lakes and red craters. In winter you can ski on an active volcano (Mount Ruapehu), which definitely gives you bragging rights! If you complete the 42km Tongariro Northern Circuit over a few days you'll get to experience secluded corners of the park. You can also see a screening at Taumarunui Regent Cinema, which has been operating since 1935.
To reach Tongariro National Park you can fly to New Zealand's Taupo Airport then take the 1.5-hour bus ride to Whakapapa Village. A train runs to National Park Village and Ohakune from Auckland (6 hours) or Wellington (5 hours 20 minutes) three times a week. From these stations you can catch a shuttle bus to Whakapapa Village or Taumarunui. Once there, it's best to get around by walking. If you're arriving by car, the Department of Conservation advises you leave it at Whakapapa Village.