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Tongariro National Park
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrLocated in the central North Island, Tongariro was New Zealand’s first national park, established in 1887. It was the fourth national park in the world. It has dual World Heritage area status, owing to the park’s important Maori cultural and spiritual associations, as well as its remarkable volcanic features.
Tongariro was the first national park in the world to be gifted by a country’s indigenous people. Mananui To Heuheu, chief of the Ngati Tuwharetoa tribe, was one of the few Maori chiefs who refused to sign the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 and cede sovereignty to the British Crown. After his death, his son, Te Heuheu Tukino IV (Horonuku), came under intense pressure from land-hungry European settlers. To protect the land and keep it as a sacred place, he gifted the sacred peaks of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and part of Mount Ruapehu to the people of New Zealand.
The original gift was of an area of 2,640 ha, made up of land around the three peaks. Over time, the Crown purchased further large areas of land, and when the Tongariro National Park Act was passed in 1894, the area amassed around 25,000 ha. Today, the park covers more than 79,000 ha.
The national park is home to the world famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, and one of New Zealand’s 9 Great Walks, the Tongariro Northern Circuit.
MythologThe mountains are an important part of the history of the local Maori. According to legends, their ancestor, Ngatoro-i-rangi, was close to death while exploring the mountainous region. He called out to his sisters from his Pacific homeland, Hawaiiki, to send him fire. The fire came but its passage left a trail of volcanic vents from Tongatapu, through Whakaari (White Island), Rotorua, and Tokaanu, before reaching Ngatoro-i-rangi on the slopes of Tongariro.
SightseeingThe three volcanoes in the park, and the mountains Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu, comprise the southern end of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire . Volcanic activity began around 2 million years ago, and is ongoing today.
Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe are two of the most active volcanoes in the world. Ruapehu erupted in 1995 and 1996, sending clouds of ash and steam into the area, and covering the surrounding snowfields and forests with a thick layer of ash.
The park has a wide variety of landscapes, from barren lava flows and winter snowfields to hot springs and active craters.
Endemic SpeciesAlpine herbs and flowers share the landscape with thick tussock and flax, hardy shrubs and dense beech forests. There are small areas of spectacular podocarp forest. These forests survived the eruption of Lake Taupo 1,800 years ago because of their sheltered location on the southwest slopes of Ruapehu.
Tongariro is home to New Zealand’s only native mammals, the Short and Long-tailed Bats. It is also home to a wide variety of beautiful native birds, including the North Island Robin, Fantails, Tomtits, Kereru (native pigeon), and Tui, and also the rare Kakariki (parakeet), Kaka or Karearea (falcon).
Interesting TriviaThe park was used for several filming locations in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, including Ithilien, Mordor, and the Gates of Mordor.
The location of Mordor was shot on and around the rocky slopes of the park. Mount Ngauruhoe was digitally transformed to create Mt. Doom, the center of Frodo’s quest to save Middle Earth. The summits of the volcanoes were not filmed to respect the wishes of the Maori people, to whom the peaks are tapu (sacred).
The Tongariro CrossingThe Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the park’s biggest tourist drawcard. The crossing takes one day, and pass by active volcanoes and impressive volcanic terrain. The walk encompasses incredible vistas, including a cold mountain spring, old lava flows, volcanic craters, and thermal steam vents, and the stunning emerald and blue lakes and native forest.
Bring plenty of food and drink, waterproof clothing, and sturdy boots. Sun protection, woolen clothing, and GPS are also recommended. It is not recommended to attempt the hike during winter, as snow and ice conditions exist with sub-zero temperatures, as well as the risk of avalanche.
See the New Zealand Department of Conservation website for further information at www.doc.govt.nz
How to Get There and What to BringTongariro is the closest national park to Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. The park is easily accessible from State Highway 1. Whakapapa Villlage, on the western side of Mount Ruapehu, is the main entrance to the park. Other nearby towns are Turangi and Ohakune.
A variety of accommodation is available in the towns surrounding the park, from budget to luxury options. It is also possible to stay in campsites and huts managed by the Department of Conservation.
Other activities nearby include skiing during the winter months on Mount Ruapehu, at the Whakapapa and Turoa skifields.
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Author: Amanda. Last updated: Mar 15, 2016