The three peaks of Tongariro National Park – Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe – dominate the central North Island skyline and the rugged landscape in which the mountains are nestled is wild and, in places, relatively barren. There is a certain mystical quality about the area and indeed these mountains are sacred to the Maori. Tongariro National Park was created in 1887 – the first in New Zealand and only the fourth in the world – and later became part of a UNESCO dual World Heritage Site, recognised for both its natural and cultural qualities. The Tongariro Crossing is the country’s most famous one-day walk and whilst it’s not for the faint-hearted (it’s a six- to eight-hour hike with very steep climbs in places), it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. The lunar-like landscape is punctuated with unique, volcanic formations and sparkling green lakes, and the views are simply breath-taking. However, for those who don’t wish to take the Tongariro challenge there are plenty of lower level walking trails around the base of the mountains.
The tiny settlements of National Park, Whakapapa and Ohakune do a splendid job at providing accommodation and services for the hoards of visitor each year, and there are various options for shuttles to the start and back from the end of the crossing.