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Ruapehu Area Guide


Looking from Mt Ngauruhoe (2287m) across Tama
lakes to Mt Ruapehu (2797m) - © Naturespic.com
The three volcanoes, Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe, rise up out of the heart of the beautiful, rugged volcanic plateau at the centre of the North Island to form the nucleus of the Tongariro National Park, New Zealand's oldest national park.
 
Mount Ruapehu is the most active of the volcanoes, and the highest point in the North Island, at 2,797 metres. It lies midway between Auckland and Wellington, a four and a half hour drive from both main cities. The mountain last erupted in spectacular fashion in 1995 and 1996, when it sprayed out rock and clouds of ash and steam, disrupting air traffic and closing state highways.
 
The area draws visitors in the summer and winter, attracted by skiing and snowboarding in winter, and hiking in the summer. The jagged rock formations and eerie, barren landscape also brought Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson here to film Frodo and Sam's journey into Mordor. Mount Ngauruhoe was digitally altered for the film to portray Mount Doom.
 
To find your way into the park and to the tiny Whakapapa village, the only settlement within the park boundary, take state highway 48 as it branches off highway 47. The Department of Conservation's Visitor Centre is a great place to visit to learn more about the volcanoes and to get brochures on walking tracks, and maps of the area. Staff will also advise on local weather conditions, which can change rapidly.
 
While in Whakapapa, visit the landmark Bayview Chateau Tongariro Hotel, the elegant four-storied Georgian brick hotel nestled at the foot of Mount Ruapehu. The luxury hotel features in news photos of the 1995 eruptions of Mount Ruapehu, utterly dwarfed by the power of nature.
 
The North Island's two main ski areas, the sister fields of Whakapapa and Turoa, are located on either side of Mount Ruapehu. The 550-hectare field at Whakapapa is the largest developed ski area in New Zealand, while Turoa is the highest. The chairlift at the Whakapapa Ski Area operates from December to April for summer sightseeing, as well as in winter for ski and snowboard access.
 
The area is packed with all kinds of walking tracks for summer trips, ranging from the Mead's Wall Walk, a 30-minute stroll to the rocky outcrop of Mead's Wall, which featured as the site where Frodo and Sam captured Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movie, The Two Towers. For a more challenging hike, do the seven-to-eight-hour Tongariro Crossing, which traverses spectacular volcanic terrain, passing emerald lakes, lava flows and an active crater, or the three to four day Tongariro Northern Circuit, one of New Zealand's Great Walks.