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NZ Road Trip: Tongariro

NZ Road Trip: Tongariro

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Drive Time

  • 4 hours

Wellington to Tongariro National Park via Highway 1

This post is a part of our series on our road trip through New Zealand. New to this series? Check out our first post here.

The biggest downside to using a relocation special for a road trip in New Zealand is the limited time. We only had 5 days to get the car back to Jucy and one of the days had already been spent on the South Island just getting to the North. For us, this meant essentially skipping Wellington and the surrounding area. After spending the night, we were out the door bright and early and heading straight to Tongariro National Park.

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    Entering Tongariro National Park

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    Watch out for kiwis

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    Nope, not the setting of a Wes Anderson film

We were hoping to get there around lunch time so that we could go hiking. There was one hike in particular that I really wanted to do, Tongariro Alpine Pass, but I already knew that it wasn’t going to happen. It’s a full day excursion requiring guides and good weather. This hike looks amazing and from what we have been told – it is. Not only did we not have enough time, we were in New Zealand at the wrong time of year. Hey, thats the way things go sometimes and it’s an excellent excuse to come back to New Zealand.

We stopped just outside of Tongariro for lunch. We grabbed a bite and hit up the local i-Site to figure out our plan for hiking the area. We received excellent local insight which helped us decide to ditch the local tracks and head straight into the park where we could get spectacular views of the volcanos.

The drive towards Tongariro from the south was pretty impressive, but as we turned into the park onto Highway 48, shit got real. We had seen monstrous volcanos in Ecuador and they were stunning, but the volcanos in Tongariro were iconic. Seriously, I think the person that created the first icon of a volcano must have used Mt. Ngāuruhoe, one of the cones in the Tongariro complex, as inspiration. When we were there, it was draped in snow with just a few clouds hovering around the cone.

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    Setting off along the Taranki Falls track

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    The track crosses over a variety of terrain

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    The snowmelt was incredibly clear

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    Walking over the footpath leading to the waterfall

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    The Taranki Waterfall

When we arrived at the park we decided we didn’t have too much time for a very long hike, which was a bit of a bummer, well for me at least (Maya wasn’t excited about a 6 hour hike). Instead we opted for the much shorter Taranaki Falls Walking Track. This trail looped across the valley, into the forest, and along a stream that led to the Taranaki Waterfall. It was a great introduction to the area and a pretty easy trek, but Maya managed to misjudge the size of a gap in the trail and got a little scraped up and muddy. From the loop we had constant views of the cones of the Tongariro Volcano as well as the surrounding rolling hills. For all you nerds out there, myself included, this was where portions of The Lord of the Rings films were shot (more from the Alpine Pass). All in all, the track took about 2 hours.

It is always so nice to get out of the car and do these hikes, regardless of how long. You get a chance to really interact with the environment and see things up close. It also forces you to slow down and take it all in.

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    A view of Mt. Ngāuruhoe

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    Looking at the Tongariro Volcano

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    Another view of Mt. Ngāuruhoe

Getting cold and tired, we made our way back to the car and hit the road. We were headed to Lake Taupo, which is shaped just like Africa, where we hoped to spend the night. We found a spot in Taupo where we crashed. Originally, we were interested in checking out the giant Maori rock carving in the side of a lake-side cliff, but ultimately abandoned that idea. The carving is actually very recent and the cost to get out there was a little steep. If it had been a historic Maori carving we would have definitely checked it out. It seemed to mostly just be a good photo op. Instead we’d start heading up to Rotorua the next morning.

Keep an eye out for the rest of our posts in this series about our New Zealand Road Trip following us on Feedly.

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