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5 hidden gems to explore in the Tongariro National Park

The dual UNESCO World Heritage Tongariro National Park is a place of unimaginable natural beauty and spiritual significance located in the heart of the central North Island. Within the expansive National Park is the world-famous 19.4km Tongariro Alpine Crossing which is considered New Zealand’s best one day hike. However, the awe-inspiring volcanic landscape is also home to several shorter walking trails that are worthy of your exploration:

1. Lake Rotopounamu

Difficulty: Easy walking track
Distance: 5 km loop
Time: 2 hours

Lake Rotopounamu fills a crater nestled into the western side of Mount Pihanga. The name of the lake comes from the Māori words 'roto' (lake) and 'pounamu' (greenstone). The five kilometre loop track will take a leisurely two hours to complete and is a favourite amongst nature lovers, families and birdwatchers. The track begins with an uphill walk then flattens out to circle the emerald green coloured lake. The North Island robin, kākā, kereru and falcon are often seen amongst the native bush. The crystal-clear waters of the lake are suitable for swimming in with plenty of places to walk down to the sandy beaches.

Getting there: 11 km from Turangi off SH47, the parking area is signposted on the south side of Te Ponanga Saddle.

2. Taranaki Falls

Difficulty: Easy walking track
Distance: 6 km loop
Time: 2 hours

The upper and lower tracks form a two-hour loop track with the waterfall situated around the half-way point. Highlights of this trail include the impressive Taranaki Falls, tussock and alpine shrub lands, beech forest and fantastic views of Mount Ruapehu. The falls cascade 20 metres over the edge of a large lava flow, which erupted from Mount Ruapehu 15,000 years ago, and plunge into a boulder-lined pool. Pack a picnic and the enjoy spectacular views surrounded by native plants and birdsong.

Getting there: The trail begins 100 metres below the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre on Ngauruhoe Place in Whakapapa Village.

3. Silica Rapids

Difficulty: Easy walking track
Distance: 7 km loop
Time: 2.5 hours

Starting near the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre in Whakapapa Village the 7 km Silica Rapids loop will take you through mountain beech forest alongside a cascading stream, arriving at the golden Silica Rapids. You will see a range of natural highlights along the track including native ferns, lava formations and waterfalls. This highly varied walk reveals a range of vegetation types and spectacular views of Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe.

Getting there: The track is near Whakapapa Village on SH48. It starts 250 metres above the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre.

4. Tawhai Falls

Difficulty: Easiest short walk
Distance: 500 metres each way
Time: 20 minutes

The Tawhai Falls are 13 meters-high and tumble over the edge of an ancient lava flow, reached after a short stroll through mountain toatoa and beech forest. Tawhai Falls is also the filming location of Gollum’s pool, where Faramir and his archers are watching Gollum fish in The Lord of the Rings movie; The Two Towers. This is a must visit for any Lord of the Rings fans, and waterfall photography enthusiasts!

Getting there: The trail begins 4 km below the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre on State Highway 48.

5. Ridge Walking Track

Difficulty: Easy walking track
Time: 35 minutes
Distance: 1.2 km return

The Ridge Walking Track is a great option for those who are short on time but want to experience a pleasant nature hike and views. Accessible on foot from Whakapapa Village, climb through beech forest and then emerge into alpine shrublands with panoramic views of Mount Ngauruhoe and the unique landscape of the Tongariro National Park.

Getting there: The track is near Whakapapa Village on SH48. It starts 150 metres above the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre.


Whatever your experience level or passion, there are walking trails to suit everyone within the stunning volcanic landscape of the Tongariro National Park.

For more adventure, you could plan a day or multi-day hike, though make sure you have done your research and are well prepared for winter hiking conditions as there is snow during the winter months. Hiring a guide at this time of year is recommended for longer day or multi-day hikes. 

There are several walking guides and shuttle services throughout the region, find out more or book at the Taupo or Turangi i-SITEs.

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