Tongariro National Park
Tongariro National Park is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest national park in New Zealand, it also happens to be the perfect place for a striking natural getaway. The visual splendour of the New Zealand landscape was immortalized in the Lord of the Rings films, which were filmed in large part within Tongariro. Now the park that was good enough to play Middle Earth can play host to any traveller looking to recharge amid some truly stunning natural vistas.
Tongariro covers more than 750,000 square kilometres of the island nation, a few kilometres south-west of Lake Taupo. It was a gift to the people of New Zealand in 1887, from Te Heuheu Tukino IV, then the paramount chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa. For the local tangata whenua (people of the land), the mountains are a vital part of their history. As such, the park is stuffed with educational opportunities for those looking to better understand the unique culture native to New Zealand.
Head into the park to find its geographic wonders, the greatest of which are its three enormous volcanoes. Mount Ngauruhoe, the inspiration for the movies’ Mount Doom, sits near the heart of the park alongside Mounts Tongariro and Ruapehu. Both Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu are considered among the most active composite volcanoes in the world.
Yet, within the very same park borders travellers can find snow-fields and hot springs, lush treed countryside and barren lava-flows. The chaotic, varied landscape means that every trip into the park is unique, and made doubly so by the large array of rare wildlife sought out by local tour operators. On a given trip, travellers might see a North Island robin, a rare kakriki or a gorgeous New Zealand falcon called a karearea. Many travellers especially keep an eye out for New Zealand’s only native mammals, short- and long-tailed bats. The variety can be taken even further by those interested in keeping watch fro the many amazing insects native to the area.
Accommodations near the park become more expensive in the winter, so consider visiting during the warmer months. You won’t have access to the same world-class skiing and snowboarding, but that isn’t much of a sacrifice when Tongariro has so much more to offer.
For more about Lord of the Rings movie locations, see this story.