Tongariro National Park, North Island
Tongariro National Park is the oldest National Park in New Zealand. It is located in the central part of North Island and includes the volcanoes Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro. It is a Natural World Heritage Sites of the UNESCO.
Main activities are hiking and climbing in summer and skiing in winter. The famous hiking trail "Tongariro crossing" leads from east to west across the National Park.
On the eastern slope of Mt. Ruapehu there's a visitor center at the small hamlet of Whakapapa.
This really is a day walk of a lifetime, with views and colours created by volcanism you will never forget. You walk over rough pitch-black lava flows, along snow-capped mountain tops, grey ashes, slopes ochre from sulphur steams, a red crater that looks like covered in crimson coloured velvet, lakes with colour ranges from turquoise blue and green to dark blue.
If you are fit you don't have to go to the limit but do not underestimate the challenge, as it is a very long day walk, 17kms without side walks. As it is no round-trip you have to organise transport - but every hotel, motel or tourist info nearby will book it for you.
We were super lucky with our walk as we had a perfect summer day with sunshine, blue sky, no clouds. Three days before it had snowed... When we arrived the day before you could see the three volanoes of the park - Mts. Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro - already from the Napier-Taupo highway.
Even if you start in sunshine always take rain and cold weather gear with you as conditions can change quickly, and wear tramping boots.
The track starts at Mangatepopo, which is recommended because this way round you have less uphill sections and the most fantastic views unfold in front of you. You only have to look back for the distant view of Mt. Taranaki/Egmont.
The track leads along the Mangatepopo Valley to the saddle between Mt. Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. There you have the chance to climb up Mt. Ngauruhoe (2287m) which is a perfect volcanic cone. Do it if you are really fit, as it adds two hours to your trip. Then the tracks leads up to the Red Crater (1886m). From there you look down to the Emerald Lakes which were the highlight of the colour magic to me. Although only separated by a metre wide stretch of rock one lake was turquoise blue and the other green. In the distance you see the dark Blue Lake. After passing all those lakes you walk around the northern slope of Mt. Tongariro (1967m), and then zig-zag down endlessly past the Ketetahi Hut where you can take a bath in the hot springs.