Situated directly south of Lake Taupo, the Ruapehu region of New Zealand's North Island begs to be explored on your own two feet (or perhaps, on two wheels).
This is tramping country. A huge selection of day walks and multi-day treks explore the volcanic Tongariro National Park. If you're visiting Ruapehu during the winter months of June - September, Mt Ruapehu is king and offers the North Island's best skiing and snowboarding.
On a clear day in Ruapehu, you're afforded some of New Zealand's best views. Three volcanoes dot the Ruapehu countryside - Mt Ruapehu, Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe. Two of them - Mt Ruapehu and Mt Tongariro - are active volcanoes having last erupted in 1995 and August of 2012.
Whether you experience traveling in Ruapehu whilst hiking, biking or simply cruising through in your campervan, we think you'll agree that it's a pretty epic area of the North Island.
Don't forget to get your accommodation booked before your trip. Check out Wotif for the best deals on Ruapehu accommodation.
Destination Ruapehu: Getting There
The Tongariro National Park and its main population centres are about two hours south of Taupo. Alternatively, if you're coming from the south, the park is located about four hours north of Wellington.
There are buses which operate in between the main towns of the region, yet this is definitely an area that is best explored with your own car. The roads are well trafficked and hitching is a good option too.
Destination Ruapehu: Orientation
Outside of the towns of Ruapehu listed below, we think you should have a solid understanding of the volcanoes of the Tongariro National Park. You Lord of the Rings fans will know the area quite well - the park was featured as Mordor in LOTR with Mt Ngauruhoe featuring as Mt Doom.
At 2,797 metres, Mt Ruapehu is the highest and most active of the park's volcanoes. Its long, multipeaked summit sits comfortably above the other volcanoes of Tongariro National Park. It's Mt Ruapehu you should keep your eye on, as it's most likely to blow its top. Mt Ruapehu last erupted in 1995, and today DOC has set up alarm systems to monitor Ruapehu's Crater Lake for signs of a coming eruption.
You'll walk through Mt Tongariro's (1967 metres) colored lakes if you hike the fantastic Tongariro Crossing. This is the oldest of the three volcanoes and its Red Crater last erupted in 1926. Again almost 100 years later in August of 2012, much to the surprise of everyone from punters to scientists, Mt Tongariro erupted spilling ash all over the Ruapehu region.
If you've watched Lord of the Rings, you'll know Mt Ngaurhoe as Mt Doom from Mordor. Mt Ngaurhoe is significantly younger than her neighbors, and this is evident by her perfectly symmetrical and quintessentially 'volcano' shape. As a day trip on the Tongariro Northern Circuit, you can hike to Mt Doom's, err, Mt Ngaurhoe's, 2,287 metre summit.
Moving North to South, the main population centres in Ruapehu are:
Turangi :: The Trout Fishing Capital of the World sits at the southern end of Lake Taupo. Turangi is in many ways, a smaller, quieter and more country feelingTaupo. The Tongariro River flows past Turangi and into Lake Taupo and is full of trout - hence, Turangi's status as one of the best places in the world to go trout fishing. While you can access the Tongariro National Park from Turangi, you're better off basing yourself in one of the more scenic towns further south.
Whakapapa Village :: Whakapapa (pronounced Fa-ka-pa-pa, really) is a picturesque village situated directly at the base of Mt Ruapehu. This scenic spot offers about three different accommodation providers (cheap, expensive, and really expensive), a pub, and a cafe and is the only settlement in the region actually located within Tongariro National Park. The Tongariro Northern Circuit as well as a number of other terrific shorter walks leave directly from Whakapapa Village. Come winter, Mt Ruapehu Ski Field, New Zealand's largest, is best accessed from Whakapapa Village as well. Whakapapa Village is about 45 minutes south of Turangi off the SH47.
National Park Village :: Situated at the junction of the SH4 and SH47, this small settlement takes its name from the park accessed just outside of town. In the winter moths, accommodation fills up rapidly and the town is packed with skiers and snowboarders. Come summer, the town will be more or less be all yours - as will the stunning views across the park to Mt Ruapehu.
Winter or summer, it's a good place to base yourself. In the summer months shuttles can easily transport you to Whakapapa village where you can walk the Tongariro Crossing and in winter, it's about halfway between the region's two ski fields.
Ohakune :: Ohakune, the largest of the towns in the Ruapehu region, feels the most 'townlike.' Whilst this may not make sense initially, once you've spent some time in each place - you'll understand what we mean. Ohakune has a grocery store, a main street, a park, a couple of restaurants and plenty of accommodation options. It also has a gigantic carrot.
Yes, you read that correctly. Ohakune's claim to fame is the "Carrot Capital of the World." The gigantic orange carrot that you about have to get your photo taken with sits alongside the road (SH49) as you're leaving town and heading southeast. NZ's Carrot Capital celebrates each July with a Carrot Festival by dressing up in orange, throwing carrots in a competition and loads at other activities aimed at celebrating this orange root vegetable.
Ohakune swells during the winter months as the spot to base yourself if you're skiing or boarding Ruapehu's other ski field, Turoa. Like other towns in the region, things are a bit quieter during the summer months but in recent years mountain biking is starting to take off in the area.
Destination Ruapehu: Hot Spots
This region of New Zealand offers an exhilarating mix of activities and attractions to keep you busy, entertained and active. Best thing about Ruapehu? It won't break your bank. Most activities simply take in the stunning natural scenery of the region.
Be sure to check out any or all of these spots during your time traveling in Ruapehu.
Mountain Bike The Old Coach Road
Ruapehu offers up a huge variety of mountain bike trails - from beginner rides, to thrilling downhill tracks and epic backcountry trails. A multi-day cycle trail that will stretch from Ohakune all the way to Wanganui - the Mountain to Sea Trail - is currently being developed. This trail will take in the absolute best of the North Island.
If you're keen for simply a cruisey day on two wheels, look no further than the Old Coach Road. The Old Coach Road gives you a historic glimpse into New Zealand's past. The easily graded trail takes you through dense forest and offers sweeping views of the surrounding countryside. The Old Coach Road is aproximately 15 kms long, so it's an achievable return ride in a day or an interesting half day one way trip. Historical features on the trail include massive steel viaducts, a curved tunnel, railway bridge remains, old camp sites and a cobbled road built in 1906.
The trail starts in tiny Horopito and finishes in Ohakune where you'll have earned yourself the right to relax with a nice cold pint.
Walk in the Tongariro National Park
Outside of a huge variety of easily accessible day walks, there are two walks you absolutely have to consider if visiting Ruapehu during the warmer months. The Tongariro Crossing and the Tongariro Northern Circuit.
The Tongariro Northern Circuit is one of New Zealand's Great Walks. This multi-day tramp circles Mt Ngauruhoe and offers up spectacular views of Mt Tongariro. Along the way there are a series of well maintained huts that will provide comfortable and sheltered accommodation. While walking what is one of NZ's greatest Great Walks, you'll tramp through volcanic craters past vividly colorful lakes and loads of other volcanic formations. If you've time and weather on your side, consider a side trip up to Mt Ngauruhoe's summit. This walk is about three hours return and shouldn't be attempted during wet conditions.
This two to three day circuit includes the Tongariro Crossing (below) and typically begins at Mangatepopo car park and finishes in Whakapapa Village. Like the other Great Walks, you'll have to purchase hut passes from the Department of Conservation.
The Tongariro Crossing is often ranked as the most spectacular one-day walks in the world - if at the very least, the most spectacular in New Zealand. Very few places in the world would afford you such interesting and awe-inspiring volcanic geography over 19kms. Whilst not terribly challenging, there are a few steep spots that will inevitably take the wind out of your sails. If you're a hiking nut, expect to do this in about 6-7 hours where the novices will take closer to 9 or 10 - either way, you'll be due a pint by the time you finish.
The track passes through everything from alpine scrub, to podocarp forests, to active craters and steaming vents. Oh, and the views are okay too. You'll need either two cars or transport with one of the local operators as the crossing starts and finishes in different locations.
Shred Powder on the Ski Fields
If you're traveling in Ruapehu during the winter months, you'll still be able to check out a number of the day walks in the region, yet the Tongariro Crossing becomes a challenging alpine traverse. If you're not a mountaineer, then odds favoring you shredding pow on one of the local ski fields - Mt Ruapehu or Turoa.
Like many ski areas around the world, when you ask a local what's best, it comes down to personal preference. This being said, if you ask someone in Ohakune - they'll almost undoubtedly recommend nearby Turoa. If you're in National Park, they'll send you to Mt Ruapehu. With all the towns in the region being quite central, you can choose based on snow conditions - and if there has been a dump at both fields, well - enjoy.
Destination Ruapehu: Final Thoughts & Recommendations
If you're not typically into hiking and biking, now is the time to give it a go. Ruapehu is the North Island's outdoor playground so even if you're not keen for the activities outlined above, you can still experience the outdoors on a jet boat, in a canoe or even on a scenic flight.
Tongariro National Park is New Zealand's oldest - and we reckon, it might be your favorite. With towering, active volcanoes, loads of outdoor activities and chilled out locals, you're bound to enjoy your stay.