An alien volcanic landscape
Taking its name from Mount Ruapehu, the North Island’s highest peak, this region is home to the Tongariro National Park, New Zealand’s oldest national park and a dual World Heritage area. Dominated by volcanic peaks, the diverse landscape with its rivers, lakes and native forest is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.
Walking and hiking is the main drawcard, with the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, arguably New Zealand’s best day walk, a major attraction. In winter, the place really comes alive as both locals and tourists flock to the region’s two commercial ski fields, Whakapapa and Turoa. If mountain biking is more your thing, there’s a huge array of mountain bike trails including two of New Zealand’s Great Rides, the 85 km / 53 miles Timber Trail and the 217 km / 135 miles Mountains to Sea Journey.
Top things to do in Ruapehu
Looking for ideas to help you plan the ultimate New Zealand outdoor adventure? Here are some of the top things for active travellers to see and do in the Ruapehu region.
Walking and hiking
From short gentle strolls through native bush to advanced multi-day hikes, Ruapehu has something for everyone. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is without doubt the most popular day hike in the region and for good reason. It passes through some of the most spectacular and unique volcanic scenery with impressive views of Mount Ngauruhoe. But its popularity is also its undoing to some degree as it gets really, really busy during the peak summer season.
The good news is that even in peak season, if you’re willing to explore a little off the beaten track, you can still feel like you have the place all to yourself. The Department of Conservation website is the most comprehensive resource for the region, listing all of the available tracks, but here are just a few of our favourite walks for you to consider.
- The 17 km / 11 mile return Tama Lakes Track has some great views of Mount Ngauruhoe as you head towards two crater lakes on the Tama Saddle between Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. Along the way you’ll pass spectacular Taranaki Falls. This track is relatively easy and suitable for most walkers with the only really steep section being between the lower and upper lakes.
- On the Ohakune side, the 5 hour return Lake Surprise track is a little more advanced. One of the less popular tracks compared to those around Whakapapa, the beautiful cascades in the Mangaturuturu Valley make this a worthwhile walk.
- For fit and experienced adventurers, the climb to one of the summits of Mount Ruapehu is a must do. For less experienced visitors, a guided walk is definitely the better option.
- The Tongariro Northern Circuit is one of New Zealand’s officially designated Great Walks. This 41 km / 25 mile hike takes 3 to 4 days, and encircles Mt Ngauruhoe, an active volcano. It includes a section of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
- The 4 to 6 day Round the Mountain Track encircles Mount Ruapehu and is a quieter alternative to the Northern Circuit. It’s more advanced and definitely only for the experienced and well prepared.
Tracks on and around Mount Ruapehu itself are exclusively for walking with the exception of Ohakune Old Coach Road. This is a shared walking and mountain biking track along what used to be a road linking two railheads. It’s an easy Grade 2 route with some interesting heritage remains.
Just north of Mount Ruapehu, the 46 km / 29 mile 42 Traverse Track is known as one of the best adventure mountain bike rides in the North Island. Good skills and fitness are definitely required but the reward is some spectacular views of the Tongariro National Park.
The 2 day, 85 km / 53 mile family-friendly Timber Trail offers a good mix of scenery and history. Following old tramways and newly constructed track, the route features 8 suspension bridges, the longest being 141 metres and 55 metres high, giving you a birds eye view of the forest below.
The Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail is an epic adventure over 3 to 5 days that starts on the flanks of Mount Ruapehu and will take you all the way to the coast of Whanganui. The full route includes a section along the Whanganui River that requires a water taxi. Details of this section and everything else you need to know is on the Mountains to Sea website.
The northern flank of Mount Ruapehu is home to Whakapapa, New Zealand’s largest ski area with over 60 runs spread over 1050 hectares. On the southern flank is Turoa ski field which boasts the longest vertical descent in Australasia and offers some of the best early season skiing in the country. Both ski fields have a good mix of beginner, intermediate and advanced runs. You can check conditions, view trail maps and buy passes on MtRuapehu.com.