This was the first national park to be established in New Zealand and the fourth in the world. Tongariro was nominated both natural and cultural World Heritage status in 1990 and was inscribed on the heritage list that year for its natural values.
In 1887 Te Heuheu Tukino IV (Horonuku), then the paramount chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa, gifted the sacred peaks to the nation.
To tangata whenua (people of the land) the mountains are a vital part of their history, their whakapapa (genealogy) and legends are venerated accordingly.
Ko Tongariro te maunga Tongariro is the mountain
Ko Taupo te moana Taupo is the lake
Ko Ngati Tuwharetoa te tangata Ngati Tuwharetoa are the people
Ko Te Heuheu te tangata Te Heuheu is the man
It is said that their ancestor, Ngatoroirangi (the navigator and tohunga of the waka Arawa) was close to death after exploring this mountainous region. He called out to his sisters from his pacific homeland, Hawaiiki, to send him fire. The fire came but its passage left a trail of volcanic vents, from Tongatapu, through Whakaari (White Island), Rotorua and Tokaanu, before reaching Ngatoroirangi on the slopes of Tongariro.
The three volcanoes at the heart of the park - Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu form the southern limits of the Taupo Volcanic Zone. Volcanic activity in the zone started about 2 million years ago and is on-going today. Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe are two of the most active composite volcanoes in the world. In 1995 and again in 1996 Ruapehu has erupted in spectacular fashion sending clouds of ash and steam skyward covering the surrounding snow fields and forest with a thick film of ash.
It is a land of strong contrasts. Chaotic, barren lava flows, winter snowfields, hot springs and active craters can be seen side by side. Its plants too vary considerably, from alpine herbs to tussock and flax, from the hardy, low-growing shrubs of the Rangipo gravel-field to dense beech forests. It is a harsh environment for plants; poor pumice soils and volcanic activity slows the development of diverse forests yet some pockets of magnificent podocarp forest can be found. They survived the eruption of Lake Taupo (1800 years ago) because they were sheltered on southwest slopes of Ruapehu.
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Click here to read more about our helitours and sightseeing flights around the Mt Tongariro region.