In the middle of the North Island spanning 100 km wide and 130 km long is the Central Volcanic Plateau. Encompassing three active peaks – Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Ruapehu – the area includes Rotorua, Tongariro National Park and Taupo.
Peppered with natural hot springs, boiling mud pools and steaming geysers, Rotorua sits within one of the worlds most active volcanic regions. But geothermal landmarks aside, this city of sulphur has a rich indigenous history. Home to several prominent Maori tribes, Rotorua is the perfect place to immerse yourself in the local culture. Spend at evening at Mitai Maori Village for a hangi dinner and Maori performance. Book in for some relaxation at the Polynesian Spa and choose between a mud wrap, coconut oil massage or private mineral pool soak – or perhaps get them all! Land in a helicopter on White Island, New Zealand’s most active volcano and traverse the crater for a once-in-a-lifetime hike. Those in need of an adrenalin rush should spend time at Agroventures Adventure Park static skydiving, bungy jumping, and ‘swooping’ on the giant swing. For a calmer day out, head up the Skyline Gondola for awe-inspiring views of the lake. While you’re there, grab a night luge pass for an extra thrill. A fifty minute drive to nearby Matamata will land you directly in ‘middle earth’ Hobbiton, and is must see for even the most half hearted Lord Of The Rings fans. For the die-hard however, spend the night at one of the many nearby farm stays to maximise your time in movie-land. Round off your Rotorua stay at the Wia-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and see the multicolored hot springs, geysers and boiling, mud pools.
Tongariro National Park
Surrounded by natural hot springs, mineral lakes and alpine meadows, the Tongariro National Park is renowned for its stark beauty. Its most celebrated attraction, the Alpine Crossing, is a one-day trek across all three of its active volcanoes which more than 70,000 visitors per year undertake. The scenic hike is 19.4km (12 miles) long and traverses old lava flows and geothermal wonders. For for those wanting to spend more than a day in the park, there are several overnight walks ranging from easy to hard. We recommend the Four Day Northern Circuit, which allows for sweeping views of the volatile landscape and the distant Kaimanawa Ranges. If you’re up for a little more of a challenge take the six day Round the Mountain Track, an advanced walk taking you deep into the Rangipo Desert. A high level of fitness and GPS is required for this one. With a multitude of icy rivers and streams, the Tongariro National Park is known for it’s fishing and locals and international visitors alike rave about the clarity of the water and the abundance of rainbow trout. For something a little less sedentary, experience the waterways by raft. Rushing white-water and grade three rapids give way to unique riverside scenery – making this activity particularly memorable. While spectacular in summer, Tongariro is also spectacular in winter. Mt Ruapehu hosts two ski large fields on its slopes, Whakapapa and Turoa, as well as a small club field – Tukino. All get good snow cover and provide some of the best skiing in the New Zealand – not to mention the added thrill of skiing on an active volcano.
An area of diversity and stunning natural beauty, Taupo is unique in every way. Perched on the shores of a vast lake, which is actually the crater of a dormant volcano, this geothermal town is bursting with character. Known for its lush native forests, abundant fishing spots, Maori culture and outdoor activities, Taupo has something for everyone. If you’re here for the world renowned fishing, try your hand at catching rainbow or brown trout in the lake or one of the many surrounding waterways. During winter, a huge number of these fish head upstream to spawn making it a one of the best times to cast a line. We recommend Chris Jolly Outdoors for a full day’s guided fishing tour. Stand on the platform at Huka Falls and witness 222,000 litres of water per second crash down the Waikato river. For those looking for a touch of culture, visit the Mine Bay carvings on the western side of Lake Taupo, only accessible by boat or kayak. The ten metre tall rock etchings were created by master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell in the late 1970s and took four summers to complete. Nowadays, the carvings are an important cultural attraction for the region and highlight the traditional Maori skills passed down through the generations. One attraction not to be missed is the Craters of the Moon Geothermal Walk. Named for its misty ethereal atmosphere, this unique landscape was formed when a power station lowered its underground water levels to a point where the remaining water in reservoir boiled more violently, and as a consequence it releases a constant jet of steam through its many vents and craters. Experience the native rainforest and take a stroll in Pureora Forest Parks, one of the largest native bush tracts in the North Island and home to a variety of species of both plant and bird life.
If you’re travelling through our spectacular volcanic region we recommend spending at least three nights or more if you are keen on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.