SUMMER SPECIAL: Living the high life in Tongariro and Ruapehu District
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Heading south to the Central North Island, State Highways 3 and 4 are often thought of as “the back way”.
SH1, which runs around the eastern side of Lake Taupo and into the Desert Road, is the main road by virtue of its name. But we’d pick the 3 and 4 combo every time: the petrol stations are much less frequent, but so is the traffic. And the roads are a great mix of easy cruising and the occasional challenging climb.
Either will get you to Tongariro National Park in Ruapehu District – arguably more well-known as a winter wonderland of snow sports, but no less sensational in summer as a base for sightseeing and adventure.
If you’re looking for close places to stay, the towns of Turangi, National Park Village and Ohakune are all on the border of the Park, or for something more grand there’s the famous Chateau Tongariro Hotel. Taupo is just over an hour away.
There’s the iconic Tongariro Alpine Crossing, acknowledged as one of the best one-day hikes in the world. Mountain biking also abounds in the area.
But most visitors are drawn to the mountains in the area: Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro (of course) are all within the borders of the park.
Ruapehu in particular is home to the two largest ski fields in NZ, Whakapapa and Turoa.
But that also makes it a spectacular place to visit in summer; a drive to the Top ’O The Bruce Carpark might suffice if you’re in a hurry.
But you can also ride the Sky Waka gondola, suspending you high above the Park for 1.8km of spectacular landscape.
It’s the highest and longest gondola in the North Island, with floor to ceiling views – and at the top you can stop at Knoll Ridge Chalet.