Hike To The Top Of A Live Volcano At This National Park In New Zealand

A visit to New Zealand holds all sorts of natural wonders. The island nation in the Pacific Ocean consists of the North Island and the South Island, and it's got incredible landscapes to explore. One place that you cannot miss is Tongariro National Park in the middle of the North Island. Not only does this place have two UNESCO World Heritage Site grants (for cultural significance and natural features), but it's also home to three active volcanos. The 80,000-hectare park lets you visit lava flows, green lakes, and beautiful waterfalls. 

Tongariro is the oldest national park in New Zealand, and there are a series of spectacular hikes you can take. One of them is the most famous, and it's for a good reason. It takes you to the volcano Mount Ngauruhoe, otherwise known as Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings movies from director Peter Jackson, based on the works of author J.R.R. Tolkien. 

Things to do at Tongariro National Park

The free-to-enter park is about a four-hour drive from Auckland, so it's worth staying in Taupo, less than an hour away. You can also stay in a hut in the area overnight or camp, though there is a fee. If you're a skier, winter is a great time, with the ski season beginning in June. 

The three volcanos in the park are Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Tongariro, part of the Ring of Fire. If you visit the volcanos, do not forgo a check of current volcanic activity. Ruapehu erupted as recently as 1996, and Ngauruhoe in 1975. We'll get to the volcano hike and its connection to The Lord of the Rings in a bit, though if you take that route, you can visit the Emerald Lakes, which have an unusual color because of the minerals in them. You cannot swim here because the lake is toxic, but you can take great pictures.

If you like waterfalls, there is the Taranaki Falls Track, which takes about two hours on a 3.7-mile loop. Another waterfall hike is Silica Rapids, which is about 4.3 miles in a loop, with views of waterfalls and volcanos, as well as the rapids, which are actually gold and red. If you're an experienced hiker, there's the more difficult 6.2-mile hike to the Mount Ruapehu Crater, and you may want to go with a guide. You can also take the Sky Waka gondola part of the way up.

The Lord of the Rings connection

The famous New Zealand hike is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is 12 miles long. It takes you past the Emerald Lakes and right to Mount Ngauruhoe, which was digitally altered to give us Mount Doom from The Lord of the Rings. That's where the hobbits Frodo and Sam traveled to throw in the One Ring and vanquish the evil Lord Sauron in the final film. You'll also pass through the area used to create the film's Mordor. Other park sites used in the movies include Mount Ruapehu, the setting of Emyn Muil, where Sam and Frodo were lost and later found by Gollum. Waterfalls here were used for Gollum's Pool. 

If you take this world-famous hike, it's safer to do so in the summer because winter conditions can be difficult. In addition to the lakes and the volcano used as Mount Doom, you will have great views of the Red Crater (the color comes from iron), with the smell of sulfur in the air, and the South Crater. You'll also pass the Blue Lake, which is sacred in the region, and again, you cannot swim or even eat near this lake.

When you're done here, don't miss a visit to Hobbiton, which is three hours away from the park. It features the set of the area where Frodo and the other Hobbits live in the Peter Jackson films.