Gifting of the Tongariro National Park

In 1887, the paramount chief of the Ngāti Tūwharetoa tribe, Horonuku Te Heuheu, gave the central North Island volcanoes to the Crown for a national park.

Different tribes were disputing ownership of the peaks of Ruapehu, Ngāuruhoe and Tongariro, and there was a danger that they would be divided and sold. Horonuku’s gift ensured that Tūwharetoa’s ancestral mountains would remain untouched, even if the tribe no longer directly controlled them. The government bought more Māori land to supplement the gift, and the Tongariro National Park was established by act of parliament in 1894.

Tongariro – a dual World Heritage area

For Māori, the central North Island landscape is of deep cultural and spiritual significance. Legends handed down from generation to generation tell stories of how the landscape came to be. Tongariro National Park was the first national park in New Zealand, and the first in the world created by gift from an indigenous people. It is recognized as a dual World Heritage Area for its outstanding natural and intangible cultural values.

It is New Zealand’s most visited national park, and one of the most visible – on a fine day its snow-covered peaks are an arresting sight for people travelling through the central North Island by road, rail or air. The park’s landscapes are diverse. As well as the volcanic mountains, barren lava flows; snowfields and hot springs exist side by side.

The Volcanoes

Tongariro National Park is at the southwestern end of the Taupō Volcanic Zone. Its volcanoes are all active, and Mt Ruapehu erupted spectacularly in 1995 and 1996. Ruapehu is the highest of the three mountains, and its 2,797-metre summit has five craters and six main peaks. Its active vent is the site of the Crater Lake, which changes colour according to the volcanic activity below. Mt Tongariro is the largest of the peaks (100 square kilometers). Mt Ngāuruhoe, with its steep imposing symmetrical cone, is perhaps the most picturesque.

Vegetation and wildlife

Vegetation ranges from alpine herbs to tussock and flax, with beech forest in the mountains and low-growing shrubs in the Rangipō Desert. Wildlife includes long and short-tailed bats, and many native birds and insects.


The park contains two large ski fields, Whakapapa and Tūroa. Climbing and tramping are popular, and there are many walking tracks. The best known is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which leads through spectacular volcanic terrain and takes about eight hours. The Tongariro Northern Circuit, which passes over Mt Tongariro and around Mt Ngāuruhoe, is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.