Tongariro National Park Volcanoes

Tongariro National Park is home to three volcanoes: Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro. Ruapehu and Tongariro are among the world’s most active volcanoes.

Ruapehu last erupted in 1996, while Ngauruhoe’s last eruption was in 1975.

These volcanoes are all less than 500,000 years old. The Tongariro complex first became active around 260,000 years ago, and its twelve or more composite cones have erupted intermittently since then.

Mount Ruapehu

Mount Ruapehu is New Zealand’s biggest volcano. It goes across three big peaks: Tahurangi (2,797 m), Te Heuheu (2,755 m), and Paretetaitonga (2,751 m). There is a deep crater between each peak that fills with water between eruptions. Mount Ruapehu was made up of layers of lava and other volcanic material for more than 250,000 years.  Since then, Mount Ruapehu had a number of smaller eruptions and a lot of warnings that its activity is increasing. Mount Ruapehu has two commercial ski areas that are the biggest in New Zealand. These are Whakapapa and Turoa. Since 1945, there have been more than 60 eruptions from the crater of Ruapehu After showing signs of increasing its activity, the last big eruption happened in 1995. The thick ash cloud was seen all over the North Island, and as it fell, it covered the ground with something that looked like sand.

Lake Crater

Near the summit of Mount Ruapehu, there is a deep crater housing a hot, acidic lake known as Crater Lake. The temperature, colour, and depth of Crater Lake provide valuable insights into the volcano’s activity.

When the lake’s temperature rises or its colour changes, it often indicates increased volcanic activity beneath the surface.

Monitoring these changes helps scientists predict potential eruptions and understand the dynamic nature of Ruapehu. This makes Crater Lake a critical feature for both researchers and visitors interested in the park’s volcanic activity.


Mount Tongariro is made up of lava and volcanic sediments. It was formed by a series of eruptions that happened more than 275,000 years ago. Mount Tongariro is a steep, 1,978-metre-high volcano made up of 12 cones.

Te Maari Crater, the Red Crater, and Mount Ngauruhoe are the most well-known vents on Mount Tongariro’s huge complex. Each of these was formed at a different time during the volcano’s history.

Since 1839 it has erupted more than 70 times from different vents.

In 2012, the Te Maari Crater had its most recent eruption, which sent big pieces of volcanic rock as high as 2 km into the air.

The large ash cloud was seen as far away as Napier, and people in Wellington, Nelson, and Blenheim said they could smell sulphur.

When you hike the Tongariro Crossing, you can see many of the beautiful features of this historical volcanic activity up close. There are beautiful Emerald Lakes in the explosion craters, plunging waterfalls made from old lava flows, and fragments of volcanoes all over the walking paths.

Mount Tongariro took thousands of years to form, and now it is a beautiful natural show for us to enjoy.

The floor of North Crater is made up of the remains of a lava lake that solidified when it was almost as high as the rim of the crater. Eruptions have since damaged the lava lake, making a smaller explosion crater. We know that this small crater has been dormant for about 1,800 years.

Mt Ngauruhoe

A lot of people don’t know that Mount Ngauruhoe is a cone of Mount Tongariro. However, it can be considered a separate volcano in the Tongariro volcanic zone. It stands at an impressive height of 2,291 metres.

Mount Ngauruhoe stands out in the Tongariro National Park because it is taller than the other volcanoes around it. 

It stands out in the distance when it is covered in snow in the winter. When summer comes and the snow melts, you’ll be able to see that the volcano has no vegetation.

It is the youngest and most active of Mount Tongariro’s cones.

Around 2,500 years ago, layers of lava, ash, scoria, and other volcanic debris started to build up.

We have records of the first eruption in 1839, but Maori artefacts show that eruptions happened long before Europeans came to the area.

During their hike through the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, trekkers can climb to the top of Mt. Ngauruhoe. It’s a steep 1.5 hour climb over loose rock, so only experienced hikers should try it.

Lord Of The Rings Filming Locations

Many sites in the Lord of the Rings trilogy were filmed in the Tongariro National Park. The filmmakers thought this was the best place to show how fiery Mordor and Mount Doom were.

Even though the movies are known for their amazing digital effects, you can imagine Gollum leading Frodo and Sam into the sharp and impassable terrain of Emyn Muil if you use your imagination.

Trek to the top of Mt. Ngauruhoe and think about Mt. Doom’s fiery peaks. As you walk from Mt. Tongariro to Mt. Ngauruhoe, you’ll see craters, sparkling lakes, mountain springs, and volcanic rock. 

As a curious note, people also like to throw a ring into Mt. Ngauruhoe in order to save Middle-Earth.

How to Keep Safe

Tongariro National Park is a place where there are active volcanoes.

The best way to keep safe is to check for warnings from the Department of Conservation.  If you’ve booked a Tongariro Crossing shuttle, your provider will also alert you to any major risks.