With an otherworldly volcanic landscape, epic mountains, lush beech forests, stunning waterfalls, and heaps of great day walks, Tongariro National Park is a must-visit region on New Zealand’s North Island.
One of the best ways to experience the natural beauty of Tongariro National Park is through its scenic walks. The most famous of these walks is the Tongariro Crossing, which is often hailed as the best day walk on New Zealand’s North Island—if not the entire country. This renowned hike takes you across alpine terrain and overlooks epic views and volcanic lakes, and many would consider it one of New Zealand’s “must-do’s.”
While the Tongariro Crossing sure is incredible, many travellers find themselves in a bit of a conundrum when they arrive in the area and conditions are poor. When the weather and visibility is bad, it simply isn’t safe or worthwhile to complete the crossing. This could mean that you need to wait it out for a day or two to see if conditions improve, or you may have to change your plans altogether.
Not to fret, though! If you’ve planned to visit the Tongariro area and find yourself in less-than-ideal weather, we’ve got you covered. Our favorite short hikes in the area happen to all lead to gorgeous waterfalls—and if it’s drizzly outside, all the better: waterfalls always look even more impressive when it’s raining.
Read on to discover 3 beautiful waterfall walks to explore on your visit to Tongariro National Park!
Time to hike: 15-20 minutes round trip
Trail type: out-and-back
This short and easy walk leads to a scenic waterfall that was the filming location for Gollum’s Pool in the Lord of the Rings! We’d consider this one a “must-see” when you’re in the Tongariro area since it’s so quick to access, but note that this also means there will likely be other people there.
Top tip: Warm your legs up by doing this walk on your drive to Taranaki Falls, as it’s right on the way.
Time to hike: 2 hours round trip
Trail type: loop
The hike to Taranaki Falls is an absolute delight! Starting from Whakapapa Village, you’ll take the loop track along a well-formed path that leads you past alpine grasslands into a lovely beech forest, then to the impressive waterfall.
On a clear day, you’ll be able to spot Ngauruhoe (the volcanic mountain that stars as “Mount Doom” in LOTR). During late summer, the track is often lined with purple heather flowers. Out of all the day walks in Tongariro National Park, this is our #1 favorite— if you have time for it we highly recommend this one!
Top tip: Make sure to snap a photo of the Wes Anderson-esque Chateau Tongariro Hotel on your drive up to this trailhead.
Time to hike: 1.5 hours round trip
Difficulty: moderate; quite a bit of uphill sections and some stairs
Trail type: out-and-back
Just outside of Ohakune lies this gem of a waterfall walk. You’ll start the hike by ascending through a beautiful section of beech forest, with the sounds of the river below keeping you company. About 5 minutes into the hike, make sure to peer over the river at one of the sneaky lookouts—you’ll be rewarded with views of another waterfall!
Once you emerge from the beech forest, you’ll walk along a boardwalk over alpine tussock fields and tarns. If it’s clear out, you’ll be able to see Mount Ruapehu looming overhead. If it’s especially calm out, you may even be able to see the mountain reflected in the tarns.
After the boardwalk, you’ll descend through more beech forest until you reach the waterfall, which happens to be the tallest one in Tongariro National Park. The view of the falls is somewhat obstructed from the viewing platform, but if you’re feeling adventurous you can do a bit of a creek scramble to get closer.
When we’ve hiked this path, we have usually only seen a couple of other people—so we recommend this walk if you’re wanting a bit of peace and solitude on your hike.
Top tip: After you’ve worked up an appetite on your hike, stop by The Blind Finch in Ohakune for a super delicious burger and craft beer.
THANKS FOR READING – AND HAPPY HIKING!
We hope this travel guide has helped you plan out some walks to do on your visit to Tongariro National Park. Between its unique volcanic terrain, lovely beech forests, and picturesque waterfalls, this part of New Zealand has so much to offer for anyone who loves nature.
MORE TRAVEL INSPIRATION
For another “must do” North Island hike, don’t miss the walk up the Mount Maunganui summit track!
Looking for more epic waterfalls to chase on your New Zealand North Island travels? Check out our guide to Raglan, which includes details on Bridalveil Falls; and/or our guide to New Plymouth, which outlines how to hike through a Goblin Forest to reach Dawson’s Falls.
If you love waterfalls and are heading to the South Island, you can’t miss the Catlins waterfalls!
Like to hike? Then you might like our guide to the best day hikes on New Zealand’s South Island.