Made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993, Tongariro earned its status for a combination of both cultural and natural features. The oldest national park in New Zealand—and the fourth national park established in the world—it’s set at the end of a 1,550-mile string of North Island volcanoes considered sacred to the Maori people as a connection point between the Earth and sky.
Extending northeast through much of the landlocked Ruapehu District, the string’s northern group of vents, cones, domes and craters have been dormant for approximately 20,000 years, but a more southern group is active to this day. This latter group includes three major peaks—the Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro—the latter of which includes recent explosion pits, lava flows and lakes.
On the northern and southwestern sides of Mount Ruapehu, respectively, lie Whakapapa and Turoa, the two largest ski resorts in the country; both are operated by a company called Ruapehu Alpine Lifts. Also within the park, the Pihanga Scenic Reserve includes Lake Rotopounamu, Mount Pihanga and the Kakaramea-Tihia Massif. This reserve area is especially sacred to the Maori, who celebrate the love between Pihanga, a powerful female mountain, and the equally strong male mountain-- Tongariro.