THE CENTRAL PLATEAU REGION
The three main active volcanoes of the Tongariro National Park, Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro, rise majestically above the North Island’s volcanic plateau. These mountains have emerged along the line of a huge rift between two of the continually moving continental plates that make up the Earth’s crust. This fault line runs right across the North Island and all the way out to sea to White Island, which is another active volcano in the chain, located off the coast in the Bay of Plenty. The blast and volcanic debris from the massive eruptions that created Lake Taupo nearly 2000 years ago, destroyed forests for hundreds of miles, but in the lee of Mt Ruapehu a tiny pocket of these ancient forests survived, today providing a glimpse back in time to what the land would have been like before the eruptions
Even if you don’t have time to fully explore the Tongariro National Park, it is a beautiful drive around the mountains and across the Central Volcanic Plateau. There are numerous forest walks in the park and good roads leading up onto the mountains for those who want to experience the alpine environment and if you are waiting for the weather to clear up you can enjoy the attractions around Lake Taupo including the Waihi thermal springs near Tokaanu. Most of the thermal springs in New Zealand are scattered throughout the active Taupo Volcanic Zone in the central North Island. They were visited in 1844 by the artist, naturalist and writer George French Angas who wrote, “The medicinal properties of these hot mineral springs preserve the natives in a healthy state, and render their skins beautifully smooth and clear.” The government later purchased land at Tokaanu with its hotel located on the grand tourist route that was developed from Wanganui to Tauranga in the 1880s and early 1900s. Tourists arrived by stage coach from Waiouru, staying the night at Tokaanu before departing for Taupo by steam launch.
Just over the hills to the south from Lake Taupo lies Lake Rotopounamu, surrounded by forest and tucked away in a sheltered location below Mt Pihanga. A walking track leads to the edge of the lake while further down the hill you can visit an important 15th century archaeological site, located on the shores of Lake Rotoaira. The Te Porere Redoubt, a more recent Maori fortification is further south on the main road. The redoubt was built by Te Kooti and his followers after they had been driven from the East Cape by the colonial government forces. This was the scene of the last battle in the New Zealand Wars in 1869 and can be reached on a short walking track from the road. One of the main landmarks in the Tongaririo National Park is the imposing Grand Chateau, built in 1929 to cater for tourists visiting Mt Ruapehu during the early days of its development as a ski resort. In the early 1900s, tourists made the trip from Wellington to Wanganui, travelling by steamer, then continuing by river boat to Pipiriki and by stagecoach to Raetihi, Waiouru and along the Desert Road track to the Waihohonu Hut on the eastern side of the mountain. Today the Chateau is the centre of a popular mountain resort on the northern side of Mt Ruapehu while Ohakune has developed as the main centre on the southern side of the mountain.