13 Walks Around National Park Village & Whakapapa Village
Short hikes near Whakapapa, Mt Ruapehu.
When there is nothing around but an awesome volcanic landscape and the odd pub, there’s only one of two activities you can really take advantage of if you are spending a bit of time in National Park and/or Whakapapa Village: a lot of walking!
The two North Island villages are your base for the northwestern side of Mt Ruapehu, the Tongariro Crossing, and heaps of bike rides. When you are not tearing up the slopes of the Whakapapa ski area in winter or hiking those slopes in the summer, there are several walking and hiking tracks worth taking to explore the lower regions of New Zealand’s largest volcano, Mt Ruapehu.
You’ll find some awesome waterfall walks to alpine hikes between “Natty Park”, as it’s known by the locals, and Whakapapa Village. Not to mention some perfect snaps of the surrounding volcanoes: Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro. Just have a look at our list below!
1. Tupapakurua Falls Track (5 hours return)
Make this as short and easy or as adventurous as you like! The first hour from National Park Village is along a four-wheel-drive track before entering the Erua Forest and reaching the Taranaki Lookout. Delve further into the forest where you’ll face a few climbs and small stream crossings to the Tupapakurua Falls lookout. Take the hike a step further by taking the slightly sketchy route down to the base of the falls. You will have to follow orange markers to get to the bottom, but take care and you’ll be amazed by the awesome waterfall towering above! Return the same way.
Location: Signed as “Fisher Track” at the end of Carroll Street, across the railway line in National Park Village.
2. Tawhai Falls (20 minutes return)
See Gollum’s Pool! Well, at least it is one of the waterfalls to depict the scene in The Lord of the Rings where Gollum is catching fish under the watchful eye of Faramir and his archers. The quick walk is to a good photo opportunity of the waterfall tumbling over the edge of an ancient lava flow.
Location: 4km from Whakapapa Village along State Highway 48.
3. Silica Rapids (2h30min loop)
The first part of the walk is following a stream in beech forest before emerging onto exposed tussock land. Halfway through this walk, you’ll see the creamy silica terraces. Continue on the track to meet up with the Bruce Road where you can return on the roadside and back to the starting point.
Location: 250 metres above the Whakapapa Village Visitor Centre.
4. Taranaki Falls (2-hour loop)
This easy loop walk follows the crystal clear river to the impressive Taranaki Falls. The falls covers surrounding rocks with ice in winter, so be careful if going down for a closer look. The track takes you to the top of the falls then continues to the starting point offering views of the volcanoes along the way.
Location: 100 metres below the Whakapapa Village Visitor Centre.
5. Tama lakes (5-6 hours return)
See the lakes occupying old explosion craters between Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe. The walk is an extension of the Taranaki Falls track and is in exposed tussock areas. You’ll climb to viewpoints of the lower lake then to the higher lake. Return the same way. Be prepared for extreme weather as the Tama Saddle acts as a funnel for prevailing winds.
Location: 100 metres below the Whakapapa Village Visitor Centre.
6. Lake Rotopounamu (2-hour loop)
The one square kilometre lake fills an old crater next to Mt Pihanga. From the car park, the track takes you to a junction to walk around the lake. You’ll walk through forest to various open beaches offering awesome views of the lake.
Location: Car park is signposted 11 km from Turangi off State Highway 47.
7. Mounds Walk (20 minutes return)
Who doesn’t like a good mound? This track goes up some steps to one of the mounds believed to be formed by debris avalanches from Mt Ruapehu’s period of volcanic activity.
Location: Track is 5km below the Whakapapa Village Visitor Centre along State Highway 48.
8. Whakapapa Nature Walk (15-minute loop)
A quick taste of the vegetation of the Tongariro National Park. This track is sealed and wheelchair accessible.
Location: Track starts 250 metres above the Whakapapa Village Visitor Centre.
9. Ohinetonga Track (2-3 hour loop)
A pleasant walk taking in the varying forest of the Owhango Scenic Reserve. A highlight is crossing the boardwalk over the Owhango Lagoon, which is full of waterlilies. As the track meets the Whakapapa River, you’ll find decent swimming holes.
Location: Owhango is 21km north of National Park Village along State Highway 4. Begin the walk from the Whakapapa River Bridge.
10. Ridge Track (30-40 minutes return)
Get awesome views of the surrounding volcanoes as you reach the alpine shrubland. The climb up (and back down again) is through beech forest.
Location: Starts 150 metres above the Whakapapa Village Visitor Centre, next to the public shelter.
11. Whakapapanui Walk (2 hours return)
Not to be mixed up with the much longer Whakapapaiti Valley track, the Whakapapanui Walk branches right downstream about 10 minutes from the start point. Follow the Whakapapanui Stream and passed water-logged clearings. Return the same way.
Location: Starts 250 metres above Whakapapa Village Visitor Centre.
12. Whakapapaiti Valley Track (4-5 hour loop)
Explore the lower slopes of the mighty Mt Ruapehu! You can either begin the Whakapapiti Valley Track from the Silica Rapids walk (Whakapapa Village) or further up the Bruce Road at Scoria Flat. Starting from the Silica Rapids track (see above) take the Whakapapaiti Valley junction. You’ll pass through exposed tussock land with a bridge river crossing and then an unbridged river crossing – best tackled when there has not been too much rainfall. The Whakapapaiti Hut awaits 15 minutes away from the second river crossing, then climb further to the Round the Mountain Track junction. Turn left here for a zig-zagging track and awesome views of the surrounding landscape. Finally, connect with the Bruce Road where you can return to the start point about 5km down the road.
Location: The lower start point begins 250 metres above the Whakapapa Village Visitor Centre. The upper start point begins at the Scoria Flat on Bruce Road.
13. Okupata Caves
The last on our list has the least “views” but is the most adventurous, including the drive there! The pothole-riddled gravel road needs to be taken slowly before reaching the Okupata Caves. Equipped with waterproof shoes and a torch you’ll follow a shallow stream through the cave network. And like most caves in New Zealand, remember to take some time to appreciate the darkness and the twinkling glowworms hanging above.
Location: The walk starts approximately 23km from Whakapapa Village. Turn off State Highway 47 onto John McDonald Road then left at the Pukehinau Road intersection, which continues to caves.
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