History of the Tongariro National Park

Horonuku Te Heuheu Tukino IV was the paramount chief of the Ngati Tuwharetoa people in the 1800s. During this time there was considerable pressure on the central North Island Maori from farmers, logging companies and rival tribal claims. Loss of this land would have meant loss of the sacred volcanoes and a loss of mana (prestige) for the Ngati Tuwharetoa people.

‘If our mountains of Tongariro are included in the blocks passed through the court in the ordinary way, what will become of them? They will be cut up and sold, a piece going to one Pakeha and a piece to another. They will become of no account, for the tapu will be gone. Tongariro is my ancestor, my tupuna, it is my head; my mana centres around Tongariro.

You know how my name and history are associated with Tongariro, I cannot consent to the court passing these mountains through in the ordinary way. After I am dead, what will be their fate?’

Te Heuheu Tukino IV, 1885.

On 23 September 1887, Te Heuheu gifted the sacred volcanoes of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu to the Crown and to the people of New Zealand, ‘... in memory of Te Heuheu and his tribe.’

An Act of Parliament formally established Tongariro National Park in 1894 and it was gazetted as such in 1907. The original gift area of 2360 hectares has been increased over the years by government purchase of surrounding land to create a national park of 78,618 hectares.

Tongariro National Park was designated a National Park in 1987. National Parks represent glimpses of our environment as it once was, and also form cultural icons that connect people to the land. The varying landscape of Tongariro National Park features herb fields, forests, lakes, streams and desert-like areas, as well as dramatic terrain formed by volcanic activity.

The landforms, volcanoes and ecosystems of Tongariro National Park are now recognised as having outstanding international significance and have been awarded World Heritage status for natural and cultural values.

In 1993, Tongariro National Park became the first place in the world to be listed as a World Heritage Site for the spiritual and cultural values that the landscape holds for local Maori.

Tongariro National Park Maori Legend

To tangata whenua (people of the land), the mountains are a vital part of their history and their whakapapa (genealogy), and legends are venerated accordingly.

Ko Tongariro te maunga -Tongariro is the mountain
Ko Taupō te moana - Taupō is the lake 
Ko Ngati Tuwharetoa te tangata - Ngati Tuwharetoa are the people
Ko Te Heuheu te tangata - Te Heuheu is the man

It is said that their ancestor, Ngatoroirangi (the navigator and tohunga of the waka Arawa) was close to death after exploring this mountainous region. He called out to his sisters from his pacific homeland, Hawaiiki, to send him fire.

The fire came but its passage left a trail of volcanic vents, from Tongatapu, through Whakaari (White Island), Rotorua and Tokaanu, before reaching Ngatoroirangi on the slopes of Tongariro

Tongariro National Park Volcanic activity

The three andesitic volcanoes at the heart of the park - the mountains Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu - form the southern limits of the Taupo Volcanic Zone. Volcanic activity in the zone started about 2 million years ago and is ongoing today.

Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe are two of the most active composite volcanoes in the world. In 1995, and again in 1996, Ruapehu erupted in spectacular fashion, sending clouds of ash and steam skyward and mantling the surrounding snow fields and forest with a thick film of ash.

This is a land of strong contrasts. Chaotic, barren lava flows, winter snowfields, hot springs and active craters can be seen side by side. Plants, too, vary considerably, from alpine herbs to thick swathes of tussocks and flax; from the hardy, low-growing shrubs of the Rangipo gravel-field to dense beech forests.

It is a harsh environment for plants. Poor pumice soils and volcanic activity slow the development of diverse forests, yet some pockets of magnificent podocarp forest can be found. They survived the eruption of Lake Taupo (1800 years ago) because they were sheltered on the southwest slopes of Ruapehu.

Tongariro is home to many amazing native creatures including New Zealand's only native mammals, the short and long tailed bats. Birds you might see during daylight include North Island robins, fantails, parakeets and even a kereru (native pigeon) or two. Smaller, but no less interesting, are the numerous insects that live in the park.

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