Story: National parks
Page 4 – Eastern and central North Island parks
Te Urewera National Park
Te Urewera National Park lies in a remote and rugged part of the Bay of Plenty. At 212,714 hectares, it is the fourth largest national park. It straddles the heavily forested Huiarau and Ikawhenua ranges. The highest point in the park is Mount Manuoha (1,403 metres).
In the southern part of the park are Lake Waikaremoana and the smaller Lake Waikareiti, which is dotted with islands.
The 46-kilometre track around Lake Waikaremoana is a Great Walk (a premier track), and there are many more tracks in the park. Other activities include boating, fishing and hunting.
Landslide or taniwha?
Lake Waikaremoana (sea of rippling waters) is one of the jewels of Te Urewera National Park. Geologists say it was formed when a huge landslide blocked the Waikaretāheke River, about 2,000 years ago. But in Tūhoe tradition, the lake was gouged out by a taniwha (water spirit) who tried to reach the sea from a spring at Wairaumoana.
The traditional home of the Tūhoe people, Te Urewera is of special significance to them and there are areas of private Māori land within the park. The sacred mountain Maungapōhatu (1,366 metres) is associated with the Māori religious leader Rua Kēnana.
Vegetation and wildlife
Te Urewera is one of the most densely forested national parks, with northern rātā, rimu and tawa at low altitudes, and red and silver beech in the mist-shrouded heights. There are more than 650 species of native plants. Wildlife includes the long-tailed bat and threatened bird species such as kiwi, kōkako, kākā, falcon and the distinctive whio (blue duck).
Tongariro National Park
Tongariro was New Zealand’s first national park. In 1887 the volcanic peaks of Tongariro, Ngāuruhoe, and Ruapehu were gifted to the Crown by Horonuku Te Heuheu, paramount chief of the Ngati Tūwharetoa tribe. More land was added, and the park was established by statute in 1894. By 2007 its total area was 78,618 hectares.
It is New Zealand’s most visited national park, and one of the most visible – on a fine day its snow-covered peaks are an arresting sight for people travelling through the central North Island by road, rail or air. The park’s landscapes are diverse. As well as the volcanic mountains, barren lava flows, snowfields and hot springs exist side by side.
Tongariro National Park is at the south-western end of the Taupō Volcanic Zone. Its volcanoes are all active, and Mt Ruapehu erupted spectacularly in 1995 and 1996.
Ruapehu is the highest of the three mountains, and its 2,797-metre summit has five craters and six main peaks. Its active vent is the site of the Crater Lake, which changes colour according to the volcanic activity below. In March 2007 a lahar (avalanche of volcanic mud and water) flowed from the lake, but it was carefully monitored and caused little damage.
Mt Tongariro is the largest of the peaks (100 square kilometres), but the least imposing. Mt Ngāuruhoe, with its steep symmetrical cone, is perhaps the most picturesque.
Vegetation and wildlife
Vegetation ranges from alpine herbs to tussock and flax, with beech forest in the mountains and low-growing shrubs in the Rangipō Desert. Wildlife includes long- and short-tailed bats, and many native birds and insects.
The park contains two large ski fields, Tūroa and Whakapapa. Climbing and tramping are popular, and there are many walking tracks. The best known is the Tongariro Crossing, which leads through spectacular volcanic terrain and takes about eight hours. The Tongariro Northern Circuit, which passes over Mt Tongariro and around Mt Ngāuruhoe, is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.