As it straddles the Pacific and Indo-Australian tectonic plates, New Zealand is very mountainous, with lots of volcanic peaks dotted here and there. The Taupo Volcanic Zone on the North Island, for example, boasts one of the most active supervolcanoes on Earth. Many steaming craters and craggy calderas can be spied amidst its many lofty peaks.
Long revered by the Maori, numerous myths and legends swirl around the country’s epic volcanoes. As such, they are renowned not just for their breathtaking beauty, but also for their historical and cultural importance.
Located in the center of the North Island, Mount Tauhara overlooks the glittering waters of Lake Taupo, with fabulous forests and fields located at its foot. From its 1,087-meter-high summit, both Mount Ruapehu and Mount Tongariro – two of the nation’s highest peaks – can be spied in the distance on a clear day. As with many of New Zealand’s volcanoes, Mount Tauhara is the subject of various Maori myths and legends; its name actually means ‘alone’. This is because it is set in an isolated spot within the Taupo caldera, looking longingly across the lake at Mount Pihanga, its long lost love. Nowadays, the dormant lava dome is a popular place to go hiking for all the wonderful scenery and spectacular panoramas from its summit.
The defining feature of Pirongia Forest Park, the volcano of the same name rises over its surroundings, with its prominent peaks boasting beautiful views. Coated in verdant forests, Mount Pirongia’s gentle slopes look amazing from afar. They are a delight to explore as lovely paths and trails wind their way here and there. Due to the abundance of plants and trees, the mount is a haven for local wildlife, with various bird species flitting about. First named ‘the scented pathway of Kahu’ after a local Maori’s wife, the 959-meter-high peak can be found in the North Island, just west of Hamilton with the Tasman Sea sparkling in the distance.
Formed hundreds of thousands of years ago when its summit collapsed after a violent eruption, the Rotorua Caldera is now a very picturesque and peaceful place. Home to the shallow waters of Lake Rotorua, the caldera stretches 16 kilometers across, with bubbling hot springs and spurting geysers dotting its shores. In the center of the lake is Mokoia, a small lava dome island that is sacred to the Maori as it was the setting of one of their most famous legends. Due to its magnificent scenery, Rotorua Caldera is a fantastic place to go fishing or swimming; many people rent kayaks or take a boat trip to explore its welcoming waters. In addition, visitors can wallow in its hot springs, hike along its scenic shoreside, or simply relax in the lakeside city of Rotorua.
Not far from Rotorua are crumbling cliffs and craters that make up the majestic Mount Tarawera, which spectacularly erupted in 1886, forever altering the landscapes around it. Consisting of three distinct domes with the tallest reaching 1,111 meters, the volcano is scarred with colorful chasms and dramatic fissures. These once made up the famous Pink and White Terraces, which were once one of New Zealand’s most well-known natural landmarks. Now, however, their ruined remains are captivating to explore, and their soft hues stand out delightfully against the reflective waters of Lake Tarawera below.
Consisting of at least 12 different cones, Mount Tongariro lies at the heart of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, almost slap-bang in the center of the North Island. Reaching 1,978 meters, the peak is surrounded by desolate, otherworldly-looking landscapes, with jagged rock formations lying alongside cliffs and plunging ravines. It is this spectacular scenery that saw a number of scenes from The Lord of the Rings films shot here. Often covered in snow in winter, the steep-sided stratovolcano is a popular place to go hiking, and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is renowned around the world. In addition to this, it also sports the enchanting Emerald Lakes. From its summit, you can see Mount Ruahepu and Mount Ngauruhoe and enjoy fabulous views out over Tongariro National Park. With so much going for it, Mount Tongariro really is one of New Zealand’s most amazing volcanoes.
One of the most awe-inspiring sights in New Zealand, Mount Ruapehu rises imperiously above the Rangipo Desert, its glittering glaciers shining in the sun. The largest active volcano in the country, Ruapehu boasts three snow-capped peaks, each of which towers more than 2,700 meters in height. Near its summit is a delightful crater lake for visitors to check out, as well as stunning views out over the North Island to be enjoyed. Its sprawling slopes and lofty peaks make it a magnificent place to go hiking and mountaineering, with skiing and snowboarding also popular pastimes.
Dominating Egmont National Park with its hulking presence, Mount Taranaki lies on the west coast of the North Island, overlooking the Tasman Sea. The stratovolcano’s 2,518-meter-high summit is usually covered in snow in winter and is often compared to Mount Fuji in Japan because of its almost symmetrical shape. Due to its reflective upper reaches, its name in Maori is thought to mean ‘shining peak,’ although it also sometimes goes by the name Mount Egmont. Set atop three older volcanic complexes, the mighty mount’s bare and barren slopes give way to gorgeous old-growth forests, with swamps, rivers, and waterfalls also on show. These differing ecosystems make for some brilliant hiking, with marvelous scenery on show wherever you look.
Although it hasn’t erupted for close to 50 years, Mount Ngauruhoe is historically one of New Zealand’s most active volcanoes. In the 20th century alone, it erupted 45 times. As a consequence, the surrounding area appears desolate and destroyed, charred and scarred by lava and ash. While its 2,291-meter-high cone is climbable, the loose rocks and shifting slopes can make it a challenge, and its crumbling crater still gives off a lot of heat and gas. It is well worth the effort, however, as its summit offers up marvelous views of Mount Tongariro to the north and Mount Ruapehu to the south. Fittingly enough, the ominous-looking volcano appeared as Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings films.