New Zealand might seem like a pleasant, peaceful country, and do you know what? For the most part, it is. Sheep don’t get involved in much crime, after all. However, beneath the crust of the Earth lies a tumultuous hive of activity that has literally shaped the nation. It’s called the Pacific Ring of Fire, and it’s the product of tectonic plate movement that has forced up the mountain ranges we see today, such as the Southern Alps (notice how they are all in a big line?).
However, this explosive, though very slow, activity has also formed a number of volcanoes throughout New Zealand’s long geological history. On a New Zealand road trip holiday, you can see the products of this movement all over the place, in both active and dormant states.
So which volcanoes should you add to your itinerary planner?
Out of the 48 different volcanic cones scattered around Auckland and its harbour, Rangitoto is the largest. Drive your rental car into the city and park near the ferry terminals, catching a trip over to the island. Here you can walk to the summit for some of the best views of the city you’ll ever witness.
One of our most famous volcanoes, Tongariro let off a little steam back in 2012, but has since settled again. It’s a part of the Tongariro National Park near Taupo, and is home to what Visit Ruapehu claims is one of the best single-day walks in the world: Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
As you traverse the 19.4-kilometre Alpine Crossing, you’ll be greeted with sublime views of neighbouring Mount Ngauruhoe. At around 2,500 years old, this is the youngest of the three volcanoes in Tongariro National Park, but is no less impressive. It also doubled as Mount Doom in ‘The Lord of the Rings’, so it’s a Hollywood celebrity!
We hope you brought snow gear on your NZ holiday, because Mount Ruapehu – the final triplet of the above – is one of the country’s best ski resorts. It has a 722-metre vertical descent, and was once sacred land of the local Maori tribe, Ngati Tuwharetoa.
In the Bay of Plenty you’ll find White Island, considered one of the world’s most accessible marine shield volcanoes, according to the Whakatane District Council. It also happens to be NZ’s most active site, meaning its rife with underwater steam vents, bubbling mud pools and other geological delights.
Many North Island adventure holidays pass through Lake Taupo, the largest lake in the country. However, this place hasn’t always been a sparkling body of water. Destination Great Lake Taupo tells the story of how, back in 186 AD, a series of eruptions led to a singular, gigantic explosion, the likes of which had never been seen before. This was so big, in fact, there are reports of darkened skies in both Rome and China. Lake Taupo is actually the crater of this phenomenal event, filled with water.
You can’t miss Mount Taranaki, as it towers over the rest of the surrounding landscape. Here, the Summit Walk can be attempted by experienced trampers, who will be rewarded with excellent views of the region. There are plenty of walking trails and nature tours around for non-trampers, too, so drive around and see what you can find.
One of the few examples of ancient volcanic activity in the South Island is Banks Peninsula – next to Christchurch. You won’t find any active lava pits here from its two overlapping cones, but a self-drive tour of the area will show what happens to these types of mountains when they become truly extinct.