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  • Writer's pictureRach Stewart

TOP 5 MOUNT RUAPEHU & MT NGAURUHOE PHOTO SPOTS IN TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK


Top 5 Photo Spots of Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe, Tongariro National Park

I am lucky enough that the magic of Tongariro National Park and its three incredible mountains are only a 3 hour drive from my home in the North Island of New Zealand. Tongariro National Park and the Central Plateau are where many New Zealanders spend their summers and winters getting the adrenalin fix they need and a good dose of nature.


Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro are also where landscape photographers from around the world come to New Zealand to capture these unique mountains and the volcanic landscape that surrounds them.


Mount Ngauruhoe Desert Road Tongariro National Park
Mount Ngauruhoe as seen from the Desert Road Tongariro National Park

Having visited Tongariro National Park most of my life for winter sports and then countless times as a landscape photographer, I thought it was about time I put together my Top 5 Beautiful Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe Photo Spots in blog form. The rugged terrain, dominated by the majestic peaks of Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Tongariro, offer such an extraordinary canvas to capture the raw beauty of nature and I hope these photo spots allow you to appreciate it in your own time and experiences.


There are a lot of locations to photograph these amazing mountains from, and I by no means have explored them all, but these are the ones I have experienced personally and are my favourite go tos.


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CONTENTS


 

MOUNT RUAPEHU STATISTICS


Elevation: 2,797 metres

Volcano Type: Stratovolcano

Last Major Eruption: 25 September 2007

Age: Approximately 250,000 years


MOUNT NGAURUHOE STATISTICS


Mount Ngauruhoe Scoria Flat Bruce Road Whakapapa
Mount Ngauruhoe as seen from Scoria Flat, Bruce Road Whakapapa

Elevation: 2,291 metres

Volcano Type: Volcanic Cone

Last Major Eruption: 1975

Age: Approximately 7000 years


MOUNT TONGARIRO STATISTICS


The Emerald Lakes Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The Emerald Lakes on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Mount Tongariro

Elevation: 1,978 metres

Volcano Type: Compound Volcano

Last Major Eruption: 2012

Age: Approximately 275,000 years


 

TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK WEATHER


The weather in Tongariro National Park is as dynamic as its scenery, offering an ever evolving backdrop for photographers, adventurers and nature enthusiasts alike. Always check the latest forecast before embarking on your journey to make the most of your visit to this area.


Mount Ngauruhoe twilight moon photo
Mount Ngauruhoe composite image

Tongariro National Park is situated in an alpine environment and the weather is quickly changeable especially during winter where temperatures can plumet to below freezing. Always be prepared when you're out and about hiking in the area, and also take care on the roads with ice and snow about.

 

TOP 5 BEAUTIFUL MOUNT RUAPEHU AND MT NGAURUHOE PHOTO SPOTS

 

1. THE DESERT ROAD - STATE HIGHYWAY 1 RUAPEHU


The Desert Road aka State Highway 1 is a 63km stretch of alpine road linking the small towns of Turangi and Waiouru in the Central Plateau. The name comes from the Rangipo Desert which the road crosses through and is a desert like environment. The views from the Desert Road are absolutely incredible and you can capture Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe beautifully from this stretch of New Zealand highway.


MOUNT NGAURUHOE PHOTO DESERT ROAD TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK


One of more popular and recognisable shots (especially on Instragram) is a road shot of Mount Ngauruhoe from the Desert Road.



This location works best at sunrise when the sun is rising from the east casting light on Mount Ngauruhoe as it creeps above the horizon.


There is a safe pullover where you can park your car and then walk approximately 100 metres to the location.



Please note: The Desert Road is a busy highway with freight trucks rolling through every few minutes. You need to stand well off the road and use some common sense especially when trucks are coming towards you.


MOUNT RUAPEHU PHOTO DESERT ROAD TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK


From the same car pullover as mentioned above, you can also capture Mount Ruapehu glistening in the early morning sun. There is no road leading towards the mountain like the Mount Ngauruhoe image, but the alpine shrubs (and snow if you're lucky in the winter) nicely fill in the frame.


I photographed both these locations in Winter and in Spring and I have to say that even though it was freezing cold, the mountains look absolutely magical with their white winter coat on and that would have to be my favourite season for this location.


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2. THE TAMA LAKES TRACK


The Tama Lakes Track in the heart of Ruapehu and UNESCO Dual World Heritage site Tongariro National Park, has some of the most beautiful and unique views of Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe in the Ruapehu area. Although a little more effort is required to obtain these views, this spectacular day walk is well worth the extra steps and is surrounded by ancient lava flows, volcanic plains and of course the end goal which is the Lower and Upper Tama Lakes.


I decided to hike the Tama Lakes Track just after lunchtime so that I would make it to the saddle of the Upper Tama Lakes by golden hour and sunset. Choosing to do this meant that I had golden light on both Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe during the golden hour, and colourful clouds for sunset.


QUICK FACTS ABOUT THE TAMA LAKES WALK


Distance: 17.6km return

Time: 5-6 hours return via the same track

Elevation gain: 541 metres

Difficulty: Advanced (although I would stay this is more intermediate - advanced only during the winter months due to the alpine environment)


For more info check out my Hiking the Tama Lakes Track Blog.


MOUNT NGAURUHOE PHOTO FROM UPPER TAMA LAKE SADDLE


The ascent to the Upper Tama Lake is a steady climb but absolutely worth the extra effort to get there. From the saddle there are incredible views of Mount Ngauruhoe with the Upper Tama Lake in the foreground along with the volcanic rock landscape.


MOUNT RUAPEHU PHOTO FROM UPPER TAMA LAKE SADDLE


From almost the same location as the Mount Ngauruhoe image, the view the opposite way over Mount Ruapehu and the Lower Tama Lake is beautiful and in my opinion the best view of Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park!


Being up there at sunset with the golden light hitting Mount Ruapehu and the surrounding landscape was truly magical and an experience I wont forget.


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3. STATE HIGHWAY 47 MOUNT NGAURUHOE ROAD SHOT


The stretch of highway that runs for 50km between the small towns of National Park and Tokaanu is situated right in the heart of the Central Plateau and runs right beside Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu. You seriously can't get better views of all three mountains from such close proximity and it is one of the most beautiful scenic drives out there.


There is one particular section of the highway that lines up with Mount Ngauruhoe oh so perfectly and creates one of the best road shots in New Zealand in my opinion. For this shot you will need your zoom lens to help compress the mountain and get it looking larger than life inside your frame.


Mt Ngauruhoe road shot sunset
Mt Ngauruhoe at sunset (ISO200, F9, 1/80sec, 70mm)

When travelling on SH47 from the Turangi side you will pass the turn off to Whakapapa Village and the Mount Ruapehu Ski Field, and not far past that there is a pullover on your right where there are two green water tanks. To safely turn around, you may find you need to drive to National Park village (approx 10 minutes) and then approach the pull over from that way (being much safer and no need to cross the road).


I took these shots at golden hour and sunset and in my opinion that is the best time to shoot the mountain as it is front lit with the suns golden light and it is also a quieter time on the road. The best thing to do is quickly get your images (don't use a tripod etc) and get off the road as it is a state highway and can get busy with cars especially during the ski season.

 

4. MOUNT NGAURUHOE FROM THE BRUCE ROAD AND SCORIA FLAT WHAKAPAPA


The Bruce Road is the ski road that takes you to Whakapapa Ski Field on Mount Ruapehu and is another incredible vantage point to photograph Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu.


Mount Ngauruhoe Bruce Road, Scoria Flat Whakapapa
Mount Ngauruhoe sunset as seen from The Bruce Road, Scoria Flat Whakapapa (ISO100, F11, 1/30sec, 70mm)

On your way up the Bruce Road at about half way you will find a pull over bay named 'Scoria Flat' (signposted) which is a safe place to park your car and explore the snow during winter. From this area there are beautiful views of Mount Ngauruhoe over the volcanic scoria landscape and also of Mount Ruapehu from close up.


Mount Ngauruhoe from Scoria Flat Whakapapa
Mount Ngauruhoe from Scoria Flat Whakapapa during winter

The Bruce Road is paved with two lanes right to the ski carparking, however as it is set high above sea level the weather conditions can be very changeable and it is advisable during winter to go up in a 4WD capable car and/or carry chains. Often times the Bruce Road is closed due to snow, so you will need to check the status of the road before setting off.


I took these images during winter at golden hour near sunset. With the sun setting to the west Mount Ngauruhoe catches the golden light and if you've got some snow you get those beautiful pink tones on the mountain.

 

5. MOUNT NGAURUHOE FROM THE TAWHAI FALLS WALK


Tawhai Falls Tongariro National Park
Tawhai Falls Tongariro National Park

The Tawhai Falls Walk Track just off SH48 (the road to Whakapapa Village) offers a short but enchanting journey through lush native forest to a beautiful waterfall which famously starred in the Lord of the Rings movies. This easy, family friendly trail is approximately a 20 minute walk (round trip) and can be enjoyed by visitors of all ages and fitness levels.


Along the way there are clear views of Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro (on a cloudless day) and the view from this side of the mountain is actually my favourite.


Although I have only photographed this spot during the day, at sunset the golden light would be hitting the face of the mountains creating those gorgeous pink hues we all love.


I visited during winter when the mountains were covered in snow and decided to turn my bluebird shots from this location to black and white creating some moody contrasting images.

 

And there you have my Top 5 Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe Photo Spots to visit in Tongariro National Park!


Thanks for taking to time to read this blog and I hope it inspires you to visit this beautiful part of New Zealand sometime soon.



If you are interested in prints of any of the New Zealand Landscape Photography seen in this blog, please feel free to head on over to my New Zealand Photography Print Store and have a little look around.


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