Top 5 Family Adventures at Mount Ruapehu (That Aren't Skiing!)

Top 5 Family Adventures at Mount Ruapehu (That Aren't Skiing!)

Thank you to our guest author: Ceana Priest from Outdoor Kid

Outdoor Kid Mt Ruapehu

Heading to the snow this winter? These kid-friendly adventures will tucker out the hardiest of adventurers after a day on the slopes. Or, if the weather has packed up, these walks will avoid cabin fever setting in while waiting for the skies to clear. Everything from rock chasms to bubbling mud pools – cue the farting jokes – to keep the troops entertained while holidaying on the Central Plateau.

1. Tokaanu Thermal Walk | Tokaanu Village

Tokaanu Thermal Walk 1

This magical walk has spluttering mud and crystal clear thermal waters. Nothing like some deep volcanic activity to entertain the kids! It’s set among regenerating native bush and has wide paths suitable for buggies and wheelchairs. The hot action can get quite close to the pathways and boardwalks so keep an eye on little ones.

Local Māori tribe Ngāti Kurauia have used the Tokaanu Stream and nearby area since the 16th century for communal cooking, dyeing of traditional clothing and therapeutic bathing. The thermal area was a popular rest stop for coaches travelling from Whanganui to Taupō.

Don’t forget your towel and togs because the soothing waters of Tokaanu Thermal Pools are perfect to unwind in after a day of adventures.

Grade: Easy

Accessibility: Great for buggies and wheelchairs
Time: Allow 20 minutes for an easy stroll of the loop
Location: Entry is to the left of the Tokaanu Thermal Pools entrance on Mangaroa Street.

Important: No dogs.


2. Pillars of Hercules | Kaimanawa Road off SH1

Pillars of Hercules

Take a peek over the side of a bridge and see how the Tongariro River has eroded dramatic deep chasms into an ancient lava flow.  More than 350,000 years ago the flow cooled and formed a solid base which the river has slowly eroded to create some crazy looking holes and twisting chasms. The Pillars can best be seen from a road bridge two kilometres along Kaimanawa Road which heads to the campsite. If you have time, you can drive further to the Urchin Camping Area for a couple more kid-friendly options including a 40 metre long suspension bridge over the Tree Trunk Gorge (although the views are better beside the bridge.) This is a great small side-trip if you are passing along the Desert Road.

Grade: Easy

Accessibility: Parking is available beside the bridge

Location: Kaimanawa Road off SH1 15 kilometres south of Tūrangi.
Important: The occasional car does pass over the bridge so take care with little kids.


3. Tawhai Falls | SH48 before Whakapapa Village

Tawhai Falls

This idyllic waterfalls plunges off the jagged edge of a lava flow. It’s also the spot where Lord of the Rings fans converge as this pretty backdrop made the big screen in The Two Towers. If snow levels have reached the Falls you may be limited to visiting the lookout, which is still worth a trip. But if the snow is on higher ground, make sure you pack some snacks and let the kids loose beside the stream. It is a family favourite of ours and ideal to eke out the last bit of mountain adventures before heading home.

Grade: Easy

Accessibility: Well graded gravel paths with steps. Not suitable for buggies or wheelchairs.
Time: Allow 20 minutes (800 metres) return for this mini-adventure.

Location: The track is 4 km before the Whakapapa i-SITE on SH48.

Important: No dogs in Tongariro National Park


4. Mangawhero Forest Walk | Ōhākune Mountain Road

Maungawhero Forest Walk

This kid-friendly adventure meanders beside the Mangawhero River at the start of the access road to Tūroa skifield. It is a great loop with loads of interesting features to the keep the kids entertained; a picturesque forest stream, small rock cave and dense native forest. There are some pretty river views along the way and numerous spots for older kids to clamber over the rocks and explore any critters living in the river. At its highest point the walk crosses the Ōhākune Mountain Road before heading down to the start through towering giant rimu, mātai and kahikatea.

Grade: Easy

Accessibility: Not suitable for buggies unless you were super keen and want an energetic workout
Time: Allow one hour (3km) for the forest loop.

Location: There is plenty of parking at the start of the trail which is opposite the DOC Ōhākune Base at the start of Ōhākune Mountain Road.

Important: No dogs in Tongariro National Park


5. Lake Rotopounamu | SH47 between Tūrangi and National Park

Lake Rotopounamu

Fancy a stroll around a beautiful lake perched in an ancient crater? This family adventure starts with a steady climb up the flanks of Mount Pīhanga before settling into an easy stroll around the emerald coloured lake. Long Beach on the eastern side of the lake makes a good picnic spot (also has a toilet). Project Tongariro volunteers protect this World Heritage area from introduced predators and weeds. Birdsong is now very common so look out for the cheeky North Island robin, along with kākā and see if you can hear the kererū crash landing in the trees!

Grade: Easy

Accessibility: Not suitable for buggies or bikes.
Time: Allow two hours (6km) to complete the loop or approximately one hour return to the first two small beaches.
Location: From Tūrangi head towards National Park on SH47. Parking is available on the southern side of Te Ponanga Saddle (11km from Tūrangi). Well signposted. 
Important: Take care when crossing the VERY busy road. Cars tear down the hill and around a blind corner by the walk’s entrance. No dogs.



Ceana Outdoor KidAbout the Author: Hamilton mum Ceana Priest has explored the best ways to get kids away from devices and get them outside in her guidebook The Outdoor KidInitially she launched as a resource for other parents and grandparents to find local muddy adventures, trees to clamber over, critters to discover or a place where kids can tear around on their bikes. Outdoor Kid is all about getting you and the kids off the couches and devices, and outside into nature!

Looking for more spots to explore with your family? Jump over to Outdoor Kid’s website for free kid-friendly walks and activities.

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