An Expert Guide of the New Zealand’s Best Volcanoes That You Should Go

It is not exactly a blessing to have so many volcanoes in one country, as the people are constantly exposed to natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The upside, on the other hand, is that this geographic feature brought a diverse landscape and scenery, geothermal resources, and knowledge to humankind while combating the harsh environment for their lives and perpetuation. Today, there are about 12 active volcanoes in New Zealand, with the Whakaari / White Island being the most active and its recent eruption was in 2019. It raises concerns regarding the safety of travelers who wish to visit these volcanoes; While travel operators, the government, and the travelers themselves should be aware of the risks that may be incurred getting too close to an active volcano, there are different ways to appreciate them. The majority of volcanoes in New Zealand are located on the North Island; I reached out to my fellow travel bloggers to give you a roundup of some of the best active, dormant, and extinct volcanoes that travelers should visit. Starting by the Mount Eden, a popular tourist attraction in Auckland –

Maungawhau (Mount Eden)

Starting off from Auckland, the largest city in the country is in fact sitting on a massive volcanic field with 50 volcanoes in the area. Having said that, most of these volcanoes are relatively small, making them insignificant as compared with many others around the island besides, the last eruption in the area was about 600 years ago.

Among all these volcanoes, Mount Eden is one of the most popular for tourists, which is situated only 4 kilometers south of the Central Business District of Auckland. The site is named after George Eden, 1st Earl of Auckland, and it’s a dormant volcano that shaped like a cone in the suburban Epsom, offering the highest viewpoint in the city for Auckland’s skyline and its harbor. That’s why it’s so popular among tourists because of its convenient location and altitude.

The volcano is a cone shape dormant volcano with a height of 196 meters. Its summit is the highest natural of Auckland’s urban area, and the last eruption of Mount Eden was estimated about 28,000 years ago. What’s left now is a majestic bowl-like crater that is 50 meters deep. Visitors can take a walk up the craters to learn more about the environment, ecological formation history, and also enjoy a panoramic view of Auckland above and beyond.

Rangitoto Island

Roxanne – Faraway Worlds

New Zealand’s youngest volcano is easily accessible from Auckland, the country’s largest city. Appearing in the Hauraki Gulf only 600 years ago, Rangitoto Island is also the city’s largest volcano, with a distinctive cone which is clearly visible in the harbor. The easiest way to visit Rangitoto is as a day trip from Auckland. Ferries leave on a regular basis and the trip only takes about 25 minutes. When arriving on Rangitoto Island, the first thing most people do is walk is to the top of the cone. It takes about an hour to get to the top, where you’ll find sweeping views of the harbor and nearby islands.

There are also a range of longer walks on the island, some through native bush. There’s also a beautiful route to the neighboring island of Motutapu, which you can reach during low tide. Just be aware that walking can be very hot, especially in the summer months, so be sure to take water and food with you (there aren’t any shops on the island). Also, wear sturdy shoes as there are lava flows and volcanic rock. If you want to stay overnight, the Department of Conservation has a cottage on the island, which is available for holiday rentals.

Poor Knights Islands

Kylie from Our Overseas Adventures

The Poor Knights Islands are located 22 kilometers offshore in Northland and are the remnants of a huge volcano that was estimated to be 1 kilometer high and 25 kilometers wide erupted over four million years ago. It’s an incredible place to visit – both because of the unique flora, fauna, and geographic aspects of the island, and the amazing underwater habitat lying in the marine reserve around the islands. There are many species of plants and insects on the Poor Knights that aren’t found anywhere else in New Zealand, and entrance is strictly by permit only. However, you can still see New Zealand’s largest coastal pohutukawa forest as you cruise around the island.

It’s underwater though that the Poor Knights are outstanding. The islands lie at the bottom of the warm East Auckland Current, which flows all the way from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. This means many fish, turtles and coral can be seen that are unique to the area, and because the area is a marine reserve, they are abundant. Taking a day trip with one of the local operators at Tutukaka is a great way to experience the islands, and along with snorkeling you can kayak, paddleboard and swim.

If you are lucky enough to have access to a large boat you can go there yourself, otherwise, you can book with one of the experienced operators leaving from Tutukaka. It’s best to visit between October and April to maximize your chances of seeing all the sea life. Don’t forget to bring your underwater camera to capture life beneath the waves! The trip makes a great stop-off on an Auckland to Cape Reinga road trip.

Tuhua (Mayor Island) 

Ellie from Ellie’s Travel Tips

Tuhua, also known as Mayor Island, is a dormant shield volcano located off the coast of New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty on North Island.

While many travelers may experience Tuhua on a New Zealand cruise by sailing around Mayor Island, visitors will have a more unique experience once on the island. Tuhua is largely protected from the public, so those who get lucky enough to visit, really get to experience something special.

The northern half of the island is a marine reserve, perfect for snorkeling and diving in a fascinating and colorful volcano environment. The warm ocean currents in this area welcome countless subtropical species of marine wildlife. This is an activity I enjoyed during my time on Mayor Island, exploring the marine animals and tropical waters offshore.

The only way to get to Mayor Island is through watercraft, so it is best to book a boat ride to Tuhua. Further, the best time to visit the Tuhua volcano is between the months of October and May. This is when the average temperature and humidity of the island are ideal for both swimming and hiking activities.

Those granted permission to land on Mayor Island will enjoy hiking through the island’s pōhutukawa forest. The best views of Tuhua are accessible from the island’s highest peak, sitting around 355 meters above sea level.

Tuhua is considered special by Maori for its geological make-up, which includes rare black obsidian – a volcanic glass formed through the rapid cooling of silica-rich lava. Pieces of this natural black glass can be found rampant throughout Mayor Island and along the Bay of Plenty beaches.

Mount Paku

Cassie from Cassie the Hag

Mount Paku is a beautiful triangle-shaped volcano in Tairua Harbor. It’s easy to enjoy Mount Paku on a day trip from Auckland or road trip since it’s one of the many fun activities within the Coromandel Peninsula.

The best way to experience Mount Paku is to walk to the top. The hike to the summit is only around 0.7 kilometers, although the last part of the trek is quite rocky and does involve a little scrambling. Otherwise, the trail is pretty well-maintained with handrails in steep places, making it accessible for most people. You can enjoy native trees and some lovely views while walking up

The view from the top over the ocean, nearby islands, and Coromandel Ranges is what gives Mount Paku its unique charm, and is a fantastic place to enjoy a sunset. I combined Mount Paku with a visit to Cathedral Cove and Hot Water beach, and it was the perfect way to enjoy a day out before driving back to nearby Auckland.

Alternatively, enjoy the view of Mount Paku from Tairua Beach. This blissful sandy beach is a great place to relax, enjoy swimming or head out surfing and hiking in the beautiful surrounding nature.

Mount Maunganui

Daniel from Destinationless Travel

Mount Manganui is actually the name of a suburb near Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty. What many people don’t know is that the suburb was actually named after the volcano that sits right next to it. Mount Manganui is a dormant volcano and to be honest, it looks more like a hill than a volcano and locals often refer to it as “the Mount.”

With that said, the best views of Mount Manganui are actually from climbing to the top of it! The Mount Manganui Hike is a fairly easy short-day hike that from the top, you’ll have views of the city of Tauranga and Mount Manganui Beach (one of the most beautiful beaches in New Zealand!) The hike to the top is a bit of a climb, but only takes about 30 minutes to an hour. If you want a really special experience, hike up for sunrise!

I also recommend spending a couple of days in the suburb of Mount Manganui itself. Not only can you hike the volcano, but you can spend time at the beach and enjoying the many beachfront bars and restaurants.

Mount Tarawera

Jub from Chur New Zealand

Mount Tarawera is a volcano 45 minutes away from Rotorua. Mount Tarawera last erupted in 1886, resulting in ~120 deaths, and destroying the famous Pink and White Terraces (new research shows they may be buried rather than destroyed).

Going to the top of Mount Tarawera gives you a chance to further understand the background of the eruption which you’ll learn about as you explore Rotorua. That’s in addition to the incredible volcanic landscape and views you get.

There’s only one activity you can do on Mount Tarawera, and that’s the guided walk. The guided walk is only about 3km of walking but is unique compared to the other walks in Rotorua. The highlights are walking around the crater rim, and sliding down the scree (a collection of broken rock fragments at the base of a cliff) into the volcano itself.

There are two companies that have permission to take visitors on guided tours on the volcano, Kaitiaki Adventures, and Volcanic Air.

Kaitiaki Adventures (I went with them) will drive you from Rotorua to the top of the Volcano, and Volcanic Air will take you to the top of the volcano by helicopter. If you’re not on a budget at all, the helicopter trip would be insane. That said, the ride up the volcano, while a little bumpy is fun.

The best time to go there is in the summer when the weather is likely to be in your favor for both views, and photo opportunities.

If you want some other Tarawera experiences, you can walk to the Tarawera Falls, camp at Hot Water Beach on Lake Tarawera (or you can hike via the Tarawera Trail), and learn all the background information at the Buried Village of Te Wairoa. Or push your limits and enter the Tarawera Ultramarathon.

Taupō Volcano/ Lake Taupō

Sarah from Sarah Sees the World

While it looks nothing like a volcano as we picture them, Lake Taupō, New Zealand’s largest lake, essentially fills a caldera (volcanic hole) which formed following eruptions of Taupō Volcano which last erupted over 1,800 years ago.

The surface area of Lake Taupō is about the size of Singapore and in Māori legend the lake is home to a taniwha (supernatural being) called Horomatangi. The town of Taupō is perched on the edge of the lake and has many cafes, shops, and restaurants as well as being near plenty of attractions and adventure activities. I particularly loved the Lake Taupō Hole in One Challenge where I got to challenge my friends to hit golf balls out onto a floating pontoon 102 meters away! None of us came even close to hitting a hole in one and taking away a $10,000 prize.

Being at the center of New Zealand’s north island it is easily accessible with a car or by bus and should definitely be on your itinerary when visiting New Zealand’s North Island. Lake Taupō itself is clear and beautiful to swim in and there are six designated areas for swimmers where no vessels can enter. If you’d prefer to be on the water rather than in it you can hire boats and jet skis, or take sightseeing or fishing trips

Attractions around Lake Taupō include hot pools, the Huka Falls (the Huka Jet speed jet experience will take you up close to them), and New Zealand’s only Prawn Farm. For the particularly fit, the famous Lake Taupō Cycle Challenge takes place in November each year where competitors compete to cycle the 160 kilometers of lake circumference alone or in teams.

Mount Taranaki

Bailey from My Queenstown Diary

Mount Taranaki is one of the most iconic volcanoes in New Zealand. With its perfectly symmetrical cone, Mount Taranaki is nothing short of picture-perfect. There’s no surprise it’s one of the most photographed places in the country.

Located in Egmont National Park this volcano is surrounded by forest and plenty of hikes. For one of the best views of Mount Taranaki be sure to hike to the Pouakai Tarn on the Mangorei Track. As one of the best things to do in New Zealand, this hike leads to a small lake, which on a calm day, reflects Mount Taranaki almost perfectly – it’s stunning. The hike takes most people around 4-5 hours to complete and although you can easily do it in a day, a fun option is to spend the night at the Pouakai Hut.

If you are an experienced hiker you can also hike to the summit of Mount Taranaki. But do be warned this hike is grueling and takes most people well over 8 hours to complete.

With that said, you don’t necessarily need to hike to enjoy views of the stunning Mount Taranaki. In fact, it is located so close to the city of New Plymouth that from almost anywhere around there you’ll see this mountain easily!

Tongariro Alpine Crossing / Mount Ngauruhoe

Tom & Zi from Craving Adventure

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the most popular day hike in New Zealand, and rightfully so because the scenery is nothing short of breath-taking. Imagine yourself walking in between active volcanoes, steam vents, sulfur lakes, and Mars-like landscapes, gazing at all sorts of impressive landscapes as far as the eye can see. What makes this hike extra special for fans of the Lord of the Rings movies is all the scenes that took place in Mordor were filmed here, including the iconic Mount Doom, and you can walk to the top of it as a sidetrack! In reality, this volcano is called Mount Ngauruhoe, but it is the same mountain and with a tiny bit of imagination you can see the hobbits climb it to destroy the ring of power. Don’t think too lightly of this hike just because it is so popular though. It is still a pretty tough 20-kilometer long hike with incredibly steep sections over loose gravel-like rocks, so make sure you prepare yourself well. Wear appropriate clothing and shoes, bring high-energy food and plenty of water, wear sun protection and start early in the morning, both to avoid the crowds and the heat. Because once the sun hits the track in summer it can get really warm. As an added bonus to starting early; you’ll often find your surroundings still shrouded in the morning fog, giving you this mysterious feeling of walking in between steaming volcanoes, which actually isn’t far from the truth. Whether you’re an avid hiker or not, you’re gonna love the Tongariro Alpine Crossing because it is incredibly rewarding and the views are out of this world (almost literally)!

Mount Ruapehu

Mount Ruapehu is an active stratovolcano at the southern end of the Taupo Volcanic Zone in the Central Plateau. It is the largest active volcano in New Zealand; it is also the highest point in the North Island with three major peaks: Tahurangi, Te Heuheu, and Paretetaitonga. The deep, active crater is between the peaks and fills with water between eruptions.

Located within Tongariro National Park, it has the island’s major ski resorts and only glaciers are on its slopes. To experience the area, journey above the clouds with Sky Waka and enjoy a meal at New Zealand’s highest restaurant with a breathtaking view! It’s an easy drive from various major cities in the North Island like Auckland and Wellington. In winter, stay there for a ski vacation as there’s the best place to do so in the country.

Dunedin Volcano

Jon from See the South Island

The Dunedin Volcano has been “extinct” for over 10 million years now, so don’t expect to see a typical volcano in Dunedin. What you will see, however, is what it left behind. The volcano was massive, stretching from the city all the way to Aramoana, and was 1000 meters high. The highest point these days is Mount Cargill, at 700 meters, and it’s probably the best place to see what remains of this ancient giant.

From the top of Mount Cargill, you can see the Otago Harbour, Peninsula, and city. It’s one of the best city viewpoints in New Zealand and I’d highly recommend going there for sunrise. You can drive all the way there or walk there via a couple of different forest trails. Just down the hill from the Mount Cargill summit, you’ll find the Organ Pipes, a series of basalt columns as well as the rocky Butters Peak.

There are heaps of other viewpoints scattered around Dunedin, most of which overlook beautiful beaches and stretches of coastline. There are so many headlands, sweeping bays, inlets, and bush walks around the city – I guess being formed by a volcano gives the city an advantage when it comes to the scenery!

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