In 1993 Tongariro became the first property to be inscribed on the World Heritage List under the revised criteria describing cultural landscapes. The mountains at the heart of the park have cultural and religious significance for the Maori people and symbolize the spiritual links between this community and its environment. The park has active and extinct volcanoes, a diverse range of ecosystems and some spectacular landscapes.
Tongariro lies at the south-western terminus of a Pacific chain of volcanoes aligned along a major tectonic plate boundary. The park's volcanoes, which are outstanding scenic features of the island, contain a complete range of volcanic features. The related ecological succession of plant communities is of special scientific interest. The site is directly associated with the living traditions, beliefs and artistic works of the Maori people, whcih are of outstanding universal significance.
Tongariro National Park is situated on the central North Island volcanic plateau. The boundary encircles the Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro mountain massif at an altitude of 500-1,550 m. An outlier, 3 km north of the main park area and separated from it by Lake Rotoaira, includes Lake Rotopounamu, Mount Pihanga and Mount Kakaramea. The park lies at the southern end of a discontinuous 2,500 km chain of volcanoes that extends north-east into the Pacific. The volcanoes in the park, which are predominantly andesitic in composition, fall into two groups on the basis of location, activity and size. Kakaramea, Tihia and Pihanga volcanoes and their associated vents, domes, cones and craters form the northern group. These lie on a 10 km north-west to south-east axis and have not been active for some 20,000-230,000 years. The active group extends for some 20 km along a south-west to north-east axis, with a width of some 10 km, and comprises Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu volcanoes. The Tongariro complex consists of recent cones, craters, explosion pits, lava flows and lakes superimposed on older volcanic features. In addition to these major features, the park contains other extinct volcanoes, lava and glacial deposits and a variety of springs. Extensive glaciation up to 14,700 years ago eroded both Tongariro and Ruapehu and glacial valleys with terminal and lateral moraine formations are present. Glaciers are currently restricted to Mount Ruapehu, although all are less than 1 km in length after several decades of retreat. Habitats are diverse, ranging from remnants of rainforest to practically barren ice fields. From the lowest altitudes to 1,000 m in the west and north, about 3,000 ha of once widespread mixed podocarp-broadleaf rainforest is present. At higher altitudes beech forest occurs.
Scrublands cover some 9,500 ha. Tussock shrubland and tussockland cover extensive areas in the north-west and around the mount Ruapehu massif at about 1,200-1,500 m. The highest altitudes in the park are dominated by gravelfields and stonefields. The vertebrate fauna is restricted mainly to birds although native mammals are represented by short-tailed and long-tailed bats. More than 56 bird species have been recorded in the park, including brown kiwi and North Island fern bird.
The area has been occupied by Maoris since they first arrived from Polynesia and ethnic mythology identifies the mountains in the park with tupuna (god-like ancestors). Until the land was given to the nation in 1887, it was occupied by the Tu Wharetoa tribe. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
The Maoriare a Polynesian people who reached Aotearoa (New Zealand) before AD 1300 (and possibly as early as AD 600-800). They came as settlers in large double-hulled canoes -men, women, and children, with their plants and domestic animals. One of the most important was the Arawa canoe, which made its first landfall at Whangaparaoa on North Island's East Cape and then travelled to Maketu in the Bay of Plenty.
The descendants of that canoe still hold authority over the land as far south as the Tongariro National Park. The people of the Park - Ngati Tuwharetoa - identify with Ngatoroirangi, the navigator of the Arawa canoe and legendary bringer of fire to Tongariro.
Mananui To Heuheu, paramount chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa, was one of the few Maori chiefs who refused to sign the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 and thereby cede sovereignty to the British Crown. His son Horonuku, who succeeded Mananui in 1846 when he was buried by an avalanche on the mountain and who became known as Te Heuheu Tukino in 1862, came under severe pressure from land-hungry European settlers. When faced with the dilemma of having to divide his land following a dispute with the Maniapoto iwi or lose it to the Land Court, he took the advice of his sonin- law Lawrence Grace to make it 'a taou place of the Crown, a sacred place under the mana of the Queen". With the approval of the Tuwharetoa chiefs the land was handed over to the Crown as a gift in September 1887.
The original deed of gift made an area of 2640 ha consisting of three small circles around the main peaks into the first national park in New Zealand, and the fourth in the world. This was too small for effective management and over the years that followed large-scale purchases of land were made by the Crown, so that when the Tongariro National Park Act was passed in 1894 its area had increased to some 25,000 ha. A survey report in 1904 recommended that the area should be more than doubled, and today the Park's boundaries enclose over 79,000 ha.
Source: Advisory Body Evaluation
Property inscribed for both geological and ecological values under natural criterion N (ii) before 1994. Criterion N (i) [Operational Guidelines 2002] was added. For more details see Decision 30.COM 8D.1.