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Taupo and Tongariro

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I'm planning a (relatively) whirlwind tour of Australia and New Zealand. 14 days on the ground (17 days total, including flights).

We're a young, active couple in our twenties and looking to see as many natural wonders as possible. (Less concerned with seeing the cities.)

We're flying into Auckland and want to head straight to the Taupo/Tongariro area for probably 3 days (1 day to get over jetlag and 2 days to see the sites).

First off, if I can find a cheap flight, is it better to fly to Taupo or take a bus to the area? I'm seeing flights for NZ$89 right now, which seems not that much more than the buses, and the buses require connections.

Second, if we do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, is one day enough to see all of the highlights in the park, with a second day in Taupo proper seeing the falls and other nearby attractions? Or, are we better off skipping Taupo proper and just spending two full days in the park (plus a day perhaps in Taupo at the beginning to get over jetlag).

Finally, is it alright to stay in Taupo for all of this, or worth getting a hotel down closer to Tongariro? I have a ton of Hilton points from business travel, so I could get as many free nights as necessary at the Hilton in Lake Taupo. Worth paying out of pocket to stay in/near the park?

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    Greetings Ronnie.

    I cannot answer your questions re bus or plane as we rented a car. By car it's about four hours from AKL to Taupo, excluding stops.

    Second, you should keep up on the current volcanic activity in Tongariro.

    http://www.tongarirocrossing.org.nz

    If I understand the 'current volcanic activity' bulletin correctly, at present you can hike as far as red crater, and to the top of Mt. Ngaurohoe if you wish, but you can't hike the full crossing. The site I listed will also provide you with a lot of other info.

    It's a tough call on your where-to-base question. People do base in Taupo for the hike, but bear in mind that if you want to start your hike in the early morning, it will mean a very early start from Taupo since if memory serves it is about 90 minutes from the crossing start. But since you can't do the full crossing at present anyway, you may as well enjoy the facilities in Taupo. Taupo is a small burg, but it offers a lot more than the park in terms of accommodation. And you can book van transport from Taupo for the Crossing.

    We didn't do the Crossing in the end (long story) but found plenty to do in the park for a day, if that helps your planning any. Also, if you have a car, you could scoot off to see some nearby thermal parks, including those in Rotorua, if weather precluded doing serious hiking in the park. Short answer; Taupo's not a bad base for various activities for a few days.

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    Second the advice to watch the updates on Tongariro's official website.

    In any case, you will have to get a very early start that day - so take that into account and book ahead (you need to book bus transportation from wherever you're staying). It seems with all the volcanic activity there's plenty of visitors. We chose to stay closer to the park and got a hostel in Turangi (about 30 mins from the park, so much easier to get to).

    Another thing to note is that weather is unpredictable. We left the hotel without a cloud in the sky, and by the time we got to start climbing Ngauruhoe (mt doom) it was completely engulfed in clouds. We still had a blast - it's a beautiful walk. Another advantage of arriving earlier - better chances to beat the clouds (and the crowds).

    re bus vs flight - since you're short on time I'd choose the flight as it sounds more convenient.

    Finally - a few more recommendations for the area:
    -we did skydiving in Taupo, which was great fun! (expensive tho...)
    - Rotorua is about 1 hour north, and has the nice whakarewarewa thermal village
    - You can try zorbing just north of Rotorua. It's like being inside a washing machine and is so ridiculously hilarious and awesome... couldn't stop laughing the entire way down the hills (try the bumpy track, not the straight down one).

    Enjoy your trip!

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