A Tuku

Tongariro National Park was created from a nucleus of land (centred on the summits of Mounts Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro). which was gifted in 1887 to the nation of New Zealand by Te Heuheu Tukino, Chief of the Ngati Tuwharetoa Maori tribe.

During the 1800’s there were conflicting land claims by neighbouring Maori tribes and encroachment by European pastoral farmers. A tuku (an offer to extend custodianship) of the mountain peaks was made in 1887 by Ngati Tuwharetoa Chief Horonuku te Heuheu Tukino IV to Her Majesty, the Queen.  The aim was to ensure continued protection of these ‘most feared and revered of all the sacred mountains of the Maori’.

The preliminary deed of gift, written on a sheet of foolscap paper, was sent to the Government. The deed, dated September 23rd 1887, was made between Te Heuheu Tukino (aboriginal native chief of the Colony of New Zealand) and Her Majesty, the Queen. 

Tongariro National Park was formally constituted by Act of Parliament in 1894. Close to one hundred years later, the park was awarded ‘Dual World Heritage Site’ status for it’s outstanding natural features and the cultural importance of the peaks. The peaks are sacred (tapu) to Maori and climbing them is considered to be culturally insensitive. 


Naming Tongariro


The Ngati Tuwharetoa people are descendants of the powerful tohunga, Ngatoro-i-rangi, who navigated to New Zealand (Aotearoa ) in the great waka ,‘Te Arawa’. After the long journey from Hawaiki, Ngatoro-i-rangi and his followers made landfall at Maketu, on the east cape of the North Island. They then made their way inland to claim new lands and subsequently arrived in what is now the Taupo district.

Struggling with fatigue and cold, Ngatoro-i-rangi climbed to the top of Tongariro. Weakened with the climbing and cold and near death, he called to his sisters in distant Hawaiki, ‘I am seized by the cold wind to the south, send me fire!’ The name Tongariro comes from ‘tonga’ (south wind) and ‘riro’ (seized).


Calling for three baskets of fire, only one arrived. After warming himself he threw the remains into the side of the mountain. This area is now called Ketetahi (one basket). The hot springs there were traditionally used for healing and the area has special significance to local Maori today.


Further Information

There are a range of very good books on Maori legends and the cultural history of the Tongariro National Park as well as displays in the DoC Visitor Information Centre. The Visitor Centre is 50 metres down the road on the opposite side from the Whakapapa Holiday Park and is well worth a visit if staying here.