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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Landscape Pattern

Inaccuracies and exaggerations are inevitable in any brief account of the region's physical geography, but the Central Plateau is best visualised as a broad expanse (some 50 miles wide) of volcanic rocks and ash deposits which are not greatly dissected and which slope down from Lake Taupo at an altitude of approximately 2,000ft towards the Bay of Plenty. The region is much broader in its north-eastern section, and its total length north-east to south-west is approximately 200 miles. To the east the greywacke ranges of the Kaimanawa (summit 5,625 ft), the Huiarau (summit 4,602ft), and the younger rocks of the Raukumara Range appear as a clear and decisive boundary. On the west, however, much lower and less continuous ranges, the Hauhungaroa (summit 3,825 ft), and Mamaki and Kaimai, suggest rather than confirm the physical limits of the region. In the southernmost and highest part the width of the region is reduced as the greywacke rocks in the east and the Tertiary rocks in the west draw closer together and finally limit the volcanic region. But it is in the south that one finds the most spectacular scenery of the district and some of the most attractive tourist and recreational facilities.

Lake Taupo is a huge sheet of water (234 sq. miles) lying in a grabenlike structure. Its eastern shores are the preferred ones for tourists and anglers and from the borough of Taupo in the north to Turangi and Tokaanu in the south there is a litter of camp sites, motels, fishing lodges, and private baches, the principal attraction lying in the trout fishing both on the lake itself and, more especially, from streams such as the Waitahanui and the Tongariro River. In association with the construction of a highway on the western side of Lake Taupo, a rapid development of the more favoured sites of the western shore is already under way. Immediately to the south of the lake lies the magnificent trinity of Tongariro (6,517 ft), Ngauruhoe (7,515ft), and Ruapehu (9,175ft); the latter two are still active. Tongariro is an extensive and formless dump of volcanic debris without the perfect conical form of Ngauruhoe, because it is supposed to have destroyed its peak in a series of tremendous explosions. Ruapehu, less classic in its form, appears as an immense and formidable mass standing 6,000 ft above the surrounding country – a waste of ash and tussock country partly used for army manoeuvres from the military base at Waiouru. On the northern slopes of Ruapehu lie the most extensive ski-ing fields in the North Island. The skiers are housed either in the more expensive accommodation of the Chateau Tongariro or in one of the 35 ski club huts, with accommodation ranging from the bare and minimum to the lavish, grouped at approximately 5,000 ft near the bottom of the first or second chair lifts. The altitude is barely sufficient to compete with the latitude of the area, 39° 15 S, so that the ski-ing season is a limited one, from the beginning of June to the end of October. But the attractions are great and include not only the ski runs themselves but also the paradox of the warm waters of the crater lake surrounded by snow and ice and the superb vistas from the summit, which on certain days include the smoke of Ngauruhoe, the distant gleam of Lake Taupo, and snow-capped Mount Egmont 80 miles away.