There is a fascinating variety of flora and fauna in and around the alpine zone of Tongariro National Park. Here are some of the birds and plants that live here.
The endangered whio or blue duck lives on fast flowing rivers and streams in and around the park. If you are lucky you might spot them on one of the mountain streams.
The North Island brown kiwi live in forests in the Tongariro National Park and the adjacent Tongariro Forest Conservation Area, which is the location for a kiwi sanctuary - a population monitored by Department of Conservation rangers.
In the forest areas of the park, you may see tomtit, robin, tui, grey warbler, rifleman/titipounamu, bellbird/korimako, fantail/piwakawaka, or wood pigeon/kereru.
In open areas you can often see native pipit/puhoihoi. Sometimes they can be seen at altitudes over 1600 m.
Also in open areas you can sometimes hear the chirp of fernbirds, but seldom see them.
Rarely seen birds
Kaka, karearea/native falcon, and the colourful kakariki/parakeet are around - just not seen very often. You can sometimes hear the piercing call of the falcon, or even witness the acrobatics of it chasing another bird!
There is a wide diversity of alpine plants in the park, some of which live at high altitudes. In the summer months there are many that have colourful flowers. It is remarkable to notice how apparently delicate plants flourish in such a harsh climate!
Large areas of the park are inhabited by beautiful golden and red tussocks. This is now also inhabited by invasive introduced heather.
Some of the flowering alpine plants you are likely to see in the summer include purple parahebe, various mountain daisies, mountain buttercups, little white foxgloves and eyebrights, and the beautiful and hardy gentian - which flowers later in the summer and sometimes as late as May.
Mountain beech forest
Much of the forest around the park is mountain beech. This type of tree exists above 1000 m altitude. Below that the forest consists more of podocarp trees.
Other alpine trees you can see include kaikawaka (mountain cedar) with it's twisted trunk, and mountain cabbage trees - alpine versions of the lowland cabbage trees.
Native mistletoe is a beautiful flowering plant, most commonly red but also orange and white, which grows semi-parasitically on beech trees.
You can see the red flowers during December-January in some parts of the park - including the short walks at Whakapapa Village, and on Waitonga Falls walk from Ohakune Mountain Road. There is an excellent example right beside the shelter in the village.
There are a beautiful selection of orchids that live in and around the alpine zone at Tongariro. These include the leek-leaved orchid, the green hooded orchid, the sun orchid, caladenia orchids, and even the potato orchid.
There are several areas of wetland/tarns (pools) in the park, as a result of the volcanic ash being rather impermeable to water.
Sundews are one of the plants that live in this acidic environment. They are quite small with tiny white flowers so look closely. You can see them in wetland areas beside some of the walking tracks such as Taranaki Falls and Silica Rapids.