Tongariro/Taupo Conservancy encompasses the mountains, rivers, lakes and forests of the central North Island plateau, a place where the land is shaped by snow and ice and the energy of volcanic processes.
The conservancy incorporates Tongariro National Park, centred on mounts Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu; the conservation areas of Kaimanawa, Tongariro, Erua and Rangataua forests; and the rivers, waters and reserves of Lake Taupo.
Tongariro, New Zealand's first national park, grew from the Tuwharetoa gift of its peaks to the nation in 1887. The park now hosts more visitors each year than any other in New Zealand. They come to enjoy an accessible range of recreational activities including tramping, sightseeing and skiing the country's two largest commercial ski areas.
In 1988 Tongariro National Park received World Heritage Site status for its natural landscape values. In 1993, under a criteria change, the special significance of the park's mountains to the Tuwharetoa and Whanganui people was recognised. With the acknowledgement of its cultural landscape values, Tongariro became the seventeenth park in the world to achieve dual World Heritage Site status.
Flanking the national park are the Tongariro, Erua, Rangataua and Kaimanawa conservation areas. These forests attract, among others, hunters, trampers and fishing enthusiasts who come to experience the solitude and challenge of the back country.
Further north, Lake Taupo and its tributaries provide opportunities for a range of water activities like sailing, kayaking, rafting and world-class trout fishing. Tongariro/Taupo is the only conservancy responsible for the management of a fishery.
About 1800 years ago Taupo erupted cataclysmically. An explosive cloud of searing pumice ash and gas spread across the landscape at hundreds of kilometres per hour, filling river valleys and incinerating almost all life in its path over an eighty-kilometre circumference covering about one-third of the North Island.
The Taupo eruption, the most destructive recorded in the world in the last 7000 years, resulted from forces at work beneath the earth's surface. Sixty to eighty kilometres off the North Island's east coast the Pacific tectonic plate grinds beneath its Indian-Australian counterpart, carrying crustal rocks and water-logged ocean sediments down to regions of extreme heat. Eventually the slab begins to melt, producing huge batches of buoyant gas-laden magma which rise and collect in chambers near the surface and maintain their internal heat over long periods. It is these furnaces which fire up periodically and create the region's volcanic activity.
Over the last several million years, thousands of cubic kilometres of ash, pumice and lava from the Taupo volcanic zone have built up on the southern central North Island plateau. Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu are all active volcanoes: Ngauruhoe, in geological terms is very young, and fires caused by its eruptions may have complemented human-induced fires to prevent the surrounding forest from growing back to the natural bushline.
By the time humans arrived in the Tongariro Taupo region, the forests had recovered from Taupo's massive eruption. Podocarp and beech covered all but wetlands and the areas around Tongariro and Ngauruhoe, and the forests were alive with an abundance of wildlife which is hard to comprehend today. The arrival of humans brought about massive change. Even before the first Maori left the coast and ventured inland, the impact of introduced animals was felt by native species. A second wave of extinctions occurred as birds such as the moa and the New Zealand eagle were hunted and a third as the forests were burned to make way for farming and exotic forestry. New plant and animal pests placed further pressures on native flora and fauna and led to further extinctions. This region, prior to human settlement, supported the kakapo, kokako, piopio, saddleback and stitchbird: it does no longer. Populations of once common species such as the kaka, robin, kiwi, pukeko and the native bat have also been greatly reduced.
The natural and human shaping of Tongariro/Taupo continues to create the issues which Department of Conservation staff face today. Fire remains a constant threat, as do animal pests such as deer, goats, possums and wasps, and weeds, particularly old man's beard, marram grass, gorse, broom and Pinus contorta. The environment is subject to the impact of several large commercial businesses which operate on land administered by the Department; use of water by industrial, energy and development interests is a significant management issue, as is the ongoing conflict between recreation and protection.
Departmental staff liaise with other local and national agencies in managing the conservancy. Two local authorities(Taupo District Council and Ruapehu District Council) and three regional authorities (Waikato Regional Council, Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council and Hawkes Bay Regional Council) must be consulted on management issues including water quality monitoring, fire control, rubbish disposal, sewerage, pest control and general land use matters. The Department maintains a close working relationship with local iwi. The Tongariro/Taupo Conservation Board, the Tuwharetoa Maori Trust Board liaison committee and the Whanganui, Tuwharetoa and Ngati Tahu people are represented in decision-making processes and the Department maintains open relationships with organisations such as the Electricity Corporation of New Zealand, and New Zealand Rail.
Accessibility and very high visitor use, an internationally-significant fishery, large commercial activities and a dynamic landscape - these are some of the things that establish Tongariro/Taupo's special character. Exrtreme demand for recreational use is set against the need to protect the area's natural, cultural and historic values. The Department of Conservation places strong emphasis on effective management planning as the means to achieve the best possible balance for the conservancy.