The Tongariro Crossing is acclaimed as the finest daywalk in New Zealand (a country with no little competition.) But there is no designated trailhead town; there are several approaches to the area, and a couple of towns you could stay in.
Perhaps the least exciting of your choices is Raurinu. There are no shops, no stores, no markets. No anything, unless you count a little tower to watch a train go by. The nearest grocery store is 45 k away (though there is a mini mart only a 20 minute drive). It’s not all that close to the mountain either. Whakapapa (pronounced quite rudely in NZ English), the gateway to many hikes, is also quite some distance.
So why stay in Raurinu? One answer: Wade’s Landing. This newish place is right on the Naked Bus route (we choose it blindly because of that.) It’s really popular with Wwoofers and those who want to hike volcanoes including Mt. Doom.
The rooms are pleasant and roomy, there is a great theater for watching free dvd’s, there are pool tables, pingpong, and lots of couches for chilling. You won’t notice that right away, though. The staff is egregiously friendly, but you might not notice that either. The first thing you’ll notice are the wooden sculptures. There are a dozen of them, each impressive in its own way.
As cool as the sculptures are, however, it’s the comfortable atmosphere that really stands out. Wade’s is a great base for kayaking the Whanganui River, for climbing any of the three nearby volcanoes, for hiking the Northern Circuit (a Great Walk), hiking the Around the Mountain Trail, or completing the Tongariro Day Hike. In short, there are boundless things to do, and all of them involve beautiful vistas and great fun.
Wwoofers who stay here for 3 weeks (working in the hotel for 4 hours a day) get a free multi-day river cruise. Of all the places we stayed in New Zealand, this is the one I’d like to go back to and hang out for a week or three.