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Exploring Tongariro National Park with our travel expert, Louise

Travel specialist Louise Barrett isn't that big on camping - she'd much rather stay in a hotel.

But after spending a week exploring the central North Island and Tongariro National Park, or 'Middle-earth' (as it's known in The Lord of The Rings trilogy) she'd consider it.

We sat down for a chat about her experience:

Tongariro National Park, New Zealand

How long was your trip and where did you go?

It was a five day trip through the central North Island. We started in Auckland, and went from there to Whitianga (a beautiful coastal area in the Coromandel). We then went through to Rotorua (New Zealand's most active volcanic region) and on to Tongariro National Park (home to Mt Doom from Lord of The Rings) and Taupo and back to Auckland.

If you could only go to one of the places you visited, where would you recommend?

That's a tough one because I loved Whitianga, it was beautiful. But I to have say Tongariro by far. There's just small town nearby, but all the people that live and work there are wonderful, really welcoming, really helpful. It is kiwi hospitality at its best and it is definitely one of the new places that I have been recommending in tours this week.

So Tongariro was the highlight of your trip?

Yes. I was lucky enough to go on a mountain flyover of Tongariro National Park. It was a 30 minute scenic flight over the three volcanoes located within the park which are Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro. It was truly stunning. I have just never seen anything like it in my life. It was a perfect bluebird day, and to be able to get to see that kind of scenery was amazing. It wasn't a big thing on my list before, but now it's right up there at the top.

Why is it so amazing?

It is just such a unique landscape. Seeing all the formations from old lava flows running, seeing the two crystal blue and crystal green lakes on top of the volcanos in such barren surroundings - it's just so unbelievable. As you're flying over, the mountains are smouldering away...

So they are erupting as you’re flying?

...well you can't see lava as such, but they are active. You can see smoke and steam, and you can see right down into the cone. It’s a no-fly-zone directly overhead due to Maori cultural respect (the Maori people believe that Mt Tongariro volcano is a living ancestor) but it is still just so incredible, it's just something that I've never ever seen or experienced before.

Did you do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?

No. We didn't. I’m really not a hike-for-seven-hours kind of person. But after seeing this landscape, seeing how truly amazing it was, I have said I would actually do it. I would happily do it!

Are there things to do other than just hiking?

Yes absolutely! That was one of the beneficial parts of this experience, learning about the all different activities you can do there. Most people think it’s just either the scenic flight or the crossing, but they have paddle-boarding, bike riding, fishing, quad biking - all these amazing activities to do in such a spectacular setting. And also in the winter you have skiing on Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe.

What is your best piece of travel advice?

Be prepared. Be prepared, but at the same time if things go wrong still make the best of it. You can always find a positive. Oh and pack something for every occasion because - that's the thing it can change so quickly. It was quite hot during the day, but in Tongariro the southerly picked up and it was cutting.

One item you can't go on holiday without?

That's my hairdryer. Because unfortunately, I suffer from mad hair syndrome. So I have to have my hair dryer, I just have to. Seriously.

I feel so blessed to have gotten this opportunity and now being able to give that to clients is now my number one mission!