Ashley and I made our way through the North Island. The next stop full day stop after Wellington was Tongariro National Park. Tongariro is best known as the location of Mt. Doom & Mordor in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Tongariro National Park is the oldest national park in New Zealand, located in the central North Island. It has been acknowledged by UNESCO as one of the 28 mixed cultural and natural World Heritage Sites.

Tongariro National Park was the fourth national park established in the world. The active volcanic mountains RuapehuNgauruhoe, andTongariro are located in the centre of the park.

There are a number of Māori religious sites within the park[1] and the summits of Tongariro, including Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu, are tapu (sacred).

The volcanoes Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu are the southern end of a 2500 km long range of volcanoes, below which the Indo-Australian Plate meets the Plate. These volcanoes have resulted from internal tectonic processes. The Pacific Plate sub ducts under the Indo-Australian plate, and subsequently melts due to the high temperatures of the aesthenosphere. This magma is less dense, rises to the surface and goes through the weak parts of the Earth’s crust(the faults) resulting in volcanic processes in the area. Volcanic processes have been causing the uplift of the mountains of Tongariro National Park for over two million years.

We had been excited to explore this area due to its recent entrance into global news. 3 days prior to our arrival Mt. Tongariro erupted for the first time in more than a century! The Ash cloud landed up to 200km away and it hurtled rocks up to 1km into the air! How exciting!

After camping in a camp site at the base of Mt. Ruapehu we drove to the town of Whakapapa to park our van and go for a day hike. The park is known for the Alpine Circuit hike but due to the eruption that hike was closed so we decided to do the Tongariro Northern Circuit walk to the Tama Lakes. The walk is 18km round trip and it took us about 6 hours to complete (with time for photos).

Unfortunately there were low-lying clouds that impeded our view of the volcanic cones (although we were able to see the top of Mt. Ruapehu for 10 minutes). About an hour into the walk is Taranaki Falls. It is a 20 meter falls cascading of an ancient lava flow.  A neat feature of the falls is that there isn’t a large pool of water at the bottom so with a little gumption anyone walk behind the falls in a small cavernous space eroded by the water. I tried to get a photo of me behind the falls but due to the water I couldn’t leave my camera out to long (see below).

After the falls it is another two hours to Tama Lakes. The hike was through unforgivable terrain. This area was used as Mordor in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. At times we felt as though we were on Frodo’s quest through Sauron’s layer to destroy the ring of power. This place is like another planet. Even the weather was extreme. When we began it was a calm, cloudy day around 20 C and during the hike the wind picked up, the temp dropped to below freezing and the visibility dropped to almost nothing. It truly is the essence of Mother Nature showing us she is still in control.

Even though we felt like we were hiking through literary hell there was a simple beauty about the place. It became a journey that would teach us that beauty comes in different shapes and sizes.

We finally reached lower Tama Lake. What a surprise. A cater with another worldly blue that caught the eye with a magical glow. The lake was such a contrast to the red and brown hues. Beautiful. We didn’t get to stay long. As soon as we got to the lower lake Mordor began pelting rain and ice pellets sideways at us and my camera equipment.

At the end of the hike I had never been so happy to see our campervan. Turns out that I completely blew through my hiking boots on this hike. I ripped both soles in half and managed to rip out some critical seems. Luckily this would be our last big hike and I wouldn’t need the water proof boots any more but I think it is a testament to how cruel and unforgiving this environment was.

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