Frodo, Sam, I now feel your pain. Mordor is a tough place. By Mordor I mean the actual, reality-based, non-fictional place by the name of the Tongariro National Park. Travellers flock here in their hundreds to do the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 6- to 8-hour hike across active volcanoes and through huge craters that is absolutely gorgeous and absolutely exhausting. As a huge Lord of the Rings fan, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit this place.
The National Park was the site for some of the filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, with imposing Mount Ngauruhoe being the inspiration for Mount Doom. Not that you actually pass any of the filming locations on the crossing, but shush, that’s not important. I made it to Mordor, ok?? The landscape is barren, but stunning. When the map said I had reached the South Crater, here was me looking around for a hole in the ground. It took me a while to realise that the flat land stretching hundreds of metres in front of me WAS the crater. Yeah, bit of a blonde moment there.
For me, the Red Crater and Emerald Lakes were particular highlights of Tongariro. The vibrancy of the colours in both the stone and the water were beyond belief. They didn’t look real. Then the smell of the sulphur making the water green hits you, and you really wish they weren’t. Whew, I thought I’d left that smell behind when I left Rotorua. Clearly not.
If you can stand the scent of rotting eggs for longer than five minutes, it’s not a bad place for a spot of lunch!
Pressing on, you pass the sparkling Blue Lake and start to head down to the other side of the mountains. Here, you enter a HAZARDOUS AREA, i.e. there’s a hole in the ground that could explode at any moment, so don’t fuck about. No really, we were actually warned that if the white smoke pouring from the Te Maari crater (which did explode in 2012) turned grey or black – RUN. Basically, get the hell out of there ASAP. Fun times, really. I strange little part of me wanted something exciting to happen, but then you see the holes in the roof of the Ketetahi hut (accommodation for overnight hikers that stood between volcanic bombs and where they wanted to go) and you think, yep, let’s hope that doesn’t happen again.
But I made it down from Mordor and Mount Doom without causing any catastrophic eruptions. A brief wait for the shuttle bus had me almost napping on the ground because MY WORD did my feet hurt.
The next morning, before my bus, I did a short walk to the Taranaki Falls. I don’t really know why, but I have a major thing for waterfalls. I just love them. The path takes you to the top of the falls first, so you can stand right at the edge, looking down into the pool below. Really cool. After getting back, it was onwards and downwards to Wellington, my next stop.
Personally, I think it’s criminal that there are only three UNESCO World Heritage sites in New Zealand, what with its abundance of natural beauty. I’m just happy that I managed to visit both of the two sites on the main islands.
National Park – this time I mean the little nearby town, what a silly name for a town, but anyway – was also my first experience of couchsurfing. For those who haven’t heard of this, it’s basically where strangers open their houses to other travelling strangers in need of a place to sleep. Yup, I know it SOUNDS dodgy, but it’s actually pretty legit. As long as you use your common sense and only stay with people who have references from previous surfers, you should be totally fine. My first host was a really cool guy called Ed, a Department of Conservation ranger who works in the park. Two nights on a mattress in his living room was actually a lot of fun. It was also my first solo hitchhiking experience, not that I should probably be saying this where my parents can read it! Well, it was either hitchhike or pay somewhere between $25 and $100 for a ten-minute trip. But I was sensible – it was a short trip, a straight road with no turn-offs and an area that would only have tourists and government workers in it. It worked out well – I had a lovely conversation with an English couple in a campervan who had some great advice for me: “when you’re travelling, don’t get pregnant”. Sound advice there.
Has Tongariro National Park been added to your epic bucket list yet? Chime in with your thoughts in the comments below!
Welcome to This Wild Life of Mine (previously known as Life of Dearbh)
When a love of travel meets a passion for wildlife…
I’m a zoologist who explores the world while working for conservation organisations. I write about my experiences in the hope of inspiring others to follow their dreams and see the beauty of this earth – in a responsible and ethical way.