“This is my last word," said Elrond. "The Ring-Bearer is setting out on the Quest of Mount Doom. On him alone is any charge laid..."
- J.R.R. Tolkien
We awoke in the darkness of a new day, eager for what is touted as the “Best Day Walk” in all of New Zealand – the Tongariro Crossing. As we boarded the shuttle bus to head to the trailhead, the sun crested above the horizon and for a moment we glimpsed Mt. Ngauruhoe
(a.k.a Mt. Doom) outlined in fiery hues of pink and orange. Was it the heat of Sauron’s forge we were seeing?
The walk itself is truly spectacular as it traverses the active volcanic terrain surrounding Mt. Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu
. Flowing water merges with wildflowers and volcanic rock as one tramps along this unique landscape. With each footstep, we got a bit closer to Mt. Doom until we passed her on the eastern side. From there, a climb up the Red Crater gives stunning views of the mountains and of the Emerald Lakes found below. The Lakes are filled craters which get their brilliant colors from the dissolved minerals present in the thermally active area.
Steam rises out of a vent near an Emerald Lake, which is fed by a blood red creek off to the left...
Clear Hot Springs
Mt. Doom isn’t the first place you think of when it comes to romance, but the walk’s beauty proved both amorous and exhausting. As we finished up the walk the perfect end to the day for our sore bodies presented itself. We drove down out of the park to the shores of Lake Taupo where the little village of Tokaanu is nestled. There the local Maori people have a wonderful hot-spring which is heated from the depths of the earth and filtered through the rocks so that it lacks the sulphuric smell and cloudiness of other thermal pools. Neda and I splurged for a private pool and sat in our birthday suits enjoying the soak and each others company. To top it off, we found a sweet-as freedom camping spot at the Tokaanu Wharf and toasted a unique and splendid Valentine’s Day while drinking white wine and watching the black swans float idyllically by the water’s edge.
To see all the pics of the Mt. Tongariro crossing, click here: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjEbBaC5
Huka Falls with a rainbow
Then it was off driving along the shore of Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand. Its fascinating origin goes back nearly 27,000 years when a supervolcanic eruption in the area left behind a massive caldera hole which would later fill with water and become Lake Taupo. For the modern day tourist, this volcanic activity means lots of fun! Our first stop in the area was the Spa Park Hot Springs, a local park where the Waikato river is joined by a flowing hot spring. The fun part is to sit in the water where the cold river mixes with the burning spring and enjoy a free temperature controlled soak courtesy of nature! Even better, while hanging out at the spring we happened upon our travel buddies Grant & Jess (mentioned at the end of Chronicles Park 6
) and camped up with them that evening at the free Reid’s farm campground outside of town.
Craters of the Moon
The next day we cruised through Taupo’s other attractions like the phosphorescent surging waters of Huka Falls and the hissing cauldrons of Craters of the Moon, a geothermal area that was created when the nearby hydroelectric power plant siphoned off water for electricity and left the remaining liquid near the craters to boil up to the surface. The last stop was the Aratiatia Rapids, where the Waikato River is diverted out of the turbines and into its naturally flowing path every 2 hours. The result is a dry canyon transforming into raging rapids as the dam releases to oohs and ahhs from the watching crowd.
The Aratiatia Rapids are released!
Farting mud pools
The thermal wonders continued as we drove up to Waiotapu, where it seemed like magma was bubbling just below the surface of the whole area. We giggled at the belching and farting noises of the Mud Pools
. The hot water here has turned the soil into liquid-hot mud that splatters and shoots into the air at random intervals. Then as the sun began its descent Jeff charged up Rainbow Mountain for a 360 degree view of the whole area. Up at the stop sat a firetower where a local ranger named Barry was scanning for possible danger due to the dry climate. Barry pointed out the various geological formations surrounding us, including hills that were shaped like waves when a shockwave from a long-ago eruption had emanated outward only to rebound off of the distant granite hills and come back to strike the volcano. The evening closed with freedom camping along the banks of the tiny Lake Okaro, where Jeff enjoyed a swim in the warm waters.
The "shockwave" hills and various Lakes in the distance. Lake Okaro, where we would camp that night is the little one in the front.
The vibrant colors at the Champagne Pool in the Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland come from the interaction of the mineral waters with various compounds such as arsenic and antimony sulfides.
For our commercial fix the next day the Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland was on the ticket. This thermal park involves a 90 minute self-guided walk through a particularly geothermally active area. Highlights included the multi-colored steaming champagne pool and the vividly green Devil’s Cave. On the way out, Scott
gave us a riddle to find a wonderful secret in the area. A hidden waterfall hot spring! With no signs and no people, a short tramp through the bush led to Neda and I enjoying our own personal hotspring showers- wicked!
Though you can't tell in the picture, that is hot mineral water pouring over me in a secret spot in the woods! No tourists here!
Taking the plunge
Then we headed to Rotura for a quick viewpoint hike and new warrant and an oil change for Faith. Last stop was the Okere Falls/Kaituna Rapids where we saw a raft plunge down Tutea’s Falls, which at 7 meters is the largest commercial raft drop in the world! Having gotten our fill of rivers and waterfalls, we knew it was time to get back to the beach to finish off our journey! We'll finish up the Chronicles on the Coromandel Peninsula in the next post...
To see all the pics of thermally wonderfully New Zealand click here: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjEbM6Y3