Where We Be
Tongariro National Park, New Zealand
Cold, rainy weather dogged us during our stay in
Tongariro National Park. The ranger at the visitor
center strongly discouraged us from attempting any
ambitious hikes. We had hoped to do the complete
Tongariro Circuit, a three-day tramp, but were told it
would be pointless with such pervasive fog. We
lowered our ambitions to the one-day Tongariro
Crossing, then gave up on that hike as well as the
weather continued to disappoint. We passed the time
reading books, enjoying the whirlpool spa, checking
out displays at the visitor center, and touring the
premises of the ultra-fancy Grand Chateau Hotel.

We got our first glimpse of Mount Ruepehu and Mount
Ngaurahoe (which served as “Mount Doom” in
Lord of
the Rings
) on Sunday evening just as the sun was
setting. Finally, the heavy clouds parted to reveal two
huge volcanoes just a few kilometers from where we
were staying. These volcanoes erupt frequently

every two or three years. They're quiet at the moment,
though. Mount Ruepehu is rugged, mountain-like, and
heavily snow-covered. Mount Ngaurahoe is shaped
exactly as you would picture a volcano to be shaped in
your mind’s eye—conically, with snow covering the
top third.

By Monday, our last day in Tongariro, we couldn’t bear
the thought of being couch potatoes any longer so we
hiked 17 km (10½ mi) to Upper and Lower Tama Lakes,
stopping along the way to see Taranaki Falls. The hike
took us five hours and allowed us to see some of the
key sights along the last 8½ km of the Tongariro
Circuit. The 60-foot falls were lovely, and Lower Tama
Lake, a circular blue pool in an “explosion crater,” was
clearly volcanic in origin.

The weather turned nasty as we climbed steeply the
final hour to Upper Tama Lake. Cold rain poured down
on us, but we were so close, we pushed on until we
reached the crescent-shaped lake. The reputedly
expansive views from here were hidden from our
sight, but at least we reached our intended destina-
tion. We headed back down in a thick sleet storm.
Mount Ngaurahoe ("Mount Doom" from Lord of the Rings) makes a brief appearance
A rock fort at Upper Tama Lake provides some protection from the wind
Once an explosion crater, now Lower Tama Lake
The ritzy Grand Chateau with Mount Ruepehu behind
Even the trail markers have lichen growing on top!
The leading edge of solidified lava from Mount Ngaurahoe
Unexpected waterfall during our hike back
Robin's "high chair" provides dubious protection from the next lava flow
Crescent-shaped Upper Tama Lake -- in between downpours
Taranaki Falls
Smooth volcanic rocks are honed even smoother by rushing water