Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Tongariro Northern Circuit (A “Picture-Book” Blog Entry)

Last week I hiked Mt. Doom.

Or at least that’s what my guidebook says, but that’s sort of beside the point. What I really did was the Tongariro Northern Circuit Track, a 3 day hike (hike = tramp in NZ speak) that winds around Mt. Ngauruhoe (volcano) and Mt. Tongariro. It’s a mind-blowing hike in its own right.

According to my guidebook and the NZ Dept of Conservation, the LOTR shots of final the battle at Mordor were done in the ski fields to the east, with Mt. Ngauruhoe standing in as Mt. Doom (filming on the Mt. itself wasn’t allowed, as it would have shut down the park for too long). But from what I heard on the trail, the movie version is at most “inspired” by Ngauruhoe. I personally didn’t realize this was a “movie site” until 2 days into the hike. The Mt. Doom you see in the movie is more CG than anything else; the real mountain isn’t constantly spewing lava.

But it is spewing steam. It’s one of the places where you can see the geothermal activity that that the North Island of NZ is known for. A narrow flow of steam hisses out over the top of Ngauruhoe, in some spots there’s weak steam around the track, and at the first hut/campsite on the trail (you can stay at huts if you wish) there’s a view of billowing steam coming from Katetahi Hot springs. But what really makes the hike spectacular are the “Emerald Lakes” on the crossing between the two mountains. It’s almost incomprehensible, but just after you reach the highest point on the trail you look down on three brightly colored pools of water in the mountain. From here you can also see “Blue Lake” further down ON THE RIDGE. The lakes are aptly named.

Below is the full album. It might help to match the types of climate to the regions of the map, also below. Starting counterclockwise from Whakapapa Village: First come wide open plains on the way to Mangatepopo Hut. Then it’s steep climbs and wide open craters on the way to Red Crater. Emerald Lakes and Blue Lake are on the way to Katetahi Hut (grey on this map). Great views of Lake Taupo from Katetahi Hut. Then backtrack up to Emerald Lakes, down the other side, and walking across scattered volcanic rock to Oturere Hut. Dunes of gravel with patches of forest heading to Waihohonu Hut. Then more planes, forest patches, and some additional stunning lakes on the way back to Whakapapa.

2010-11-04 NZ Nov- Tongariro Northern Circuit

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