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Monday, 30 April 2007

Tongariro: A Volcanic Wonderland in New Zealand - Page 2

Written by Ellen Vliet Cohen
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We trudge across the arid crater, the cinnamon-brown land around us barren except for the occasional boulder. If it weren’t for the infrequent drone of a plane overhead and the steady line of hikers wending their way ahead of and behind us, it might be possible to imagine that we’re on Mars. We’re not quite that far away, but coming from the cold and snowy Northeastern United States, it’s a place that feels equally exotic to my husband and me. We are in the South Crater, part of the renowned Tongariro Crossing at Tongariro National Park in New Zealand.

lakeThe edge of the Red Crater represents the pinnacle—literally and figuratively—of the Tongariro Crossing. In a graphical representation of elevations along the length of the walk, the spot where we are standing, at 1886 meters, resembles the point of a pencil. From here, it’s a slip, a slide, a glissade and a prayer for the knees, as we rapidly descend the slope of loose gravel to the three lakes (called Emerald Lakes even though they appear more turquoise colored on a sunny day). Many people choose to stop near the lakes for a lunch or snack break, if they can manage to stay upwind of the sulfur smells.

One more brief climb up the slight slope of the Central Crater to the Blue Lake, and then the rest of the trip is downhill. However, the terrain and the views that remain are by no means a denouement. Rounding the bend on the way down to Ketetahi Hut, we are treated to a splendid view of Lake Taupo - the largest lake in the southern hemisphere: a caldera formed from a giant volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. The smaller lakes Rotoaira and Rotopounamu are also in view.

Just past the hut rise the misty fumes of Ketatahi Hot springs, emerging from the ground as if from the belly of Mt. Tongariro. The hot springs are owned by a private trust and are considered sacred to the Maori, so soaking in them is off limits to hikers. Even so, we can sense the spirituality of the place as we make our way past the wisps of steam rising from the earth.

The final part of the track meanders through native bush along a bubbling creek bed. The shade trees and running water are a welcome respite after a long, hot day of walking. We emerge from the bush to a field littered with tired but contented hikers awaiting their respective shuttle bus rides home. Being among a crowd of other hikers in no way detracts from our feeling that we have discovered and explored an extremely special place.

Tongariro National Park is worth visiting even if you aren’t fit for The Crossing – a 17-kilometer hike with more than 3,000 feet of total elevation gain. New Zealand’s first national park, Tongariro was donated to the government in 1887 by a Maori tribal king, Te HeuHeu Tukino IV, who wanted to protect this special place from contention among other Maori tribes as well as from mindless development by pakehas (white people). It has since been designated a United Nations heritage site for both its cultural and spiritual significance and its natural beauty.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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