A Journey Through Middle-Earth

Heading south, we left sulphurous Rotorua behind and drove to the sweeter smelling Tongariro National Park. A World Heritage Site, this is home to the famed Tongariro Alpine Crossing, reputedly one of the best one day walks in the world. The route traverses a dramatic volcanic landscape, with craters, steaming vents, and beautiful mineral lakes.

Mt Ngauruhoe bathed in early morning light

A down side of the walk is that it starts and finishes at different points; hostels kindly solve the logistical problem by running overpriced shuttle buses to and from each end. Following our previous taste of early bird success, we were quick to add our names to the ‘by request only’ 6am shuttle bus, and so by 9pm we were tucked up in bed, bags packed and the alarm set for 5am!  

Along with an English couple we had already met in Rotorua, and a Brazilian guy, we embarked on the crossing in the dark. The previous day had been cloudy and wet, but luckily for us this was not the case, and a clear blue sky meant for breathtaking views the whole way round. As big fans of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, a particular highlight was the commanding presence of Mt Ngauruhoe, a.k.a. Mt Doom. Despite the obvious additional special effects, it wasn’t hard to see why this particular mountain was chosen as the fiery heart of Mordor. The crossing was spectacular, and we thought its big reputation was deserved.

Alpine start

The girls enjoying the facilities

The obligatory shot in front of Mt Doom

The Red Crater

On the way down to the Emerald Lakes

Pit stop 

Time for a lunch stop

Team Tongariro at the finish line – Ciaran & Lu, us and Enrique

From Tongariro we moved on to New Plymouth, where we continued volcano-bagging with an ascent of Mt Taranaki (2518m), a classic volcanic cone which dominates the surrounding landscape. With the last eruption over 350 years ago, experts say that the mountain is due for another go; however this doesn’t deter avid trampers, and after a 3 hour slog up its scree slopes we reached the summit. Again we lucked out with the weather, and from the top were rewarded by jaw dropping panoramic views, with Mt Doom visible in the far distance.

Another early start, Tongariro Crossing visible in the distance

Past the scree slopes at last

Snow ninja

Mt Taranaki

Since arriving in New Zealand one of the things that has really struck us is how friendly and easy going people seem to be, and New Plymouth was no different. Whilst taking an evening stroll we stumbled upon a pop up outdoor cafe/bar hosting a live music session; sitting back on deck chairs, enjoying the music with drinks in hand, we watched the sun set over the Tasman sea.

Having quenched our thirst for active volcanoes we headed onto Wellington, “the world’s coolest little capital”. Nowhere in New Zealand is that big, and this includes Wellington with a city population of less than 200,000. In spite of this, there is plenty to see and do, and with one day we only scratched the surface. 

Our first port of call was New Zealand’s national museum Te Papa, which loosely translates as ‘treasure box’. Spread out over 6 floors you could easily spend days wandering around its many exhibits. One of the highlights for us was a temporary exhibition to mark the 75th anniversary of Air New Zealand, complete with virtual reality headsets as a futuristic look at inflight entertainment. After enjoying a harbourside pub lunch with a couple of expatriated friends from our days at Bristol University, we took a ride on the iconic red cable car and clanked up to the top of the city. Built in 1902 it is still going strong, and from the top you are exposed to awesome views over the city, before taking a walk back down through the botanic gardens. 

Windy Welly

For the most part, we’ve enjoyed staying in hostels, in particular the novelty of cooking for ourselves. However those in the city seem to attract a different crowd to their rural counterparts, and so after a stressful cooking session, negotiating our way around dirty pots and pans, we found ourselves heading out to find one of Wellingtons ‘secret bars’. These are tucked away venues throughout the city, and may or may not require a secret knock. With a glass of local wine we mellowed out in ‘The Library’, lined from wall to wall with old books, and retired to our hostel in a much more amiable mood. 

Leaving the North Island behind

We are now off to the South Island, which is generally described as having more impressive natural landscapes than the North. Having seen some amazing places so far, we shall see whether the South Island lives up to its hype!



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