Crossing Mordor

Trip Start Aug 11, 2010
Trip End Aug 05, 2011

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Monday, May 2, 2011

It seems to us that everywhere we go, the dodgy weather follows us. Australia had their wettest summer for 15 years or something ridiculous like that; rain chased us down the entire East Coast and Victoria did it's best to flood us out on several occasions.  By the way Melbourne friends, it seems to us that since we left, every weather forecast we’ve seen for you guys has been sunshine, sunshine and more sunshine??! Anyway, with this in mind we weren’t surprised after stopping in Taupo we were hit by terrible storms that flattened trees and closed roads all around us, and the walk we have been looking forward to for the last month, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing was closed due to inclement weather!  It's so bizarre to be in Autumn again after nearly 8 months of summer (although there can’t be many more pretty places to experience it than NZ); we’re just not suited to chilly weather.  We hung on for four days waiting for the crossing to open but to be fair, this did have its compensations! First off Taupo is a cool town built on the shores of the gorgeous Lake Taupo which provided an endless store of beautiful views and nice walks.  We attempted to walk up to Huka Falls, but after scrambling over the first few pole-axed trees, we found our way entirely blocked by a giant casualty of the storm! Luckily we could drive there too…so much for trying to be healthy!! We also took advantage of our camp’s onsite spa resort and spent our evenings chilling out in 40 degree water outside in the rain – nice!

Eventually the weather cleared, and we shot down to Tongariro on the Friday, ready to tackle the crossing the following day.  First however, there was a small matter of some sort of wedding going on back home?  Mel had phoned ahead and told the campsite/motor lodge that she was booking the telly in advance, but we got there nice and early so we could bag our place and channel! With sparkly wine and chocolate cake we watched all the BBC coverage with a random assortment of travellers from across the globe; explaining why Beefeaters wear those hats, who is who in the Royal Family, heckling Posh Spice’s awful dress, spotting the ugly bridesmaid, finding Huw Edwards has got more Welsh since we’ve been away and introducing them to Filthy Fearne Cotton all provided an endless source of entertainment for the evening! They all seemed to be taking the following day’s walk a lot more seriously than us though and went to bed early missing out on the parade through the city! The Tongariro Crossing does demand serious respect in all fairness; 19.4km of tramping through an active volcano field, reaching heights of 1800m and strongly subject to NZ’s famously unpredictable weather conditions…sounds like fun though, right!?

Luckily we were blessed with a fine day for it; clear skies, warm enough to immediately strip from five layers down to three and no real ice or frost – hooray!  We set out about 8am and were dropped at the foot of Mt Ruapehu and spent the next seven hours making our way up and past Mt Ngaurhoe to the peak of Mt Tongariro before descending into the valley behind.  The walk is consistently voted one of the top one day treks in the world and we understand why – it was just staggeringly incredible!  Tramping through Tongariro is like touring through a post-apocalypse version of earth; the first third of the walk is a climb up the debris spat out by the three volcanoes over the last however many millions of year, surrounded by brooding, smoky peaks with a smattering of snow.  The volcanic landscape is barren yet full of fascinating shapes and strange formations and types of rock, and the atmosphere has a real sense of foreboding despite the sunny day.  All in all, it is completely perfect for the starring role it had in Lord of the Rings – the area of Mordor! You may recognise the pics of the perfect cone of Mt Ngauruhoe by another name…Mount Doom, and it definitely lives up to that name! I wouldn’t have been surprised to see alien creatures bouncing around here, let alone orcs, goblins and dwarves, such is the lunar-like oddity of the landscape.  As we climbed higher and higher we started to realise the weather hadn’t been as kind as we thought it had from the more sheltered plains; we were hit by gale force winds that actually pebbled dashed us with little chunks of rock and sand.  We stopped for second breakfast pressed up against a rock near the path and enjoyed our gritty bananas and biscuits much to the bemusement of our fellow trekkers – I don’t think they’ve heard of second breakfast…or elevenses, or luncheon, or afternoon tea…!  Mel was most interested to notice that many of them seemed to be walking in tights as she had bought some to wear under her trousers to keep her warm and is therefore planning to walk in just her tights next time I do believe - which will be a treat for all!

When we finally reached the highest point of the track we were met with one of the most striking, bizarrely beautiful sights we have ever seen.  In full technicolour, widescreen and HD we looked out over the ominous lava flows of years gone by, spread out far below us were the ethereal yet poisonous green waters of the Emerald Lake, smouldering nearby were fumaroles in the rock, to the right was the angry fire tinged Red Crater and in the distance the Blue Lake shone like a mirror.  We stood to take it all in and our jaws dropped open…and were of course filled with sand and dust as the wind gusted at around 50mph!  To get out of the wind for lunch we decided to shelter by the Emerald Lakes, but to get down we had to negotiate a steep slope of loose scree and shingle.  Mel was in her element after years of geology field trip geek gatherings and shot off down it, and after stopping to remove ash from up my nose and taking a few pics I followed five minutes later.  Of course, being left on my own, disaster struck…the girl in front of me got wedged, I was caught in two minds whether to slam the brakes on or change direction and ended up going head over heels and rolling down.  I remember thinking that I was going to end up wallowing in the acid Emerald Lakes but was saved by an American lady.  Whilst trying to be brave and not cry at my poor bleeding nose and squashed jam sarnie (obviously I was more bothered about the sarnie) her husband told me that he wished he had filmed me as he could have sent it to America’s Funniest Home Videos.  Hmmph.  Ha blimming ha.

After I was placated by soup from our newly purchased Thermos flasks (yep, we are officially getting old!), sarnies for lunch and chocolate for lunch pudding we plodded onwards over the crater formed by an old eruption before passing the Blue Lake and moving out into the valley beyond for the descent through fields and forests.  Our escape from Sauron’s clutches was pretty much complete; we were out of Mordor and hightailing it towards the Shire!  By this stage we were getting tired and my hamstrings took a great dislike to going downhill, give me uphill slog any day of the week!   The last three kilometres were a bit of a chore but we emerged out eventually, sore and shattered but with massive grins – top day! 

After a quick stop in Wanganui we made it down to Wellington a couple of days ago and have continued the LOTR theme a bit further with a visit to the very cool Weta Cave.  We saw a lot of the props used on the films, weapons, armour and the like and met a couple of life sized models of various scary creatures! We also checked out the perfect details on the miniatures made for long shots, not to mention a host of other films they have been involved with! Hels & especially Darren, you would have loved it!!  We hopped down the road to Mt Victoria to go scene hunting and found the place where the Hobbits hid from the Nazgul...cue many "Get off the road!" impressions!  After immersing ourselves in being goofy film fans for a day we decided to get cultured and had a wicked day at Te Papa museum which is one of the most impressive museums I have ever been to.  They cover everything New Zealand, and do it incredibly well, lots of interaction…plus they have a giant squid and do really good hot chocolate! What more could you want? We like Wellington a lot, certainly a lot nicer than Auckland.  It has a cool and funky vibe and there is lots going on, and plenty of places to hide out from the wind with coffee and cake!  People here are typically NZ super friendly – what’s not to love?  It’s now onto the South Island for even more adventures; everyone we’ve met has loved it, so we’re hoping it lives up to the hype…if it’s anything like the rest of NZ, it will be even better!
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mom dad and all on

hi both latest blog seems a bit bland compared to white water rafting,its saturday as i write this blog,and uncle is here and also richard he thanks you for the offer of lessons, he might have passed his test by the time you get.Cant believe you got rid of the beast after what you have done so far thought driving that would be a doddle.Richard thanks you for the offer of lessons,will chat to you when you get back,shane sends his love and looks forward to seeing you again.will text you as soon as i sort the number out lots of love to you both we miss you a lot and look forward to seeing you again love your crazy family xxxxxxx

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