After a couple enjoyable days in Rotorua it was time to move on. There’s a lot to see here on the North Island of New Zealand and as it is we’ll probably have to skip the entire southeast coast. Today we’re heading to Tongariro National Park. It is home to not one, but three volcanoes! One of them even appeared as Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Ring movies. But before Tongariro I wanted one last hot spring soak near Rotorua. There’s a spot where a creek of hot water meets a creek of cold water and you can pick how hot you want the water to be by moving around in the pool where the creeks come together. While there we chatted with an older Canadian couple who come to New Zealand every year when it’s winter in Canada. They had some helpful tips for the rest of our trip.
After moving on we reached Lake Taupo, which is the largest lake in New Zealand. We passed through a couple busy tourist towns on the lake’s edge before reaching Tongariro National Park. As Caroline was driving I happened to look up to our left and saw some steam billowing out of the mountainside. I had her pull over so we could take a couple quick photos. I believe what we saw were steam vents of Mt. Tongariro, which has erupted as recently as 2012. It was pretty cool to see an active volcano, even if it was just some steam escaping. I’m glad we didn’t witness an actual eruption though.
Tonight we’re staying in a “backpackers”, which is basically a hostel. We’ve got a private room, but there are dorm type rooms, shared baths, a shared kitchen, and this place even has a rock climbing wall! We’re not sure if we’ll stay one night or two, it kind of depends on the weather. If it’s still cloudy and overcast tomorrow it’s probably not worth staying here again since we won’t see much of the volcanoes due to the clouds. After checking into our room we decided to take a quick drive up into the national park to see what it’s like up there. We couldn’t see the tops of the mountains due to the clouds, but we figured we could check out the visitor center.
We did just that and learned a little about the area and the mountains. There are a couple of ski areas up here in the winter and I noticed they have evacuation zones in case volcanic activity sends a mudslide, or “lahar” down the mountain. And I thought we had it bad with avalanches in Colorado! After the visitor center we drove further up the mountain to the ski area. We wound up driving in the clouds and couldn’t see much beyond about 50 meters. This area is supposed to be very scenic in a dark, otherworldly way, which is why they filmed some scenes from Lord of the Rings here. Alas, we didn’t get to see much of “Mordor” because of the low clouds, but we did get a hint of the interesting volcanic rock formations. I just wish we could be here on a clear day.