During the summer of 2005 I spent a month journeying around New Zealand – a journey I would repeat tomorrow given the chance – and as the country remains one of my favorite places I’ve visited to date I thought I would share a few of the highlights here. The full story I recounted in 31 Days in a Campervan but these are new posts and not simply exerpts from the book and besides we can put the photos on here too. To kick it off here’s a bit about Mt Ruapehu in the Tongariro National Park.
The gargantuan mass of Mt Ruapehu rises to the South of Lake Taupo in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island and at 2797m or 9177ft is North Island’s highest mountain. The peak lies within Tongariro National Park which is also home to two other prominent volcanoes – Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro – and rises directly above Whakapapa, the highest township in New Zealand. Talking of superlatives, the Whakapapa Ski Area is also NZ’s largest, in defiance of the pleasantly warm North Island climate, and occupies the northern slopes of the mountain. Just goes to show how high these hills are!
The whole area is of a harsh rugged beauty and one is constantly reminded of its volcanic nature by the cone shaped Ngauruhoe and some very recent looking lava flows. Ruapehu’s last eruption was in 1996 which is hardly far off in history and Whakapapa has a system of warning sirens along with signs instructing you in which direction to run should the mountain suddenly burst into life.
My original intention had been to walk part of the Tongariro Crossing – the best known walk of the area – but with the weather as perfect as it could be bearing in mind that it was winter in the southern hemisphere, I looked into the possibility of ascending the peak. A local guide, Paul assured me that it was within my capabilities and we opted to do the Ruapehu Crater Climb which I believe is the highest walking – or tramping as it’s known here – trail in New Zealand.
The highest rocks of Ruapehu are a more technical challenge but this route ascends to a point called the Dome at 2672m (8767ft) overlooking the Crater Lake and even when covered with winter snow was not a technical route though the step kicking can be hard work in the thin air.
Our route lay through the highest part of the Whakapapa ski area at about 2000m which itself is accessed by the gondola from the top of the Bruce Road. Once you’ve avoided the skiers – bear in mind that some of them could be as bad as I am at the sport and have little control over where they are going or who they crash into – a wonderful ascent of Restful Ridge follows which leads up to a false summit before a wide arete is crossed to the Dome overlooking Crater Lake.
Awesome views that extended over much of North Island had accompanied us on the way up with Mt Ngauruhoe the centrepiece and Lake Taupo in the North along with far off Mt Taranaki near New Plymouth on the west coast. Banks of cloud obscured some of this at the top but the Crater Lake below and Ngauruhoe provided a fine backdrop to a stunning location. Paul told me that even in summer it seldom got as good as this – I think the mountain had been in a good mood today.