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Wednesday 3 Mar 2004
Tongariro National Park, New Zealand

...still raining...

1st March - Present

The past few days Ive been hanging around Tongariro Nat Park, hoping for the weather to clear up so that I could tackle the Mt Ngauruhoe volcanoe climb (how many times can you say youve climbed an active volcano???)

In the meantime I went exploring the amazing landscape of this national park. I forgot to mention in my last entry that the volcanic mountains here are snow-covered year-round... the main place I was located, Whakapapa Village, becomes a great ski-resort in the winter months. There is even an elaborate old-fashioned 5-star ski hotel, The Chateau, that seems right out of place on the volcano side and bears a striking resemblance to the hotel in "The Shining" movie, in terms of appearance and locality. Lets hope its not built over an ancient Maori cemetary or therell be trouble!

Anyhoo, the snow appeared out of nowhere and its such dramatically different scenery and weather to that which I experienced at Rotorua or Bay of Islands (where I was suffering from heat-exhaustion for Gods sake!!).

Rather than just sitting idle in may car waiting for the rains to end, I decided to explore. Driving up the slopes of Mt Ruapehu (at 2797m, its the highest peak and also the main ski volcano) to the half-way point (at which point you can take a ski-lift up... the weather hasnt been fair enough for me to do this though), I soon found the landscape to be strangely familiar. No doubt, since this mountain was host to the set of Mordor in The Lord of the Rings movies!!!

Spending a few hours hiking around the volcanic ledges and beside cliff edges that dropped vertically for 200 metres with waterfalls; overlooking a fantastic river gorge and mountainous valley was a truly beautiful sight! The stark volcanic rocks also increased the sense of forboding.. its easy to see why this location was chosen. It could be a picture of heaven .. or hell!

Talking of the Lord of the Rings, the Oscars were on last night and said movie scooped 11 awards! New Zealand, to say the least, are mightily chuffed with their boy, Peter Jackson. Every newspaper and radio show is shouting praises and even talking of introducing a "New Zealander of the Year" award, or a knighthood!! Jeez, they obviously dont feel they get much world-attention here!

Last night I camped out on the southside of Mt Ruapehu, in another DOC "free" *cough* campsite near the township of Ohakune. Unlike the other side of the mountain which is stark and barren, this side of the volcano is green and lush, my camp even had GRASS on the ground, rather than gravel!

The reason for this comes from a massive volcanic eruption in 182 AD, the largest in 5000 years apparently, which formed Lake Taupo nearby. The ash from the eruption could be seen in the sky as far away as Rome, Italy! The south-side of Mt Ruapehu, facing away from the blast, managed to avoid getting covered in 5 metres of ash, which preserved the lush forest and vegetation, the ancestry of which is here today. Interesting...

Well today, the weather is.. wait for it: RAINING! I enquired about climbing the volcano, only to discover two problems: Its gonna be freezing and windy, plus I need to be equipped with an expensive winter jacket. Which I dont have.. doh!

So Im gonna head off today... I think Napier is my next stop...

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