"I wanna hang a map of the world at my house. Then I wanna stick pins in the locations that I`ve traveled to.
...But first I have to travel to the top two corners of the map so it won`t fall down."
-Mitch Hedberg

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Tongariro Crossing - a.k.a. "Mt. Doom"

Lake Taupo – the largest freshwater lake in the southern hemisphere – lies two hours south of Rotorua. You might ask, “Shawn and Carolyn, what do you do at the largest freshwater lake in the southern hemisphere?" Well, if you’re anything like us you eat a sandwich, splash around for a while, then play backgammon until naptime.

While we were eating sandwiches we watched literally dozens of people fall out of the sky. Taupo is home to the cheapest skydive in NZ, so at any given time you can look up and see someone screaming their face off as they plummet to the earth.

Care was stoked to kayak, but the lake doesn’t have a lot of twists or anything, so we decided to wait for the Abel Tasman to get our kayak on. Instead, we drove south to what many consider the best day hike in New Zealand – the Tongariro Crossing.

This 19 km hike up and through the saddle of two active volcanoes followed by an undulating descent through the Red Crater, past the Emerald Lakes, and down the alpine landscape of the lakeside mountain face is home to an ever changing tapestry of stark beautiful images. We finally got to wear our hiking boots!

The start is a climb up “The Devil’s Staircase” (exactly like it sounds) with imposing Mt. Ngauruhoe filling up the landscape. For most trekkers, this volcano is just another unpronounceable Maori name, but for me it’s the famous Mt. Doom from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Peter Jackson scoured the New Zealand landscape for a mountain imposing enough to be the throne of all evil. The fact that he chose this peak should tell you something about the area. Luckily we started at 7:30 a.m. so the heat of the climb was refreshing.

At the peak, we trekked across a wide crater that looks like the surface of the moon. The temperature drops significantly and wind whips across the exposed face of the volcano, but the desolation is really beautiful. We lucked out with the weather – it was clear and sunny – but clouds and deep fog can descend on the summit in minutes, making the trek dangerous if not impossible. People have gotten lost and died on the mountain before.

Once we crossed the crater and climbed some more we hit the high point. After a few hundred meters of sliding down the loose rock scree we came upon the Emerald Lakes.

These three pools of turquoise water are heated by sulfur vents in the volcanoes’ crevices creating a welcome splash of color on the otherwise monochromatic scenery. The lakes are insanely blue. Like, Crayola 128-pack of crayons “cerulean blue”.

After the lakes the hike sort of plods on, a little up, a lot down, until we reached the far side of the mountains and head down through ever greener alpine landscapes. It was like a science fair diorama – these plants live at this elevation, this bush lives at this elevation, trees sprout here – until we descended amongst a rushing stream and lush forests of the foothills.

I have a bum knee which flared up on me, especially on the descent, so the last eight kilometers took forever. It was nice though because Care and I took our sweet time getting down the mountain. She waited for me when I needed to crab walk down a steep hill, and we got to really soak up the scenery all around us instead of just pushing ahead like I’m prone to do on a hike.

All in all, the Tongariro Crossing lived up to the hype as the “best day hike in New Zealand.” We saw Mt. Doom, volcanoes, craters, lakes, rocks, trees, streams, nature stuff, and I hurt myself. What more can you ask for?
by Shawn Forno
Taupo is a wonderful jumping off point for dozens of activities on the lake or in the centrally located Taupo district of the North Island. Kayaking, sailing, para-sailing, swimming, skydiving, snorkeling, tubing, and more are all available for booking at either the information...read more
by Shawn Forno
Forty kilometers south of Lake Taupo, the lush blues and greens of the bustling tourist locale succumb to the rugged landscape of the Taupo volcanic fields, home to three active volcanoes – Mt. Tongariro, Mt. Ngauruhoe, and Mt. Ruapehu. The trail winding between...read more

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"One Ring to Rule Them All" - a comic by Shawn Forno


  1. You found your way to Mordor?!? Did you ask for help along the way?

  2. Hahahaha, I've been telling Care that you were bugging Kiwis with LOTR nonsense YEARS before it was cool.

    I wish it wasn't so blatantly commercialized here now or else I'd love to ask people to escort my to Gondor.

    I had heaps of fun drawing the comic.

  3. Thanks buddy. I still think of "Chocobo Moshpit: The War Journal" pretty much every time I sit down to draw anything.

    I'm happy that you like my stuff.