For the second half of my summer I’ve been staying in good ole Palmerston North writing up a research report for Massey University. It feels like my life has shifted into a lower gear compared to the fast paced life on the road. However, I did have a series of weekends that resembled the adventure lifestyle I was used to. I can probably thank my sister Lauren for that—she stayed with me in Palmy for about a week and a half before heading off to do research in a rainforest near Taupo. Wanting to show her as much as New Zealand as I could, we spent our weekend afternoons summiting the nearby volcanoes of the North Island. Up first was Mt. Ngauruhoe (aka Mt. Doom).
Volcano #1: Mt. Ngauruhoe- pronounced nara-ho-ee
In one of my past blog posts, I talked about my hike in Tongariro National Park, which weaved through the three central volcanoes of the North Island. The scenery was beautiful, but my only regret was not taking the side track to the summit of Mt. Ngauruhoe. So with a free Saturday afternoon, Lauren and I pledged to make it to the top. As we were driving up to Tongariro National Park and could just see the top of the volcano and it was crazy to think that we were going there today.
The trail looked all too familiar as we began our hike, except for the lack of fellow hikers due to the increasing cloud cover. As we made it to the start of the summit track, the clouds blocked the top of the peak from being seen. At this point, we could only guess at where the trail would lead us. We began the ascent and eventually found ourselves in the middle of the clouds— not being able to see the top or bottom!
For anyone else wanting to climb Mt. Ngauruhoe, I must warn you… it’s hard! The incline is extremely steep, about a 45 degree angle all the way up with ash and gravel as your only footing. It felt like every step we took, we would slide 1/2 step back down. The wind was also howling, getting stronger the further we climbed. Progress was slow.
Sometimes the clouds did part so we could get a glimpse of the amazing scenery of the National Park. There is not much green to see in this volcanic area, but the earthy tones of the rocks, clays, and soils made the landscape spectacular.
We were trudging for about 2 hours when finally I caught a brief sight of the peak. With the end in site, I picked up the pace and made it to the top. Now there are only a few moments since I’ve been in New Zealand when I’ve been sincerely awe-struck by a view, and standing on top of Mt. Ngauruhoe was one of them. It was exactly like I pictured the top of a volcano to look with its clearly defined rim of craggily, deep red rock that surrounded a crater sinking inward. Sadly there was no lava inside… just rock and ice.
After finishing a walk around the rim, we decided it was time to go back down. The sign said it was a 2.5 hour roundtrip from top to bottom. If so, then coming back down only took that 0.5. While the gravel and ash made it hard to climb up, it made it super easy to slide back down. Overall, it was an incredible climb and gives Mt. Ngauruhoe the title of my favorite New Zealand volcano.
Volcano #2: Mt. Taranaki
Mt. Taranaki is quite a sight to see. Maori legends says Mt. Taranaki used to reside in the center of the island with the other 3 volcanoes, but after a fight with Mt. Tongariro, the volcano took up its roots and headed towards the setting sun to where it currently sits. While this legend seems a bit farfetched, it does a good job of explaining why Mt. Taranaki looks so out of place on the North Island’s west coast. Because it appears to spring out of nowhere, Mt. Taranaki is often known as the Pimple.
The weekend after our climb to the top of Mt. Ngauruhoe, Lauren and I set our sights on this lonely volcano of the west coast. Saturday was spent driving to the base of the volcano so that the next day we had all day to hike. It was extremely cloudy that day, so we had no idea where we would be heading to the next day. We camped as close as we could to the base and just as the stars were coming out, the peak of the volcano came into view. The sight was so bizarre that it didn’t look real, with this black silhouette of a volcano against a dark blue sky. And now that we could finally see the top, I started to have doubts on whether we would reach the top or not.
We heard that the hike to the top and back took 10 hours, so we set off early at 6:30am. For the longest time, we were the only ones on the trail and could see nothing but clouds all around us. But eventually we emerged above the clouds and it instantly became a sunny day. Our scenery was still clouds though, as far as the eye could see. It felt like we were stranded on an island in a sea of clouds, which made it quite eery since no one could see us up there and we could see no one back on ground level. There were also no birds, no wind. Just complete stillness as we made our way up New Zealand’s Pimple.
Closer to the top we encounter some snow and ice. This was my first time walking on snow since I’ve been in New Zealand! We eventually made it to the crater, which turned out not to be as defined as Mt. Ngauruhoe’s because of all the snow and ice. But it was still cool. We decided to climb up just a bit higher to the way tippy top and ate our lunch while looking at the views. The only thing that broke the plane of the endless clouds were the peaks of Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Ruapehu. It was crazy to think just about a week ago, we were standing on one of those peaks.
Experiences like these are the beauty of New Zealand. When you are looking for something to do on the weekend, a climb to the top of a volcano is within possibility. And you even have a couple to chose from too. Hopefully I can conquer them all before I leave this amazing island.