Driving into Tongariro National Park, on a rainy overcast day, with the clouds hanging low, gives you an awe-inspiring and eerie feeling all at once.
We pulled up to the town of Whakapapa and our first image is the Chateau Tongariro, with Mount Raupehu in the background. My first thought: The Shining.
This area was one of the sets for Lord of Rings. Specifically, for the place called Mordor, which is essentially where evil is born. Rough steep terrain, dark volcanic rocks, looming clouds – the dark mystical feeling creeps under your skin into your bones. Or perhaps it was the damp cold air.
After a rainy sleep at Discovery Lodge, we started our journey at 6:10am with a shuttle to the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 19.4 km, 6-7 hour walk.
With the rain beginning to drizzle, we walked a few kilometres on easy terrain, mostly flat, capturing only glimpses of the base of the towering volcanoes to our side, hidden by the ever increasing fog.
Then, a final cautionary sign, warning of the potential perils ahead. In high winds, the Crossing is completely closed, as it is too dangerous to walk along the ridge. We were to find out why soon. Up, and up, and up some more, we climbed up a seemingly never ending ascent, further into the clouds. My only indication of our altitude was the vegetation change – from shrubbery, to lichens, to only dark rock… we were entering Mordor.
Along the ridge, the paths were narrow. Take a few steps towards the white wall of cloud, look down and you’re looking into a steep 10m drop into a volcanic crater.
As we reached the last hut, Ketetahi Hut, stopping for a quick snack break, the clouds began to lift. We descended further and the clouds lifted higher, revealing the land that had surrounded us the whole time.
And as we reached the car park, other trampers were sprawled on the ground, some sleeping, some eating, all waiting for a lift back to their home for the night. We rejoiced. We survived Mordor!