Mt. Ruapehu 21 March 2006

This morning (barely :)), one of the lodge owners here took me up to the Whakapapa Ski Field on the Mt. Ruapehu volcano. Some of you may remember it… this is the one that erupted in 1995-1996, and there were photos on the internet of people skiing while the mountain is erupting behind and above them (I have been looking but haven’t yet found them)! So yes, it is another active volcano. All of the volcanoes in the park today were shrouded in clouds, but even though I dressed pretty well (thermal shirt, vest, raincoat, gloves, and headband), I had on thin capri pants and only ankle socks, so my lower legs were bare.

I took the two chairlifts as high as they go in the summer, and at the 1/2 way point the lift operator gave me a coat for my legs. I thought it was his, but I learned when I came down that they have a few extra coats for silly people like me who are more or less underdressed for the fast-changing weather here. Anyway, when I got to the 1/2 way point, it was cloud only a few hundred feet up, so that was quite eerie… gliding up into the cloud. But even more eerie is the landscape – it is incredibly rugged, incredibly volcanic-rock covered ridges and ravines – I cannot imagine how much snow they have to get to cover the rocks, it is so severe, and severely beautiful.

At the top the cafe was open, and after reading a great photo display on the eruption, I wandered out to the start of the Skyline Track, a 2-hour up and back to the summit. But I was advised not to go beyond the waterfall due to the mist and clouds, because there are very steep cliffs and dropoffs. There were some folks headed up ahead of me, but there were a ways off, so I stopped at the waterfall and sat down on a rock and called Patricia to tell her I was sitting on top an active volcano. It was very cool – I was tucked into the ravine, and after a few minutes, the mist came down even further and thicker, and I could no longer even see the lodge only a hundred feet or so in front of me. When I headed back it was in a proper rain, so I had some lovely tomatoe-mushroom soup hoping the rain would quit. After a few minutes of chatting with a couple from the UK, one of the cafe workers said ‘OK folks, you’ll have to go down now because the weather is changing!’ – I wondered about those folks who had gone up higher, because it was getting very wet and windy now.

The ride back down was even more eerie, with jagged cliffs suddenly appearing out of the mist close to the chair. I sure hope my photos come out well! There was no shuttle down to the village (about 6km), but the rain had actually stopped after the upper lift. So I started heading down the road, and found many opportunities for photos, the views were just great. I think I had gone well over half way and could see the rain heading my way. But not long after it started up, another UK couple stopped and offered me a ride down, which I happily accepted (having sore feet and knees from yesterday, still).

I then spent a couple of hours at the Tongariro National Park Visitor’s Center, and saw two great slide shows about the park and volcanoes, and picked up a great poster showing the Tongariro Crossing. Tongariro was the first national park in the world whose land was gifted to the country by its local indigenous people.