After getting enough sun and high waves we decided to get a bit higher and took a 400 km drive from Piha to Ohakune, a town located at the southern end of the Tongariro National Park, close to the southwestern slopes of the largest active volcano in New Zealand, Mount Ruapehu.Ruapehu, located at the southern end of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, is the highest mountain in the North Island, reaching as high as 2797m (Tahurangi peak) with several subsidiary peaks. There are several small glaciers around the summit slopes – the only glaciers on the North Island.
After checking in at Top 10 we decided to go up to Turoa Ski Field and took the Ohakune Mountain Road which was built by locals from Ohakune, mostly during weekends after they formed the Mountain Road Association in 1952. Their aim was to open Ruapehu’s southern slopes for skiing. The 17 km road was opened in 1963. It winds up through spectacular native forests before breaking out above the tree line and finishes at a complex of car parks below the bottom chairlift.
The weather was spectacular and we stopped several times to take pictures of both the mountains and the city below and, why not, to read a few pages on a sun bathed rock , which what was to remain the best reading space ever. Driven away by sand flies which, if you ask us, are New Zealand’s top predators, we reached Turoa from where we experienced the most spectacular sunset.
The next day we decided to head north-east to Lake Taupo. We took the Desert Road, a section of State Highway 1, and stopped to take a few shoots of the Rangipo Desert where the Black Gate of Mordor scenes from Lord of the Rings were shot in 2000.
From here you can clearly see the three active peaks of Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu. The Rangipo Desert receives 1,500–2,500 mm (59–98 in) of rainfall per year, but resembles a desert because of a poor soil quality and drying winds and also due to the mass sterilization of seeds during a series of violent eruptions.
The vegetation is low and sparse and the southern part of the desert is used by the army for training purposes. Walking though the Rangipo Desert at mid-day can be tiring because of the high temperature levels and of the wind storms that could take you by surprise at any time.
Dana Stavaru’s photos
Lucian Nistor’s photos
Andrei Morar’s photos