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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

From Middle Earth to Mount Doom

Growing up I had an impression that volcanoes were dangerous locations containing enormously deep craters at the top in which a person could disappear whole. They were unpredictable and could swallow a person on a whim. Volcanoes were NOT something that you purposefully sought out.
Ski lifts to the top of Mount Ruapehu (Mount Doom!)
Toss all of that out the window! The entire Georgia Tech students and faculty of the Pacific program headed to the Taupo Volcanic Zone, which (technically) lists 22 volcanoes in the region!!! 50+ persons later and we had all taken a few ski lifts to the top of an active volcano, Mount Ruapehu, which erupted as recently as last year. Who in their right mind does this?

An impromptu classroom!
  Well it turns out that volcanoes are not such menacing creatures that I had invented. The next day I even purposefully hiked a few including – the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – billed as the best one-day hike in all of New Zealand, and listed as one of the Top 10 one-day hikes in the world. Simply amazing, a 19km hike that with 2 million years of volcanism below foot, passing by some of the most spectacular sights and glowing cones all around. This hike, friends, explains why Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand. Some of the formations, colors and scenery looks like it came straight out of a movie. Or some other alien planet! I saw Emerald Lakes that possessed the color of brilliant (manmade bright!) emeralds! And craters so deep and colored by red that only a 64 box of crayons could have made the hue so rich.

Hiking down the scree with Mount Tongariro and the Blue Lake in the background
Emerald Lakes (real color!)
The 17km hike is challenging, ranging from a complete lunar-like desert on the dry side to multiple alien formations and ending in lush forest of waterfalls and tropical greens. The day alone took me through 5 distinct ecosystems in less than 8 hours!

Later in the weekend I set my sails upon the largest volcano in the world… an inverted volcano! Lake Taupo, a caldera, is a world mecca for trout fishermen. What’s the fuss about? Last time I fished was... umm… nope, no clue how long it has been. My Dad and Grandad used to make fishing a part of our regular weekend outings, but unfortunately we often caught turtles on the bottom or the occasional shopping cart…

Pictures Taupo

The Maori legend on the region:

The Legend of Tongariro
In Maori legend, the mountains were once gods and warriors of great strength. Seven mountains once stood next to each other around Lake Taupo. All were male except for the beautiful Pihanga.
One night the mountains fought fiercely for her attention. There were violent eruptions, smoke and fire as the land trembled under the violent battle. In the morning Pihanga stood next to the victor, Tongariro, who became the supreme leader of the land. Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu stood a respectable distance behind but Tauhara – unable to completely leave his love - sat smoldering at the northern end of the lake. Putauaki (Mt Edgecumbe) headed north towards the dawn, and ended up 160 kilometres away, while Mt Taranaki dragged himself south, his tears creating the great Whanganui River as he went.
The active volcanoes around Lake Taupo - Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe - are treasures so precious, that local Tuwharetoa Maori gifted them to the nation over a century ago. The Tongariro National Park was the first national park in the world created by gift from an indigenous people.
Mt Ruapehu was the last of the trio to erupt, as recently as 1996, throwing rocks, mud and ash high into the air and temporarily closing its ski fields.

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