Written by Hallie Chavez ’18
This blog post is written in response to Hallie’s fall 2017 3-week trip to New Zealand led by Professor Douglas Brattebo and Acacia Parks.
In the banner image above are the Emerald Lakes at Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand’s North Island, the final epic view of what had already been an exhilarating day. We started our morning in wetsuits at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, where we went black water rafting. After learning how to jump backwards with our inner tubes off small waterfalls, we ventured into the dark Ruakuri Cave, wading through water and crossing paths with an eel. After jumping our second waterfall in the cave, we were able to float in our tubes and look towards the ceiling of the cave, where glow worms unique to New Zealand, known as Arachnocampa luminosa, were illuminating green. After our rafting experience, we left for Tongariro Alpine Crossing to climb Mount Tongariro.
The first hour of the walk was a scenic hike through the Mangatepopo Valley near Whakapapa, thought to be carved from a glacier during the last ice age. During the walk, we were able to talk to our guide about New Zealand conservation efforts during a time where tourism is rapidly increasing in the small country, including increased restrooms and trash bins so that tourists would not take their messes to the land itself. The hike became more intense when we reached what the locals affectionately call the “Devil’s Staircase”, a collection of staircases that, while looked mild from a distance, left even the most athletic of the group feeling winded. The walk was worth the effort, however, because it plateaued at the Mangatepopo Saddle, an overlook that gave us an incredible view of the surrounding mountain ranges. From this view, we could also see the ashy Mount Ngauruhoe, otherwise known as Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings. Besides the mountains, this vantage point overlooked the same volcanic plains used as Mordor, and our guide let us know that this land was considered precious and that it was only allowed to be filmed via helicopter while the scenes with actors were filmed elsewhere. There was more to see, however, and we continued to climb.
While not the peak of the mountain, our guide insisted our endpoint offered the best scenes in these mountain ranges. The terrain turned from volcanic rock to the more grainy, less sure-footing tephra (ash and lapilli) and the winds picked up strength, a stark change from the hot summer I experienced at the bottom of the mountain. Halfway up, our next great view was of the Red Crater, one of the several active craters that was indeed red from the iron of the rocks. The climb ended at the Emerald Lakes, natural waterbeds that formed in craters left from volcanoes. We were there on a particularly great day as the lakes had been filled in such a way that the emerald color, which comes from volcanic minerals, was at its prime. The geothermal activity from the active fumaroles emitted steam and sulphur dioxide gas, making the area quite warm, a nice contrast to the blowing winds, but also smelling of sulphur. Tongariro Alpine Crossing was a breath-taking, unforgettable hike.