Starting Point: Taupo
Ending Point: Waitomo
Kilometers traveled: 380
Today was a pretty good example of how we roll on this trip. We got up knowing that we needed to be in Waitomo tonight, since we’re going cave tubing tomorrow morning. And we had planned to get up, have a bit of a lazy morning, and then head on over to Waitomo, 167 kilometers away, arriving there in the early afternoon. Then we could laze around a bit, do some laundry, and make the 3:30 appt to call the family.
But we were looking at the map. And for the past 2 days we’ve been admiring the snowcapped peaks across Lake Taupo from town.
They’re so beautiful, and are still active, with one of the peaks smoking. We wondered if you could drive over to them, just to see a bit of snow. Turns out that yes, you can drive to them. It’s the Tongariro National Park, and the peak shaped like a perfect triangle is Mt. Ngauruhoe. On the map it had a little golden ring next to it….which means it is a Lord of the Rings site. Turns out the pretty mountain we’d been admiring was, in fact, Mt. Doom. A quick scan of the rest of that area on the map (plus a visit to the Department of Conservation LOTR sites webpage) showed us that we could also visit another Lord of the Rings sit in the Tongariro…Mordor. 100km out and then turn right around and drive another 100km back into town so we could head to Waitomo? We’re nerds, so of course it was worth it! We packed up the last of our stuff and were out of Taupo by 9 am.
We headed into the Tongariro, stopping along the way to take photographs. It’s obvious why Peter Jackson selected this spot for Mordor and Mt. Doom. As we turned off the highway and headed up to the Whakapapa ski hill, the terrain drastically changed to volcanic…lots of ash and craggy volcanic rocks and boulders. Filmed at night, with smoke and proper lighting we could easily have been walking into Mordor with Frodo and Sam. Shoot, even in the daytime (with no smoke and mirrors) it felt like we were walking into Mordor with Frodo and Sam.
The funny thing about those scenes, and about Mordor, is that they are actually right smack in the middle of a ski resort. In fact, in many of our pictures we had to creatively cut out the ski lifts. Brilliant planning on Jackson’s part….easy access for all the vehicles and equipment needed. But kind of odd as a fan visiting the site, although we appreciated how easy it was to get there. We didn’t have to walk into Mordor at all…we drove pretty much the whole way and then walked less than a km from where we parked to where the scenes were shot. It was eerie to be there. It’s early spring, so most of the snow is gone and the place was pretty much deserted except for hard core geeks like ourselves. So it was really quiet and the scenery a bit chilling.
But it was totally worth the 200km detour it created! Once again, we were like giggly little kids on Christmas morning…climbing all over boulders and rocks and postulating about what exact angles were used in the filming.
After that we headed back over to Taupo to print out some vouchers we need for tomorrow. We stopped for a picnic lunch along the way…right on the shore of Lake Taupo. As we were driving back into town we saw the Barbary (the boat we were on last night). So we hurried into town and over to the Lake Terrace to take some photos of her coming back in. Then we printed up those vouchers at the internet cafe, and decided that 2 hours was plenty of time to make it to Waitomo for our 3:30 call.
What we didn’t factor in was all the construction and being stuck behind slow trucks. But we rolled into Waitomo only 5 minutes late for our chat with the family.
This afternoon we’ve grilled out and are now tucked in getting ready for our adventure underground in the morning. Not sure they allow cameras on our adventure, but we’ll at least be back tomorrow with a full recap. (We have to jump backwards off a waterfall tomorrow…in the dark! Fingers crossed that Kat can actually do it!)