The guest house manager doesn't have good news for anxious guests: “I'd like to give you better news but things seem complicated.
Even stronger wind is forecast for tomorrow. If confirmed, the rangers close the trail.
Affected by the news and infected by the communal despondency that sets in, we are impressed by the powerful hissing, audible inside despite the building's isolation.
We understand, more and more, the reason for the existence of the Polynesian name attributed by the natives to the domain that we all wanted to cover. “Tonga” meant south wind. “Laughing”, taken. To the detriment of our sins, the weather pattern did not seem willing to let up.
Due to the strength with which it persisted, it made even the mere road discovery of the surrounding scenery risky.
We let this day pass in the comfort of the inn, given over to different online tasks and pleasures, international socializing and cozy drinks. Not to vary, we go to bed late. We have more difficulty than usual in waking up at dawn, but, curious to see what fortune the new day would bring, we ended up forcing ourselves to get up.
We peek through the misted-up window and no longer see the swaying vegetation.
The golden sky remains as clear as ever, but with the relentless wind, so is the dust that had blown away before. We hardly believe in that bounty of the gods Maori. We pack what we have to take in our backpacks and hit the road.
The Meteorological Blessing That Granted PN Tongariro
We arrived at the park entrance in three times. We parked and interpreted the panel with the trail map and other notices. Excited by the enormous significance of that walk, we inaugurated the 20 km of Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
The first few hundred meters are flat, traversed over a wooden walkway, among resistant yellowish bushes. But, at a certain point, the trail gives way to the lava rock and makes its way to the mountains. We surrender to the steaming heart of Te Ika A Maui, the north island of New Zealand.
More than a mere volcano, the Tongariro stronghold consists of a volcanic massif that groups 12 cones around the homonymous hill that reaches 1978 m.
It was ceded by the all-powerful Maori chief Te Heuheu Tukino to European settlers in order to appease long-standing conflicts and avoid commercial exploitation of the place, with the sole requirement of respect for indigenous beliefs.
Little by little, we approach its base and the trail turns into a ramp as sinuous as it is painful.
It elevates us to a brown, semi-snowy plateau and to the proximity of its even higher neighbour, the Ngauruhoe, a colossal secondary cone of Tongariro that has erupted on more than 70 occasions since 1839, but which, unlike the main one, has remained calm.
The Unpredictable Fury of Tongariro Volcanoes
During 2012, there were two powerful eruptions from Mount Tongariro.
The second, at the end of November, six months after the inaugural, forced Professor Lomi Schaumkel and a group of 90 students who were only 1 km from the crater to run, worried as never before for life: “we were very close and it was really awesome and scary to see all the ash being thrown.
It looked like one of those atomic bomb explosions. It made an impressive underground sound.”
On that occasion, the authorities had to evacuate another 40 to 50 people from the trail as we continued to advance. These were not the only setbacks.
On a much more contained scale than what happened with the counterpart of the Iceland Eyjafjallajokull, the Tongariro eruption also caused the disruption of much of New Zealand's air traffic.
Back to the Trails of PN Tongariro, winding between Volcanoes
We find on the slope that wears us out, two or three groups of trampers that recover energy by devouring energy bars and chocolates next to the orientation signs. We join the meal for a few minutes.
Restored, some of those hikers veer off course to conquer the imminent Ngauruhoe. Others, like us, stay on the main track.
Once the plain is over, a new ascent is announced. The second half of this slope is covered with ice and loose stones that slide. Shortly thereafter, we reached the high, sulphurous domains of Monte Tongariro.
We glimpse, hidden in the shadow, the Red Crater, so called because it is covered with an ocher rock filled with oxidized iron, surrounded by the dark lava released by the various eruptions.
We access the problematic section of the route, the one that most justified closing the trail if the strong wind had been confirmed.
There, the trek is made along a narrow ridge of the ridge where any oversight could mean dropping many meters into the steaming interior of the crater.
No wind to disturb or excessive tiredness, we proceed smoothly. Until the beginning of the next descent, which we make almost running and half buried in a dusty slope of sand and grey.
The Blue Lake Te Wai-whakaata-o-te Rangihiroa
Halfway down the descent, three lakes are revealed that occupy holes opened by ancient volcanic explosions. The trail continues and arrives at another lake with a bigger dimension and title to match, the Te Wai-whakaata-o-te Rangihiroa, blue lake in the simplified western version.
We stop at the top of an intermediate slope with a privileged view. We observed the views that were left behind. Below, beyond the lake, extends a lunar surface with a dark scar of lava that stains the yellowish base of a dry bed. We also detected the sharp peak of the Ngauruhoe, detached from the surreal landscape.
Dantesque Scenarios that Illustrated the “Lord of the Rings Saga”
It was in these strangely grandiose panoramas and, in particular, the enigmatic look of Tongariro's sharpest mountains that Peter Jackson was inspired to recreate Mount Doom, the incandescent and feared dwelling in which JRR Tolkien had Sauron forge the mighty Ring One.
In the longer shots of the sequel, the black mountain was, however, represented by a large-scale model or a computer-generated image.
Despite already being divided between the good and the bad of the work that passed to the screen, Peter Jackson had to submit to another power, that of secular mythology Maori.
Indigenous New Zealanders believe that the Ngauruhoe volcano was named after Ngatoro-i-rangi, a mythological high priest who colonized Aotearoa (New Zealand). They also believe that Ngatoro-i-rangi summoned to that mountain the fire of his Hawaiki spiritual homeland for the purpose of ending the chill that chilled it and the surrounding realm.
The volcano has long been taboo. Okay, the bosses Maori they didn't allow it to be filmed. Kiwi director Peter Jackson found alternative solutions in computer-assisted technology and on the slopes of Tongariro's third great volcanic mountain, the farthest and still highest volcano Ruapehu (2797 m).
The lingering controversy over the possession of the Sacred Territory of Tongariro
But neither the respect for ancestral culture nor the resounding success of the saga that promoted New Zealand throughout the world, contributed to resolving the old controversy.
As most indigenous people see it, the passage of sacred territory into the hands of the pakeha (Europeans) resulted from a hasty decision of the boss Te Heuheu Tukino. Today, after nearly 127 years, many Maori remain revolted by the offer.
They argue that, by leading only the Ngati Tuwharetoa tribe, the chief could not have alienated the mountains in default of the rest of the indigenous nation and claimed in a court in Waitangi, a direct participation in the fate of their mountains of fire.
As we make our way back to the car park, long after the scheduled time, exhausted and half lost in the pitch that has set in, it flashes through our minds what the demonic Sauron would have thought of all this mess.