Tongariro National Park - Mt. Ngauruhoe and Meads Wall

When I opened the door to our room in the Skotel at Tongariro National Park, I was truly stunned. There, right in front of me, was the most incredible view of Mount Ngauruhoe, known otherwise to "Lord of the Ring" fans as Mount Doom. I actually felt giddy as I ran back to the car to tell Walt. I had been looking forward to seeing this mountain for years, and I was finally there.

This is the view from our room. We sat outside on our tiny deck and admired it as long as the chilly weather would allow us to do so.

There are actually 3 active volcanoes here grouped closely together - Mt. Ruapehu, Mt. Tongariro, and Mt. Ngauruhoe.

For this picture, we zoomed in on the smaller volcanoes on the side.

This picture was taken earlier in the day when we stopped at a roadside picnic spot to admire the view. If you look closely you can see the steam rising from one of the volcanoes.

When you tell someone from New Zealand that you are going to Tongariro National Park, the first thing they are likely to say is "Are you planning to do the crossing?" There are about a gazillion hiking tracks in the country, but the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is arguably the most famous and is sometimes described as the best day hike in the world. The hike is roughly 12 miles long, transverses 2 craters and 2 lakes, and requires a steady 7 hours of walking.

It was rather flattering to think that people thought we were capable of such a feat, but it was a bit more of a challenge than we were thinking of tackling on this trip. We had a couple of shorter hikes in mind, but it was already mid-afternoon so we decided to take a ride up Bruce Road to Iwikau Village and a short walk to Meads Wall where several scenes from "Lord of the Rings" were shot.

We stopped at a scenic spot on the way up to take in the vast view. The tiny spot on the highway in the picture below is a large tour bus.

Iwikau Village is a collection of wildly different buildings that sits at the top of a ski lift which was being actively dismantled when we arrived. We hiked the short distance up the rise across the rugged ground to yet another incredible view.

We met a British couple at the top, and the man, who surprisingly worked at a job that is similar to Walt's, took this picture of us. He was quite a kidder and kept us talking with our backs to the view until the cloud moved to the top of the volcanic crater. Then he shouted, "Watch out! it's about to blow!"

Back at the Skotel, we took more pictures of our view as wispy clouds filled the sky.

We also attempted a bit of night photography.

The Skotel had all the ambiance of a college dorm. The room was only slightly larger than the bed, and it was looking a bit shabby. The WIFI was sketchy, and the food in the dining room was just OK. At one meal, I received an empty sugar packet with my coffee. On the positive side, the staff was cheerful and friendly and the heater kept things toasty. The room rate was also very reasonable, and it is the lodging option that is closest to Mt. Ngauruhoe. And, really, who could complain with such an incredible view?

I was deliriously happy to be there.