Tuesday 7 August 2012


I'm looking forward to the evening's TV news, to see the footage of Tongariro's eruption late last night, the mountain suddenly springing back to life after a 110-year doze. It was completely unexpected, so there would have been no media on the spot - but these days there's always someone with a camera whenever something happens, so there are bound to be pictures* of what a witness described on the radio as a "fist-shaped plume of cloud lit by fireworks as red-hot rocks were shot out, and by lightning". Spectacular. And so unexpected: Ruapehu, sure, it's always blowing its top. Or even Ngauruhoe, that classically-shaped volcano in the photo above, Mt Doom's stand-in in LOTR. But Tongariro? It's the least impressive of the three, by far, a low-level shapeless jumble. That's it on the far left.

I took the photo in February when the girls and I were in the National Park to climb to Ruapehu's rim, on a day of low swirling cloud that we emerged from to a clear blue sky, sparkling snow patches and a stunningly turquoise (and stinky) steaming lake in the crater. It was a much better day than the one several years earlier when the Firstborn and I did the Tongariro Crossing - now with Alpine added to its title in the hope of impressing on walkers the necessity of coming prepared. Properly taught, and obedient as ever, we did, with hats and gloves and longjohns and thermals in our packs, which we gladly put on when we left the sun down below and climbed up into the clouds. Plenty of people didn't, though - some idiots were doing the walk in street shoes with their lunches in plastic carrier bags. One woman slipped, broke her collarbone and had to be choppered off. It's a one-day walk, and very popular, but really shouldn't be underestimated.

The track passes between Tongariro and Ngauruhoe, crossing a couple of flat craters. Even without clear views - on a good day, we could have seen Mt Taranaki one way, the sea to the other - the scenery was dramatic: red and black and orange, bleak and barren, inhospitable and threatening. There was a strong, cold wind, making the climb around the precipitous edge of the top crater more exciting than I would have preferred, and wispy mist coming and going. There was nothing pretty, it was all raw and harsh and strong; but it was totally impressive, and in its way the weather was ideally suited to the volcanic setting. It'll be interesting to see how the mountain has changed after this eruption - which was accompanied by an hour-long point 2-3 earthquake, by the way. I do hope it hasn't stirred up any of Auckland's 49 volcanoes. That could be inconvenient...

*None! Astonishing. Dozy rural types down there, blundering out of bed and not grabbing their phones automatically. Wouldn't happen in the city.

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