In the Land of Shadows…Sweet!

I’ve spent the last three days hiking around Mordor.

Mordor, dude!!

Okay, to be precise I have been in and around Tongariro National Park, smack in the middle of the Taupo volcanic zone and containing not one, not two, but three of New Zealand’s biggest, baddest, most famousest of volcanoes. Mt. Ruapehu is a monster shield volcano and one of the most active in the country. Mt. Tongariro is an older, slightly less impressive but still serious shield volcano. And then there’s Mt. Nguaruhoe, a cone volcano that’s about 2,000 years old and is known to geeks around the world as MOUNT DOOM!

Yes, Nguaruhoe had a starring role in Lord of the Rings as MOUNT DOOM and I gotta say, every time I’ve looked at it the past few days, I’ve giggled. Probably not the reaction one should have when beholding MOUNT DOOM, but there you have it. Seeing it has been a long time coming for me, and I’ll admit I swooned a bit.

(Sidenote: for those of you who may be thinking “Alright, enough with the Lord of the Rings references already!” well, go read someone else’s blog. LotR means a lot to me. Reading it as a teenager was what got me writing fiction and interested in history and language. For much of my adolescence, for reasons too complicated to go into here, I really identified with Faramir. When I heard Peter Jackson was turning the books into a movie, I got nervous – until I saw the sneak peeks and realized he was doing them justice. Even better, he was improving them in many ways (cutting out all that damn singing!). The movies came out at a difficult time for me. I had just finished chemotherapy and radiation when The Fellowship of the Ring was released and was in that limbo where the doctor waits to see if treatment worked. I remember thinking “wow, I hope I live to see the next two.” An odd thought, maybe, but you have those when you have cancer. Since the movies have come out on DVD, I turn to them often because no matter how many times I see them, I can lose myself in them, in the story, the scenery, the Beanery and the Urbana (big kisses to the casting director), the textiles… try watching it once just studying the different buttons on everyone’s clothing (I have)… it is staggering. So, anyway, LotR references are here to stay on this blog. In fact, they’re only going to get more prevalent from here on in…)

My first glimpse of Mt. Doom came on the Desert Highway, so-called because it’s a stretch of bleak, flat land – really more steppe than desert. Alas, there was cloud cover that day and the next, when I did the 17km (11 or so miles) Tama Lakes trail… How frustrating, right up Mt. Doom’s southern shoulder and due to low cloud cover I couldn’t see a thing! Still a great day trek though, and a delight to do it without having to haul my pack.

All my stuff, by the way, was in Skylon… which was parked in a campground that was in a Lahar Evacuation Zone!! There were signs everywhere to head to higher ground on foot, not even thinking about trying to get to your vehicle, if you heard sirens signaling a pyroclastic flow from either Ruapehu or Mt. Doom, which don’t always give advance notice of their eruptions.


I also did a short hike to the Taranaki Falls (eh, waterfall… boring. Not doomy enough) and another to Meads Wall, which is actually located on the Ruapehu skifields… Mt. Ruapehu is the largest ski area in New Zealand. There’s a natural rock wall (an igneous tertiary dyke, I believe) just past the kiddie sledding hill at the top of the ski area that was used as a location in LotR. When I got to the lift area, I asked the two bored-looking ski patrol people, a dude and a dudette, if they knew where it was (it wasn’t immediately apparent).

The dudette’s whole face lit up and she said “it’s up there, just to the right of the end of the sliding hill track! It’s where Frodo and Sam first meet Gollum when he climbs down the wall towards them, and it’s also where they shot Isildur cutting off Sauron’s hand! I looked it up in case someone ever asked me what they filmed there!”

She was so excited about imparting her knowledge. But the best thing was the ski patrol dude’s face, a mixture of shock and awe.

“Wow, you have been doing some reading,” he said.

She ignored him and said hopefully to me “do you have something like a ring you could pretend to throw?”

(Note: she did not seem to be playing mock the geeky tourist… she seemed genuinely thrilled to have something to do other than watch toddlers sled, fall and cry.)

I replied “No, but if you come up there with me I can ask you ‘do you remember the taste of strawberries, Mr. Frodo?”

She laughed really hard. Like, harder than I expected, and apparently sincerely. The ski dude shook his head and walked away.

Once I saw it, I recognized Meads Wall immediately. It was a bit snowy, and there’s a “death-drop” on the other side (that’s what the ski dude called it) but I managed to get some good shots.


First sight of Mt. Doom; nothing to do with LotR (though it looks like it could be), this is a WWI tank visor I saw at the National Army Museum in Wairoa, on the way to Tongariro… the museum was small but full of amazing stories including from the internment camps of the Boer War to videos of Gallipoli survivors remembering the experience; Karl and the giant carrot in Ohakune, New Zealand’s carrot-growing capital (hey, somebody’s gotta do it); Mt. Tongariro on the left, Mt. Doom on the right, yeah baby!; Meads Wall and the view from it of Mt. Doom (you may remember the barren valley below, used in a shot of Sam and Frodo struggling through Mordor); Meads Wall with Ruapehu’s summit in the background; one of my favorite of the 90,000 photos I took of Mt. Doom; the Tama Lakes trail; top of the Tama Lakes trail with Mt. Doom right behind me!! (albeit obscured by cloud); Upper Tama Lake; one more Doomtastic shot.


5 thoughts on “In the Land of Shadows…Sweet!

  1. “Do you remember the taste of strawberries, Mr. Frodo?” Te-hee! I’m so glad that you made it to the real Mt. Doom, and haven’t had to settle merely for our 1/4 scale experience of it and other LOTR-like landscapes on the Isle of Man.

  2. Brilliant; glad you’re having fun in NZ. I’m constantly surprised at finding LOTR film locations as we travel around the place.

    While we were in the UK, the opening Narnia sequences of the 2nd film brought me to the point of homesickness for the first time in 3 years! It’s amazing how powerful familiar landscapes are.

    (PS. Found you through the Spaceships “blog of the day” on Twitter.)

  3. Hi Craig, thanks for the hello… You live in an amazing country! DrV: I so totally thought of our trek through mini-Mordor on the Isle of Man as I was gallivanting all around Mt. Doom!! You too will have to tread in the land of shadows for real one day… wait, that sounded creepy. Didn’t mean it to…

  4. Re: your explanation about LOTR–I thank you for introducing me to LOTR at the time we were seeing the movies for the first times at the theater. ‘Twas also a difficult time in my own life and as I went on to read the books at that time, they gave me diversion and strength to get through what I had to at that time too.
    Aw shucks!!

  5. Iron Bluebird: thank *you* for putting up with my, er, obsession… which eventually led to Hallowbean and killing the baby Mercedes in North Yorkshire. Good times. Remember the oliphants!

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