Disclaimer: This is a long post covering two days of our trip.
After a good sleep in Wellington, my wife went for a run in the hills while I got some more sleep...
We both decided to get out of the Wellington as soon as possible, so we hit the road to Kaitoke Regional Park. I should probably have started out by saying that neither one of us planned this day very well. We ended up taking lots of wrong turns and finally stopped to pick up a wifi signal and remap out route. Kaitoke is the place they filmed the Rivendell scenes from LOTR. My wife wanted to see the park. It was crawling with LOTR themed tour buses. Don't get me wrong, I loved the books and most of the movies, but I never pay for a themed tour. Some New Zealanders refer to such tours as the "Lord of the Freaks" tours. It must get a bit old seeing foreign tourists dressed as Gandolf in the supermarket. There's only an arch left from movies, so we took the obligatory photo before moving on.
Leaving the park we took an unfortunate "short cut", the Akatarawa forest road. That added another hour on to our 4.5 hour drive. Overall we don't like driving in north island very much.
We spent the night in Turangi near the shores of Lake Taupo. (Taupo is known for its great trout fishing.) we woke up early to get to the shuttle for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The hike is about 20 km over and around a series of volcanoes. Mount Ngauruhoe better known as Mount Doom from LOTR is also located there and can be climbed as a side hike. Frodo and Sam must have had bad maps, they would have had to have walked right by it on their way to Rivendell. There was a bit of an unspoken misunderstanding between my wife and I. I thought see only wanted to climb it because it was used in the LOTR movies. She wanted to climb it for the challenge. It sure was a challenge.
You are permitted to climb the cinder cone (which is still active), but there is no official trail. Climbing the slopes felt a bit like using a stair master, part of the energy from each step was lost by sinking into the gravel. Just as we neared the top, it was engulfed in a cloud. So much for a view. The wind at the top was really high too, so we sheltered against some rocks for warmth. They were warm from the sulphorus steaming vents on the other side. I was a bit worried about getting back down. My wife has a cat like tendency to scramble up high objects she doesn't feel comfortable coming down from. We soon discovered a way to "ski" down the slope by planting our heels into the ash and rocking our feet forward to control the speed at which they were slipping. It was pretty fun.
Having climbed Mt Doom, the rest of the hike was fairly easy. My wife set the pace and we finished in just over 8 hours. There were great views of the craters and Lake Taupo in the distance. After our hike we had a relatively easy drive to Taupo where we're staying.