Our first excursion on our North Island road trip was to Tongariro National Park. Mount Ngauruhoe was featured as Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings films, so it’s a pretty popular destination for the adventurers that come to New Zealand. The Tongariro Crossing is a 19.4 km (12 mile) one way track that takes you through an active volcano zone and up close to Mount Ngauruhoe. We only had one clear weather day in the next five so we had to act fast. We woke from Palmerston North at 5 am for a two-hour drive to the park. On arrival, we grabbed the last two spots on a shuttle bus to take us to the trail start.
We grabbed our second rental car of the trip so we could start our journey north through the South Island. We headed up to Wanaka first, and stopped in the Department of Conservation (DOC) office to get some information the trails in the area. We had the entire afternoon so we decided to head to Rob Roy Glacier, which we had heard was a good hike.
Rob Roy Glacier
The trail starts about 90 mins away from town. The lady at the office told us the last 30 km was gravel and that multiple stream crossings were involved, so high clearance vehicles were recommended. So, as responsible travelers, we ignored her advice and started our cruise in our little rental car toward the trail. The scenery was incredible as we entered Mount Aspiring National Park through a large valley with a braided river, farm land, and mountain peaks. Eventually we hit gravel road, which was no problem, and then we hit our first “Ford”, where we needed to drive across a gravelly stream. I drove reluctantly and cautiously over these until I heard the first “crunch” as the car bottomed out on some rocks. At this point we had already come so far so we continued. The check engine light hadn’t come on and only a slight rattle had developed.
We did the four-hour hike, which started in open field, crossed a beautiful swinging bridge, and entered a forested valley. At the end, we could see Rob Roy’s Glacier clinging to a mountain and creating many snow melt waterfalls. We even saw a little avalanche as we were taking pictures. The best part of the hike was being surrounded by hundreds of sheep as they moved past the end of the trail near the car park!
It was surreal being back in Queenstown after six years. So many business had changed since I lived here, but it still had the same feel to the town that I loved. I was really excited to show Chris everything! When we got into town we still had some time on our rental car so we drove up to the hotel at the base of Coronet Peak where I used to work. Then we drove an hour out to Glenorchy. It's a beautiful drive that follows the edge of Lake Wakatipu and there's a lookout point about halfway that could be our favorite in NZ. Glenorchy is a cute small town right on the edge of Paradise, a privately owned land trust where parts of Lord of the Rings is filmed.
Chris & Taylor
Read our travel blog as we visit three continents in 2017.