Running down the trail, sulphur fumes permeate my nostrils. Steaming gases rise in the distance. Blackened craters spew acidic steam.
Just down the road, a traditional Maori village welcomes foreigners to watch–and learn, for men–the Haka war ritual.
Sacred Maori lands are home to Middle Earth, where I ran as close to Mount Doom as I could get. A live volcano, home to Dark Lord Sauron, red iron deposits lie like fossilized lava. Emerald green lakes down the slope, so beautiful, so poisonous.
Slippery volcanic rock deposits make the steep descent treacherous. A Mars landscape void of vegetation makes this a forbidding landscape.
Yet, continue down slope and discover a massive blanket of alpine forest, green mountains rising in the distance, a snow capped peak.
Then, a trail led me into a rainforest-like environment. Rushing whitewater snakes around the tight turns of a stream bed, essentially, narrow as it is. The sound, the fury, the beauty…astounding.
The diversity of landscapes-ecosystems within just 19.5 kilometers—volcanic acidity to alpine to lush forest full of the blue “glacier” water…it is fascinating.
The only problem is I have to stop so often to take photos. It’s a compulsion here. The next “most beautiful place” you’ve ever seen is just around the corner…