The Tongariro National Park.
On this high breezy plateau of Waimarino we enter the charmed region of grand volcanic mountain landscapes, the most wonderful region in the North Island. We get our first views of the sacred mountains of old, the Tongariro Range, its active volcano Ngauruhoe (7,515 ft.), and the perpetually ice-capped giant Ruapehu (9,175), the highest point of the Island, and its only glaciated peak. At an altitude of 2,636ft. we reach the boundary of the Tongariro National Park, a noble scenic sanctuary of nearly 150,000 acres, containing the three famous mountains and several lakes, large areas of forest, and great expanses of subalpine meadow spangled with flowers in the spring and summer. From National Park Station a motor road runs to the heart of the Park, Whakapapa Cottage Camp, thirteen miles from the railway. For a full description of the Park the visitor should read the book issued by the Tongariro National Park Board. Here it is sufficient to indicate the noble pictures which the smoking and icy mountains present to the rail traveller, especially on some fine summer morning as one emerges from the forest and opens out the first prospect across the Waimarino Plain. Ngauruhoe, with its perfect symmetrical cone lifting steeply 3,000ft from the rocky plateau, is the first feature to capture the eye; the curl of
yellow or white steam, or often black smoke, from its crater, indicates its never-dying fires far below. As we go eastward, Ruapehu's snowy peaks make glorious pictures through the gaps in the forest or between the hill spurs. There is a point where, if the atmospheric conditions be favourable, you may see Ruapehu filling the end of a narrow bush canyon, eastward, and looking quickly in the opposite direction, see Mount Egmont's blue and white cone seventy miles away in the west. This is when you cross the Makatote Stream by the greatest
(Government Publicity photo.)
Mangatepopo Valley, Tongariro National Park, and the active volcano Ngauruhoe.
railway bridge in the Island, a steel structure bedded in concrete, 864ft long, spanning a gorge 260ft deep. The swift rivers flowing from the west and south slopes of Ruapehu through the dense forest have cut deep gorges in the ash and pumice and rock of the plateau, and these sharply eroded channels are very beautiful with their fringing of bush and ferns. These rifts were the reverse of beautiful to the railway engineers, who found themselves blocked every few miles by a huge gulch, necessitating a costly bridge of steel and concrete. The Manga-nui-o-te-Ao “the great river of the land” is one of these alpine torrents; it is a large river by the time it joins the Wanganui, seven miles above Pipiriki. The Hapuawhenua Stream is crossed by a viaduct, remarkable not so much for its great length (nearly 1,000ft) as for its shape; it is curved laterally in crescent form. The train traveller will notice a short very broad-leafed cabbage tree which grows plentifully along the line-side. This is the toi (both vowels pronounced long), cordyline indivisa, commonly called the mountain cabbage tree.
Ohakune town and Rangataua sawmilling village are places from which Mount Ruapehu is frequently climbed. The summit of the mountain is only about twelve miles airline distant. As we go eastward and emerge from the shelter of the part-wooded hills on to the tussock plain there are some very splendid pictures of the lone volcanic alps in their garment of snow and ice. It is rather strange to remember that that ice-pinnacled peak holds a hot lake on its summit, a lake which sometimes becomes a geyser on a grand scale. The Whangaehu River, a highly mineralised stream which we cross, has its source just below this crater-lake, and it is the subterranean soakage from the sulphurous tarn that gives it its peculiar colour and taste.