Mount Doom, Mordor
Mt Ruapehu in the middle of the North Island of New Zealand is a mountain I was introduced to in my teens. Prior to that I had driven past it on the Desert Road, which forms part of State Highway 1. It was from the Desert Road that this image was taken. Over the years I have hiked, skied, climbed and stayed on the mountain in all of the seasons of the year. Our family of three boys learned to ski here.
In 1953 the Crater Lake at the top of the mountain broke through a ice plug in the side of the crater and flowed rapidly down the Whangaehu River, washing out the railway bridge at Tangiwai on the Main Trunk Line just before the express train from Wellington to Auckland was due to pass over it. At 10.21 pm on 24 December the train ploughed into the river killing 151 crew and passengers. This tragic accident happened during the first visit to New Zealand of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II.
The volcano is still active and from time to time it erupts into life, the last time in 2007.
Mt Ruapehu and the surrounding area proved ideal as the dark and savage realm of ‘Mordor’ and ‘Mount Doom’ in the “Lord of the Rings” films. Whakapapa Ski Field, on the slopes of Ruapehu, supplied Middle Earth’s snowy slopes and the opening battlefield on the slopes of ‘Mount Doom’, where an alliance of men and elves defeats the armies of ‘Mordor’.
The mountain often has a gloomy feel to it when viewed across the desert-like foreground of the Central North Island Plateau, across which the Desert Road runs.
The dominant feature of the Taranaki landscape in the western part of the North Island of New Zealand is this conical dormant volcano which last erupted in the mid nineteenth century. Prior to European discovery by Captain Cook in the late 18th century the mountain was known to the Maori as Taranaki, thought to be derived from two words Tara (mountain) and ngaki (shining). When Captain Cook discovered New Zealand he named the mountain after John Perceval, 2nd Earl of Egmont, the First Lord of the Admiralty who promoted Cook’s first voyage. In 1986 the Government ruled that there would be two alternative and equal official names, “Mount Taranaki” or “Mount Egmont”.
The flat land that surrounds Taranaki is very fertile and ideal for dairy farming and the region is one of the three major milk producing areas in the country. The other key economic driver in Taranaki is oil and natural gas which was discovered in 1865 but only exploited on a large commercial scale after 1959.
On the day this image was taken the weather was changeable, but clearing. We were hoping for a clear view of the mountain but the lingering clouds from a westerly front that had passed over the region in the previous day still hung about. Taranaki is the first place on the North Island to cop incoming south-westerly fronts which ensure that the grass is always lush to produce the “white gold” of the dairy industry. On a clear winter day the mountain is magnificent with its crown of snow glistening in the sunlight.