We kept a quick pace moving south from Wenderhelm, running a few errands just north of Auckland, enjoying waterfalls, zip lines, horses prancing beside the road, counting cows, cows, cows as we went. We spent a night in King's Country, and then spent a morning enjoying the views of Lake Taupo and a fabulous lunch in the hills of the Acacia Bay.
After a sunlit drive skirting the lake, we arrived at the first headline–worthy destination of our journey—Tongariro National Park.
Tongariro rests atop the central plateau of the New Zealand's North Island. The entirety of the park merits a few weeks of exploration, but its highlights include the three volcanic peaks we passed as we drove to our campsite—Mt Tongariro (above on the left; looks more like a mesa than a mountain), Mt Ngauruhoe (above on the right; I will hereafter refer to it as Mt Doom), and Mt Ruapehu (below, a popular ski destination in the winter).
We, and many other travelers, were drawn to the area last weekend for two reasons: the excellent, dry, sunny, non-windy forecast, as well as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing: the day hike that traverses the saddle between Mt Tongariro and Mt Doom. It's the most popular day hike in New Zealand and lauded as one of the greatest day hikes in the world (and, in actuality, is but a few hours' drive from the area which provided the setting for the Shire).