Turangi, at the end of Lake Taupo, is a gateway to the Tongariro National Park. It’s also a good place to spot Blue ducks (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos), a torrent dweller not unlike South America’s Torrent duck (Merganetta armata), or dippers (Cinclus sp.).
There’s a track that goes along the Tongariro River, on both sides of the river. One advice: don’t hike it. I thought I would have good views on the river, but most of the path is lined by hedges or fields, and there are only a few viewpoints, mainly accesses to the river dedicated to anglers. As a result, the 15 kilometers (full loop) feel very long and boring.
If you want to see the Blue ducks, I would recommend to go to Major Jones Bridge, and look south. There, I have seen them resting on boulders or swimming upriver, filtering the flow to catch a prey. This feeding behaviour is very different from that of Torrent ducks or dippers, which dive underwater. Blue ducks mostly stick to the surface, sometimes immersing themselves briefly. It was a true treat to see them make their way up in the rapids, where sometimes they were flushed down a meter or two but would always climb back up, using rocks to ease the “ascent”.
Also mesmerizing was them crossing the river at its fastest point, focused on their target through the furious rush of water.
If you hadn’t realized it before, know this: I like ducks. I like to watch them, and I like to produce images of them. Lake Rotopounamu gave me a great opportunity to approach a new species: the Pacific black duck (Anas superciliosa), or Grey duck as it’s called here.
Before we go forward, one precision: these images might not picture pure Grey ducks, for they hybridize a lot with Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) in New Zealand. As such, real Grey ducks are very rare here, and might well disappear sooner or later, replaced by a swamp of hybrids. However, these birds looked more like pure Grey ducks than any other I had seen before, with clear lines on the face and greyish legs (as opposed to bright orange, though they are probably not grey enough here for pure birds… but I’m not an expert).
Very tame, they preened as I lay down in the wet sand. The image below shows something I learnt from my mentor Samuel Blanc when I was at the young birders group in my region, 10 years ago: blue and green feathers may change color depending on the angle you view them, and the light that shines on them. See, one wing “mirror” appears blue, and the other one appears green. Or that bird had mirrors of different colors. Is that even possible?
Lake Rotopounamu is at the center of an area that’s heavily managed, with traps and poison used to remove pests like rats. As such, it’s a quite a rich area for native birds, and I saw the first Bellbirds (Anthornis melanura), Whiteheads (Mohoua albicilla) and Riflemen (Acanthisitta chloris) since Tiritiri Matangi. Its lush surroundings offered quite a contrast with the bare flanks of Mount Tongariro, which I could imagine behind its cap of clouds…
The most traveled hike in the Tongariro National Park is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, sometimes dubbed the most beautiful one-day hike on the North Island (or even in the whole New Zealand?), a spectacular trail in a rugged volcanic landscape between Mounts Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. However, the hostel keeper advised to go to the Tama Lakes instead, for the lakes on the Crossing would still be frozen. At the visitor center, they added that the wind and changing weather would make the Crossing rather dangerous.
That’s why I embarked on a different adventure with people I had met at the hostel the day before. Austin and me, soon joined by Agathe, started from Whakapapa. The others went to Desert Road, and started from there. We met at the Tama Lakes, where we exchanged car keys, and continued each in our own direction. We were all reunited at the hostel in the evening.
The hike was long, a bit too long for me. However, it was also gorgeous from the beginning til the end, and we were very lucky with the weather.
Mount Doom loomed over us for the whole trip. Mount Doom, that’s Mount Ngauruhoe. It was chosen by Peter jackson to “act” as Mount Doom in his Lords of the Ring movies. With snow on it, it didn’t look as intimidating, but it was spectacular nonetheless. On the other side, Mount Ruapehu, the highest point on the North Island, looked down on us as well.
All these mountains are active volcanoes. For instance, more than 60 eruptions have been recorded on Mount Ruapehu since 1945 – which didn’t prevent ski infrastuctures to be built on its slopes. On the second part of the hike, in the steppe after the Tama Lakes, it felt a lot like the Atacama desert around San Pedro de Atacame, in Chile: low vegetation, perfect volcano cones covered in snow… it was a perfect copy. Majestic.
It also felt a lot like Lord of the Rings, the three of us “running” in the pampa like Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn before us. We met much fewer people on this track than in the morning, to my delight, but at some point it started to be boring, and I wished we had gone back to Whakapapa instead of doing the full crossing. It was a relief to arrive to the car, but I also felt proud of this accomplishment.
This was my Walktober 😉
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