Welcome to Mt Doom

by wjw on November 20, 2012

Behold Mount Doom, or as it’s known locally, Mount Ngauruhoe.  This, wreathed ominously in cloud, was the (still active) volcano used by Peter Jackson to stand in for Orodruin in The Return of the King.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of interaction with the local geology for the last few days.

Kathy was down with a cold yesterday, so I left her in the capable hands of Ann, the owner of the Big Bird B&B in Waitomo, and promptly dived underground.

First up was “blackwater rafting,” which is to say rafting through an underground cavern.  Except that there was no raft, there was just me in a wet suit, supported by an inner tube.  With an occasional jump off a waterfall.  In the dark.

Jolly good fun actually, though I’m not sure that an hour in freezing water did my cold any good.

The most difficult part of the trip was the hike to the cave entrance, which had to be done over the hill under which the cave itself meanders.  Walking up and down the hill in the full wet suit, while carrying an inner tube, was more tiring than I would have liked.  “A new extreme sport!” I thought. “Wet suit trekking!”

The freezing water was almost preferable.  Almost.

Once in the waters of Footwhistle Cavern, we formed a sort of chain, with each of us sitting in the lap of the person behind, wrapped by that person’s legs.  It was sort of intimate, though the wet suits and inner tubes would have made hanky-panky rather difficult.  Then we drifted along, looking upward at the zillions of glow worms living on the ceiling.

The glow worms aren’t really glow worms.  They’re carnivorous, cannibalistic maggots that excrete green phosphorescent poop in order to lure their prey (little flies mostly) to their deaths.  They also dangle little translucent spider-silk-like “fishing lines” to snare their prey.  They live in this state for five months, after which they turn into ugly, mosquito-like flies that spend their last days in ecstatic sexual union before dying of starvation, because like a Harlan Ellison character the adult fly has no mouth.

Would you actually pay to see that?  No?  That’s why they’re called “glow worms.”

The phosphorescent poop is a brilliant green and quite bright, and can be seen 100 feet or more overhead.

The blackwater experience also included jumping backwards off a waterfall and an exhilarating plunge down an actual water slide that someone had diligently installed deep underground.

After I had a chance to warm up, I visited Ruakuri Cave, which I got to do on my own two feet.  Ruakuri has things every cave complex needs:

  • Size
  • Spectacular rock formations
  • Rushing black water
  • Cathedral-like spaces
  • Phosphorescent, carnivorous, cannibalistic maggots (see above)
  • A spooky legend involving a dead chief.

Honestly, what more do you want in a cave?

Today Kathy was feeling better, and so we set forth for Tongariro National Park, featuring Mt. Doom (pictured above), and also this somewhat larger volcano, which is actively venting smoke, or at any rate steam.  I believe this is Mt. Ruapehu, which is one of three prominent volcanos on the southern end of Lake Taupo, which in fact is the center of a huge supervolcanic zone.  When this baby goes, it takes half the world with it.

(Note: the photos will look even more ominous when you click them.)

We bounded over more cloud-shrouded mountains to the coast, where we currently lodge at Napier.  This was a town destroyed by earthquake in 1930, and which was rebuilt entirely in Art Deco, which (with the beach and the palm tree) makes it look rather like Los Angeles, circa 1940.

So far, every place we look is beautiful.  Most of the countryside looks as if it should have hobbits living in it.  And underneath it all is a supervolcano and cannibalistic maggots.

I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere, and one of these days I’ll extract it.


Paul (@princejvstin) November 20, 2012 at 11:22 am

I’m really enjoying the progress of your trip. 🙂

Anonymous November 21, 2012 at 8:28 am

as i had read your piece i flick to our national media-website and the first thing i see is a headline on tongariro about to go berserk.

marcus prest

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