Wednesday, December 4, 2019

New Zealand's Desert Highway

Halfway through our North Island road trip we were driving North from Wellington, heading back to our boat in Whangarei.  Highway 1 takes you all the way from the bottom to the top of the North Island, right through the middle.  Beautiful New Zealand farmland and lush forests line the road.
Nothing but transmission towers
About 5 hours into our drive we happened upon the stretch of Highway 1 known as the Desert Road. What an unusual and unexpected delight. We were driving past green hillsides with grazing
sheep and cows, then suddenly we were in a wide open expanse of desert. Everything was dry. The color pallet was all browns and tans with little green. There wasn't much sticking out on the landscape except transmission towers, distant mountains, and signs warning us to stay on the road. Turns out much of this area is New Zealand Army training grounds.

Tongariro National Park is on the West side of Hwy 1. It has three active volcanoes, one of which played the role of "Mount Doom" in The Lord of the Rings movies.
Highway 1 runs up through the center with the three volcanoes on it's left
It was partly sunny as we started through the desert but, as you can see in the photos, the conditions quickly became overcast and gloomy. We could see the volcanoes looming in the distance, but a blanket of fog covered their tops. Hints of snow were visible on the highest volcano. We later Googled "Tongariro" to see what the volcanoes look like on a clear day. It's a striking sight and we're bummed we missed it that day.
White sheep dotting a green hillside. It doesn't get any more New Zealand than this!
Yellow flowers everywhere!

Clouds covered the top of the volcano cone.
These photos are in order as we drove through the region. At first there's lush green hillsides, then wide open desert, and finally green fir trees line the road again. It is a magical place. We are considering going back to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It's a 12 mile route across the volcanic ridge rated as one of the top hikes in the world.
These lovely yellow wildflowers covered both sides of the road for miles and miles
The drive started off bright and cheery as we climbed up into the high desert

This is looking to the right side of highway 1 as we enter the desert.

Beautiful in its own way - like the Flint Hills in Kansas.

Patches of snow are visible on 9000 foot Mt Ruapehu.

We are driving out of the desert. Notice the trees are coming back.

There's the NZ we know and love! Grass and flowers again.

Trees again
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