National Geographic : 2009 Jul
intensive poisoning and a program of raising chicks in captivity until they can defend them- selves, the kiwi s eerie whistling calls still echo through Tongariro s woodlands, thrilling those who venture out along trails on quiet nights. Incongruously, the North Island s most popu- lar ski areas sit on the three slopes of Ruapehu, with their associated shops, li s, and roads. No such blatantly commercial development would be allowed in a national park today, but the ski runs date from 1913 and, for better or worse, attract a half million visitors a season. Depart- ment of Conservation (DOC) sta ers constantly try to nd compromises in park management that will keep skiers satis ed while protecting one of the planet s most wondrous places. Decisions about Tongariro s safekeeping have grown ever more complex. In recent decades Tongariro s Maori neighbors, the indigenous iwi (Maori communities)---long excluded from such matters by the ruling Pakeha (people of European ancestry)---have regained polit- ical rights and in uence. Some believe that Te Heuheu---who was, a er all, chief only of the Ngati Tuwharetoa tribe---had no right to give away the three volcanic peaks on behalf of all Maori and would like to reclaim the park as sa- cred tribal land. Others, less radical, would close the mountaintops to climbers or restrict access to those accompanied by a local Maori guide. Bird-eating stoats, parking-lot construction, profound spiritual and cultural values---all these issues crowd the desks of DOC managers. And one more: eoretically at least, the park could blow itself to smithereens at any moment. A visitor can put these concerns out of mind for a while---long enough for a hike that in a single day can encompass barren volcanic rock and rich, complex forest, the sound of water- falls and the whoosh of native pigeons wings, the smells of sulfur from deep underground and of moss and ferns and earth a er rain. And above it all, the sight of the three great peaks of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro, the cre- ators and destroyers of this land. j directions were attened. An easy trail winds under soaring rimu, matai, and kahikatea trees laden with ferns, while below, tree ferns spread their lacework fronds, and kamahi trees seem to be frozen in the throes of a hula-like dance. is lushness, like Tongariro s innumerable rocky streams and waterfalls, is fed by clouds that dri from the Tasman Sea to release their moisture against the mountain slopes. In the North Island s highlands you ll have ample opportunity to perfect your own de nitions of fog, mist, drizzle, sprinkle, light rain, and rain, and the subtle distinctions among them. are serious conservation and cultural issues. Like the rest of New Zealand, the park s ecosystem su ered terrible losses from the introduction of alien species, from rats brought by the earliest Maori to rabbits, stoats, Australian possums, and cats brought by Europeans. Native birds, which evolved without mammalian predators for millions of years, were devastated and sur- vive today at only a fraction of their former numbers. Even as the kiwi, the bizarre, ight- less bird, became the beloved symbol of New Zealand, it almost died out in the wild, its eggs and young devoured by stoats. Plants, too, cause problems for park manag- ers. An early ranger introduced grouse from Britain as game and brought heather to feed them. e grouse died out, but heather spread as a lavender-hued plague, displacing native vegetation over wide areas. Lodgepole pine came from North America as a timber tree; its wind-borne seeds carry far beyond plantations, making it exceedingly di cult to eradicate. Only the widespread use of traps and poisons to ght intruders has prevented the decline of species such as the rare blue duck, which still inhabits Tongariro streams; the parrot known by the Maori name kaka; and the absurdly fearless little New Zealand robin, which hops around the boots of hikers, searching for insects in leaves stirred by their footsteps. anks to Tongariro holds the distinction of having twice been named a World Heritage site, both for its physical features and its cultural importance.