National Geographic : 2009 Jul
Maori tapu explains why Tongariro holds the rare distinction of having twice been named a World Heritage site, both for its physical fea- tures and, later, for its cultural importance. e park s re-and-ice combination of active vol- canoes and glaciers easily won it the natural- heritage status of sites such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Everglades. But the United Nations committee that decides such matters originally turned down New Zealand s proposal to accept Tongariro as a cultural site, having previously given that rank only to human-built sites (think of Chartres Cathedral and the Egyptian pyra- mids). A er a new presentation from a delega- tion including Maori elders, though, Tongariro in 1993 became the rst site in the world to re- ceive heritage status under a new criterion called associative cultural landscapes, for the terrain s spiritual importance to indigenous people. - - called the Tongariro Alpine Crossing begins in tussock grassland, then climbs past lava cli s and glacial moraines (heaps of debris piled up by former glaciers) to the base of Ngauruhoe, where hikers willing to endure a couple of hours trudging up scree can make a side trip to the top of the volcano. e main route ascends the slopes of Tongariro to the top of Red Crater. Steaming like the gate to hell, Red Crater is named for the rock around its mouth, given a chestnut hue by oxidized iron. Surrounding swaths of black lava testify to the crater s long history of eruptions, continuing through the late 1800s. On the downslope from Red Crater, three lakes ll explosion pits stained by minerals in shades of emerald that gave them the Maori name Ngarotopounamu. Soon a er, the cross- ing passes another lake, Te Wai-whakaata-o-te Rangihiroa, or Blue Lake. Indeed, on a clear day its water seems torn from the sky above. e trail then descends grassy hillsides and passes steaming volcanic vents to nish in dense forest along a tumbling stream called Mangatipua. On the southwestern slope of Ruapehu, ancient woodlands of a di erent sort survive by a quirk of geography. e great bulk of Ruapehu shel- tered this forest from the massive Taupo volcano blast of . . 186, while trees for miles in all other Oxidized iron and volcanic debris surround one of the Emerald Lakes on Mount Tongariro. Visitors swim in the park's mineral-tinted lakes, in spite of the water's sulfurous scent.