Posted by: Vallere | February 15, 2011

There and Back Again…a Volcano tale!

Sunday morning we visted a second church here in Wanganui – Ingestre St. Bible Church. We enjoyed the service and had a lovely time meeting some new people over tea afterwards. Then we came home, had some lunch, and Skyped with family for a bit before piling into the car and starting off up the river.

We had decided to visit Mouth Ruapehu, and were going to take the scenic (read: loooong and twisty) route up River Road, which runs beside the Whanganui River.

 An interesting tidbit of information…in nearly all of New Zealand, the Maori people pronounce “wh” like a soft “f”. Words like “whanau” (family) are pronounced “fah-now”. The Maori who traditionally lived in and around Wanganui, however, had a slight difference to their dialect, and THEY pronounce “wh” like it is in English…a breathy, soft “w” sound. This caused quite a bit of uproar and debate when it came time to officially name this area. Most wanted it spelled Whanganui. But the locals wanted it spelled Wanganui (because that’s how they pronounced it). Eventually the government decided that the town could be spelled however it wanted to be spelled, but the government agencies and properties would be spelled with the “Wh” to provide continuity in pronunciation across all of NZ. So, the town is spelled Wanganui, but the river, National Park, and government agencies spell it Whanganui. Very confusing (and any native Kiwis – feel free to correct me if my info here is wrong!).

So, all of that to say…we drove out of Wanganui, followed the Whanganui River, and entered Whanganui National Park. It doesn’t really matter how you spell it…you pronounce it “beautiful”.

Close up of the forests on the hillsides, showing all the fern trees.

Along the way, we passed a little village called Jerusalem. From the Wikipedia page:

Jerusalem (named for Jerusalem, Israel) was once an important kainga (fishing village) on the Whanganui River in New Zealand where a Roman Catholic mission was first established in 1854.

Known to Māori as Hiruharama, Jerusalem was the isolated site where, in 1892, Suzanne Aubert (better known as Mother Mary Joseph) established the congregation of the Sisters of Compassion. They became a highly respected charitable nursing/religious order.

A convent remains on the mission property, as well as the church which replaced the original building destroyed by fire in 1888, and Sisters of Compassion still care for them.

As you approach from River Road, it looks like a Thomas Kinkade painting!

We finally reached the end of our  journey down River Road, and passed through a couple of small towns, getting our first glimpse of the volcanos. You might be able to make out all three of them in this picture. The largest is Mounta Ruapehu (everything to the right of the rightmost arrow). To the left (the perfect cone behind the hill – middle arrow) is Mount Ngauruhoe, then to the far left, the smallest peak (under the leftmost arrow), is Mount Tongariro. As small as it looks in this picture, Mount Tongariro is over 6400 ft tall. A big volcano by anyone’s standards. But that just puts perspective on how HUGE Mount Ruapehu is! At over 9000 ft, it’s the largest mountain on the North Island. Geek Alert! Mount Ngauruhoe was the mountain used for Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. Some of Mount Ruapehu’s slopes were used in some of the scenes as well.


 We continued making our way to Ohakune (Oh-ah-koo-neh). Ohakune is an “Alpine” type touristy town, set at the base of Mount Ruapehu. They run a thriving ski business during the winter. It was pretty empty when we went through, but we found a great place to eat, and then continued on the road up to see Ruapahu.

Sign on the way up the mountain.

Ruapehu, in all its majesty. At this point, we had driven about 1/3 to halfway up the mountain, if that gives you any perspective on just how huge this thing is.

I was constantly overwhelmed by the majesty of Ruapehu. Every time we would come around a curve in the road and I would catch a glimpse of it, looming over us, my breath would catch in my throat. Maybe it was because we had just finished watching Lord of the Rings…or maybe it was because I realize we were driving up the side of an active volcano (yes, it erupts every couple of years!)…or maybe it was just because this mountain was one of the most amazing bits of God’s creation I’d ever seen. Whatever the reason, Mount Ruapehu was amazing and gigantic and the boys were very excited to see their first volcano, up close!

On our way back home, we swung back through Ohakune for a photo-op with the biggest carrot I’ve ever seen. If you thought everything was bigger in Texas, you need to visit Ohakune! That region is the “carrot capitol” of New Zealand, and they pretty much grow all of the carrots for the whole nation there in their fertile, volcanic soil. For the record, Ian was “surfing” on that rock.



  1. The fern trees are gorgeous!
    I absolutely love volcanoes. At one point in my life I considered becoming a volcanologist.
    I get you TOTALLY about your breath being taken away at the sight of them, especially Ruapahu! The majesty the beauty, the awe, the respect, and even the twinge of fear.
    How close to the top can you drive?

  2. That rocks….I tell you nothing beat hiking up a volcano and yes as you know I know of what I speak…..Volcanos are wonderful and just really cool. Do they let you hike up the volcano there??? and by the way props for the kiwi crossing sign?? am I right do I win a prize LOL
    Luv ya

  3. I’m not sure how much further up we could have driven…it was getting late and we didn’t want to have to drive home in the dark (we were about an hour and a half from home). You can ski up on the mountain in the winter, so I assume you can get pretty close to the top just with that. And I’ve spoken to someone who hiked up to the rim and looked down inside the crater. There’s a lake in it (frozen most of the year, if not all of it, I think) and he said he saw steam coming up. So you COULD get all the way to the top…but not with 3 kids under 5yo LOL!

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