Heaven on Earth: Turangi, New Zealand

"Wanna go to New Zealand with me? I found a good deal."

I can't think of more tempting words -- both the "good deal" & the "want to go to [insert place I've never been]" part. I knew in the back of my head I'd eventually make it to New Zealand, but I hadn't thought about where to go, what to do, or a good time to do any of those non-plans.

Within minutes, we had booked a ticket to the South Pacific without the faintest itinerary. Fast-forward 5 and a half months (and 1 week before the flight), and I finally got around to sketching a map of things that seemed urgent to experience. On the top of that list was the Tongariro Northern Circuit -- one New Zealand's nine "Great Walks." 

Because we weren't planning, nor were we prepared, for a multi-day backpacking trip at the tail end of NZ's winter, we opted for the shortened Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 20k day hike across three mountains where Frodo and Sam and an infamous ring... well, you know the story.

I booked an Airbnb near a lot at the finish of the crossing, and a mountain shuttle service to pick us up from the carpark and bring us to the start of the trek. Logistics were concise and simple. There were no fees to enter the park, the shuttle cost roughly $20 USD (as of Oct. 2016), and the walk ended up being priceless.

A clear and bright day left the sites and smells of this track fresh in my mind, and the feeling is one that can only be expressed through experience instead of in writing.

Tongariro National Park, Turangi, New Zealand

Tongariro National Park, Turangi, New Zealand

Boardwalk at the base of Mt. Ngauruhoe (aka Mt. Doom of Mordor)

Boardwalk at the base of Mt. Ngauruhoe (aka Mt. Doom of Mordor)

View from the summit over Emerald Lakes, across the Central Crater

View from the summit over Emerald Lakes, across the Central Crater

Red Crater from the Emerald Lakes

Red Crater from the Emerald Lakes

Switchbacks down Te Maari craters

Switchbacks down Te Maari craters

As it turns out, New Zealand has a million great things. The snow-capped mountains, the rolling green hills, the miles of sheep and alpacas and cows and ostriches, the jagged cliffs and rising volcanoes, the glowworm caves, the geothermic geysers and the sulphuric pools, the lack of predatory animals and the bright blue skies and the puffy white clouds and the kind and caring beautiful Maori culture.

But one of my favorite things about New Zealand was the immaculate parks and the groomed public trails. New Zealand is proud of their land; the element that overwhelms my senses and brings me happiness was there at every turn. A land of endless adventures. A culture that values space. Turangi is a tiny slice of heaven on earth.

Feeding chickens in the foothills of Mt. Ruapehu

Feeding chickens in the foothills of Mt. Ruapehu