Several years ago on a five-week hiking trip through New Zealand, I was fortunate enough to pick a glorious day to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, near Lake Taupo on the North Island. It is one of the most popular day hikes in the entire country and is a World Heritage Site. It was a lucky day because the winds can often be too strong, the wind chill factor too high, and the weather too unpredictable to allow a successful hike of the 12.1 mile trail, which is located at 3,670 feet. Much of the walk is characterized by sharp-edged new volcanic rock or loose and shifting tephra. There are three active volcanoes on the trail- Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Ruapehu-and the terrain reflects this volcanic activity. Solidified lava flows, loose tephra, and solidified lava flows abound on this lunar landscape. Large amounts of minerals are brought to the surface and are highly visible in the palette of reds, oranges, purples, yellows, and greens which paint the rocks and ridges. Active fumaroles can be found on several sections of the walk, which are constantly emitting steam and sulphur dioxide gas into the air and depositing yellow sulphur patches around their edges. The lakes and pools on the walk are deeply colored by the volcanic minerals dissolved in them, especially the famous Emerald Lakes.
On this day, after enjoying lunch at the snow-capped summit of Mount Tongariro, I was trudging over a gusting wind-whipped ridge, when this awe-inspiring view came into sight. I was struck by the variation of colors in the landscape and the by the surreal quality of the these aquamarine jewels in the stark, Martian landscape. After fighting with the wind to get my tripod setup and stable, and trying to avoid slipping on the loose scree underfoot, I got this shot which nicely captures the colorful otherworldly terrain of this special place, which was also used extensively to represent Mordor in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.