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  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 1 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    Loaded with geothermal wonders and towering volcanoes, New Zealand's North Island, home to three quarters of the nation's 4.4 million residents, offers a host of can't-miss natural splendor. Pictured here, Mount Ngauruhoe, the 7,500-foot active volcano that starred as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films. Unless noted, photos by Shane Nelson; posted April 19, 2013

  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 2 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    Adventurers interested in a closer look at Mount Ngauruhoe should consider a trek along the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of New Zealand's most popular day hikes. While the entire 12-mile track, winding over some of the country's most unique volcanic terrain, should only be attempted by those who are physically fit, the first 90 minutes of the hike through Mangatepopo Valley is reasonably flat and offers tremendous views.

  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 3 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    Hikers pass a warning sign aimed at deterring the unprepared at the base of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing's first real climb. Travelers interested in tackling the trail with an expert guide can book a day with Adrift Outdoor Guided Adventures, a company that provides everything from warm clothing, waterproof gear, hiking boots and a picnic lunch along with all sorts of geologic, cultural, botanical and birding insight.

  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 4 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    Hikers traverse South Crater, a flat saddle section of the Tongariro Alpine trail traveling between the shoulders of Ngauruhoe (left) and Mount Tongariro, a 6,450-foot volcano which last erupted in November 2012. A World Heritage site, Tongariro National Park features three active volcanoes: Ngauruhoe, Tongariro and Mount Ruapehu, which is 9,100 feet tall and home to the North Island's only commercial ski facilities.

  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 5 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    Travelers intent on destroying evil rings can make the steep, 90-minute climb to Mount Ngauruhoe's summit from South Crater. Digitally altered at times for its performance as Mordor's Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films, the volcano prompts many pilgrimages by fans of the trilogy each year. Ngauruhoe last erupted in 1975.

  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 6 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    Clouds part over Blue Lake, a freshwater basin filling a volcanic lava vent on Mount Tongariro. The lake reaches up to 50 feet in depth and is acidic with a PH level of approximately 5.

  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 7 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    Hikers photograph Tongariro's Emerald Lakes, which are also acidic with a PH level of around 3.5 and owe their bright color to minerals like sulfur that leach into the fresh water from nearby geothermal vents.

  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 8 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    Volcanic gas and steam billow out of Te Maari crater on the northern flank of Mount Tongariro. The crater erupted twice in the last nine months -- Nov. 21 and Aug. 6, 2012 -- leading to an indefinite closure of about half the 12-mile Tongariro Alpine Crossing for safety and cultural reasons. According to Maori tradition, eruption sites are taboo following explosive events out of respect for the power of the mountain.

  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 9 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    The geologic forces spurring volcanic activity in Tongariro National Park also fuel many geothermal marvels around the North Island's Rotorura region. Here, visitors pose in front of Lady Knox geyser at Wai O Tapu Thermal Wonderland, a reserve managed by New Zealand's Department of Conservation. Park employees pour eco-friendly detergent into the geyser daily at 10:15 a.m., causing the feature to spray boiling water up to 65 feet into the air.

  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 10 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    Formed more than 700 years ago by a hydrothermal eruption, Wai O Tapu's famed Champagne Pool is nearly 215 feet in diameter, over 200 feet deep, and features a water temperature of around 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Minerals contained in the geothermal pool, such as mercury, antimony, silver, gold, sulfur, arsenic and thallium, have accumulated to form the bright chemical crust, often referred to as sinter, lining the pond's rim.

  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 11 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    The natural green of the Devil's Bath occurs thanks to excess water from the Champagne Pool mixing with sulfur and ferrous salts. Rainfall and the availability of sunlight impact the mineral pool's green to yellow coloring.

  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 12 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    Perhaps best described as a hot spring or geothermal pool with limited water, this bubbling mud pot was just one of many audibly gurgling and playfully splattering at Wai O Tapu's popular Mud Pool.

  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 13 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    Rotorua is home to a range of geothermal pools where visitors can enjoy a relaxing soak. A bather enjoys the view from this public pool heated by the Te Manaroa spring, New Zealand's largest single source of naturally boiling water, at the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools facility.

  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 14 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    After first rushing through a narrow stone channel, 52,000 gallons of the Waikato River, New Zealand's longest, plunge every second over the 30-foot rock face of Huka Falls. Pouring out of Lake Taupo, the Waikato travels 264 miles north before spilling into the Tasman Sea south of Auckland, producing nearly 15% of New Zealand's power on the way.

  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 15 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    Auckland visitors hoping to spot a volcano need only look northeast from the central business district to Rangitoto, photographed here from Auckland's Sky Tower. The volcanic island emerged from the sea after a series of powerful eruptions 600 years ago and is a public reserve, loaded with walking trails and panoramic vistas, managed by New Zealand's Department of Conservation. Ferries travel from Auckland to Rangitoto daily.

  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 16 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    Home to the largest number of sailboats per capita in the world, Auckland is often called the City of Sails, sprawling across an isthmus separating Manukau and Waitemata Harbours. The Auckland Harbour Bridge was first opened in 1959, linking central Auckland to its North Shore communities, and offers the country's only bridge climb activity.

  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 17 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    Thrill seekers can not only climb to the Auckland Harbour Bridge's summit, some 210 feet above the ocean, they can also dive off the massive steel structure. AJ Hackett Bungy offers bungee jumping from a platform beneath the bridge's eight lane highway, 130 feet above Waitemata Harbour. Photo courtesy of AJ Hackett Bungy

  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 18 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    A jumper takes the plunge from the Auckland Harbour Bridge, with Auckland's Sky Tower in the distance. Photo courtesy of AJ Hackett Bungy

  • The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island - 19 of 19

    The natural wonders of New Zealand's North Island

    This is the view Travel Weekly contributing editor Shane Nelson (pictured) had as he jumped toward the water below, arms and eyes wide open. Photo courtesy of AJ Hackett Bungy

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