I’ve mentioned Mt Ngauruhoe a couple of times in the past. It’s been one of my favorite mountains for some years – an elegant cinder cone on our Central North Island Plateau.
Mt Ngauruhoe is exciting not only for its beautiful shape and its snowy mantle in winter, but also for the fact that it’s still an active volcano and one used to be able to rely on there being a plume of steam coming out of its crater pretty much all of the time.
Not the case with Ruapehu (which erupted properly in 1995-6), and not the case with Tongariro, which proved itself to be still active in 2012, to everyone’s surprise – though it has hot springs and fumaroles on its flank. Ngauruhoe, technically a vent of Mt Tongariro, kept everyone reminded that it was active. It last erupted in 1973-75, and I see DOC advises people not to go down inside the outer crater to the smaller main vent, because there’s a danger of being overcome by fumes. I would think so.
Ngauruhoe’s more recent claim to worldwide fame was its featuring in Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord Of The Rings’ movie series, with some digital manipulation, as Mount Doom.
A few weeks ago I sold one of my Ngauruhoe artworks on an iPhone case. It’s one that has never sold before (the original was not for sale), so I was really pleased. It’s a watercolor-style acrylic of the mountain, and like Peter Jackson, in the process of creation I think I manipulated it a bit – making the sides steeper than the actual 45deg slope of Ngauruhoe. And maybe ‘the look’ is also because I slanted the profile of the crater rim…
Near Ngauruhoe are two small volcanic lakes – Tama Lakes – set in the tussock-covered, pockmarked saddle between Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. I was fortunate on one of my trips to the eastern (Rangipo) side of the plateau to pass by and capture a very cool mirror effect that the sides of these lakes make with the slope of the mountain above – if you are in absolutely the right position to see it – and I was.
I took photos and the image has stayed with me for years. Some of these very brief visions never leave us – they root deep down in our consciousness and quite literally become part of who we are, I think. A bit like the Harrier Hawk episode. As I mentioned before, this whole Central North Island Plateau has a huge pull on me: it’s almost uncanny.
Acrylic on paper. For more information about the work, click on the images.
The mountains of the Central North Island Plateau (Tongariro National Park) have had a place in my heart since the mid 1970’s. This majestic wilderness landscape is now part of a Dual Status World Heritage Site – a status that recognises the park’s important Maori spiritual/cultural associations as well as its outstanding volcanic features.
I spent time on the Plateau on several occasions in the 70’s, travelling up from Wellington and staying in one or another of the DOC and Club huts around the mountains. I’ve painted, walked and beginner ski’d up there and the mystery, power and spirituality of the location have never left me in all the years since I moved away from Wellington.
At about 9000′ above sea level, this location is the summit of the North Island. All around, the land falls away, and the quality of light and clarity of the air have a huge spiritual impact, even aside from the wonderful scatter of volcanic peaks and craters that makes up the topography of the plateau itself.
As it happens, in June 2013 I took my first flight in many years from Kerikeri via Auckland to Christchurch to attend the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards ceremony. By some miracle, I managed to get a glimpse of the snow-clad peak of Mt Ngauruhoe standing out from the sea of white cloud, on the other side of the plane as we passed over the Plateau. It was a sad, fleeting moment: I now live at the northernmost end of the North Island, about 450 miles away…
I should state clearly that I love the place where I live now (above) – about 10 acres on a hillside below yet another volcanic outcrop. My parents bought it in 1970, I visited regularly and worked with them on the land, and since 1987 I have lived here. However, the winter of 2014 (June-August) turned out prolonged and very wet, and all of a sudden I realised that the time has come for me to move. I need less land, less humidity and a new adventure.
But where to go? Not just anywhere will do! It wasn’t very long before that answer came.
By chance in September 2014 as I was idly glancing through a travel supplement to the NZ Herald, I saw an article about Ohakune – a small town on the main trunk line about 12 miles south-west of Mt Ruapehu as the crow flies. It services one of Mt Ruapehu’s skifields – Turoa. I visited it years ago, and was intrigued to read how the town has developed since. Some Internet research followed and I am now working through the major task of preparing myself to move. It will probably take a little time for me to pull this off, but the promise of being back near those mountains will ease the regrets I’m likely to have about leaving my present home.
Being up on the volcanoes of the Central North Island Plateau gives one a feeling of being on top of the world.
All around the land falls away – one is literally on the top of the North Island and in good weather there is a bracing quality of light and clarity in the air that is hard to describe, except to say that it is unforgettable.
This is a view of a natural vent on the side of Mount Ruapehu just below the crater’s edge that was thought to keep the waters and mud in the lake from building pressure and breaching the lake walls.
However, on Christmas Eve 1953 part of the lake wall collapsed from the volume of water and mud behind it, and the resulting lahar swept away a rail bridge in the valley below minutes before the night train from Wellington to Auckland crossed the bridge – with disastrous results.
Our Geological Survey now has the lake closely monitored. Recently, another blowout (which had in fact been forecast) hit Dome Shelter just below the lake where two young men had stopped for the night, and they were lucky to escape with their lives.
As I painted this, I thought of what it must have been like for the early explorers to discover these wilderness places, with all their eerie ‘presence’ and power. In the final year of my law studies, part of my work involved searching titles in the Land Transfer Office – in the days of physical not computer searches, and I’d had the honour of holding in my hands some original survey field notebooks from NZ’s early surveyors, many of whom were also gifted artists.
So a painting that started off as an exploration of some fascinating topography, came to contain so much more.
Acrylic on canvas board 25 × 30in.
Just a brief post about another antecedent to “The Journey“.
Back when I lived in Hamilton, I painted a very loose watercolor-style acrylic of Mt Ruapehu from those photos I took at Mangaturuturu Hut – and looking at it again, I realise this actually formed an even closer antecedent to the Journey 1 painting in my previous post.
The picture sold very quickly, and I now have only a very small photo of it left, which I’ve had to work on somewhat to make it presentable for the net.
In fact, the last time I exhibited was in 2000, before my mother began to get really sick.
To coincide with Matariki – or the rising of the Pleiades (more later), some really enterprising locals held an art exhibition in our small town in late June 2015 – the first local art show ever, I think.
Having gone through the initial panic of ‘nothing to wear’, which for an artist translates as, “Help! I’ve got nothing that’s ready to be hung” (like: not framed, no fixings, not quite finished etc etc), I managed to dredge up 7 pieces.
One of which was “The Journey 1” – intended as the start of a new series and just recently finished:
The inspiration for this picture goes back to my days in government in Wellington, to a long weekend in 1975 when a friend and I took a workmate up to Mangaturuturu Hut on Mount Ruapehu.
At about 4pm, the mountain (given the right weather conditions) turns a magnificent shade of pink. I took the photos below from the hut and I used them as a reference for this work, along with an old shot of Peter, taken in the Kaimanawas by one of his mates, as an inspiration for the pose of the figure.
Peter, who is still in Wellington, often says he needs to go in the hills from time to time to get ‘grounded’ – which is part of what this painting is about. Maybe I don’t need to ‘connect’ so much now, because I live on the edge of a bush reserve, but I DO miss those mountains.
And the big bag (which you’ll note isn’t a tramping or hiking backpack) is there for a purpose.
Billy Joel’s ‘River Of Dreams’ has relevance here, too:
See also my follow-up post ‘Ruapehu Sunset‘.