Walking on a trail can be like threading a line between words in a book – you only see part of the story. Move off the line – read the entire page – and a place expands and changes, developing new shapes, angles and experiences as you step through untracked land.
In a forest or in heavily mountainous country, you quickly sense the possibility of this change if you were to step away from the trail. On my recent visit to New Zealand, however, I discovered there can be just as much shift in an open, barren landscape such as that around the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park.
By stepping off the trail for a couple of days, I came across this stunning hanging valley etched into the slopes of Mt Nguaruhoe. It’s unlike anything seen on the park’s network of trails. Not a single footprint scarred its sands until we stepped through it, and cloud poured down the slopes of Nguaruhoe as though it were a benign eruption.
Tongariro has long been one of my favourite spots in New Zealand, but after two days in scenes like this, and having to share them with none of the 1000-plus people who pour across the Tongariro Crossing each summer day, it’s only more so.