Mount Ngauruhoe looms over a wilderness of desolation.
Offset against the cerulean sky, this active stratovolcano has a dark, conical shape and clouds bubbling around its blood-red crater like dry ice in a lab experiment. It’s the sort of volcano my son Edward would draw.
Edward clambers on to the bus that will escort us to the start of our trek with a spring in his step. ‘That’s Mount Doom,’ he says to the bus driver, just in case he didn’t already know.
Mordor… in real life: As seen in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, Mount Ngauruhoe in Tongariro National Park stars as Mount Doom in the films
Edward has only just turned seven, but he’s already watched Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and its prequel, The Hobbit.
His bedtime reading is Tolkien’s The Hobbit – illustrated but unabridged. No wonder, given that his father is both a movie buff and a voracious reader.
We’re attempting the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand’s North Island (tongarirocrossing.org.nz).
Apparently the best one-day hike in the country, it’s a 12-mile adventure across the Tongariro National Park.
This is the setting for Mordor in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and Mount Ngauruhoe stars as Mount Doom, where Frodo, the hobbit entrusted as the ring-bearer, is tasked with destroying the ring.
Hobbit homes: In Waikato, Hobbiton, the film set of The Hobbit, sits alongside a picturesque farm
The driver pulls Edward back by the hood of his waterproof. ‘Hobbits aren’t allowed on board,’ he says, gruffly.
Edward gasps. ‘I’m not a hobbit. I’m a child.’
‘You know this isn’t a child-friendly hike?’ says the driver, concerned. This time, he’s addressing us, not Edward.
‘If it were easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, it wouldn’t be called Mordor,’ pipes up Edward, before we can articulate an adequate reply.
I prefer glamorous heels to hiking boots any day of the week so I’m miffed to find that even a cyclone won’t put daddy and Edward off visiting Mordor.
Vivid colours: The Champagne Pool at Waiotapu is famed for its jewel-coloured geothermal waters
However, the delay buys us time to explore caves at Waitomo, where the luminous bottoms of glowworms create stellar constellations in the darkness; bubbling muds and jewel-coloured geothermal pools at Waiotapu; bird sanctuaries inhabited by threatened species of fluffy, nocturnal kiwibirds in Otorohanga Kiwi House; cruise the Lake Taupo caldera aboard a Romancing The Stone sailboat; stay in a homely, picturesque farm and visit Hobbiton, the film set of The Hobbit.
Edward is totally at home among its undulating hills, enchanting vegetable patches, flowering gardens and quaint houses with hobbit-sized doors.
North Island is often skipped in favour of South Island, but it needn’t be. The Tongariro crossing averages eight hours and comprises steep, rope-assisted climbs to the 6,200ft summit.
It’s not a trek for the faint-hearted, but the gritty volcanic landscapes, scorched crater ridges, gem-coloured sulphurous lakes and tussock grasslands merging into forests of mountain beech and kaikawaka are spectacular.
Never mind that I’ll be stiff tomorrow. Edward tingles with excitement and daddy is in his element.
‘Even the hobbit made it?’ says the driver, congratulating us at the end of our adventure. Perhaps hobbits and children are not so dissimilar, after all.