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Under the watch of three mighty maunga, Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu, the King Country  (Te Rohe Pōtae),  home of Forgotten World Adventures, has been calling to travellers, warriors, adventurers, filmmakers and lovers since King Tawhiao first laid his hat here, writes Lisa McLean.

The first Māori to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest, Wiremu Hakopa Toa Te Awhitu, was born, in 1914, at Okahukura, where the rail journey from Taumarunui through the Forgotten World begins. And long before Mt Ngauruhoe bewitched audiences worldwide as ‘Mt Doom’ in The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, it is here that a young Edmund Hillary was given his first taste of mountaineering on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu.

Ruapehu View From SH4 National Park Lisa McLean
A view of Mount Ruapehu from State Highway 4 National Park. Photo: Lisa McLean

"Ruapehu's awe inspiring and diverse scenery makes it a natural choice for film locations. Mordor, home to the Dark Lord Sauron was shot on location around the rocky slopes of the Tongariro National Park. The area’s jagged volcanic rock formations and eerie barren landscapes were ideal locations for creating Mordor’s hissing wasteland." - Ruapehu Visitors Guide

Taumarunui was largely off limits to Europeans until the late 1860’s when the first European settler, Alexander Bell was granted permission to set up a trading post.  


Alexander Bell and family, 1910, Taumarunui
Alexander Bell (centre) with his family in Taumarunui, 1910.

Bell had met and married Katarina Te Waihanea who was born in Taumarunui but raised in Wairoa in the Hawkes Bay by her Aunt and Uncle.  After the birth of their first child, Katarina's father sent a message to Wairoa asking that the family come to Taumarunui. At first Bell was not allowed to cross into the King Country so Katarina, accompanied by her Aunt Mihireia and Uncle Rangimaihi, left him at Tokaanu, near Lake Taupō. The trio travelled on to Taumarunui, where they sought permission for Bell to enter. More than a week later, with permission granted, Rangimaihi returned to Tokaanu to bring the nervous groom to Taumarunui. With the blessings of her father, Alexander and Katarina settled happily in Taumarunui and bore 21 children, eight of whom died as babies. Katarina died on 27 July 1910 while Alexander lived on until 1932, aged 93. Bell Road and Katarina Street in Taumarunui carry their names.

From one enduring love to another, a young Edmund Hillary was given his first taste of mountaineering here on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu. Following a 1935 school trip to Ruapehu at the age of 16 it is said that Ed showed more interest in tramping than in studying and exclaimed he "wanted to see the world".

“I returned home in a glow of fiery enthusiasm for the sun and the cold and the snow – especially the snow.” -  Sir Edmund Hillary

Edmund Hillary
Sir Edmund Hillary

Whether you’re flying by helicopter into the heart of the Whanganui National Park, riding the rails into the depths of the Forgotten World,  making your mark in the snow, traversing Tongariro and the land of Mordor or exploring native bush, caves and waterfalls, Forgotten World Adventures will take you there - it’s up to you what memories and tales you take away.