After watching the final episode of the Lord of the Rings saga - The Return of the King - we journeyed up Mount Ruapehu spotting the location of Sam and Frodo's final scenes.
The mountain shone bright in the early morning sun, the crater covered in snow, giving way to bare lava coated in white lace.
The ski area was already heaving with excitement, even though it was still only 8.30. There was a national slalom competition on higher up the mountain and the queues for lift passes were already long.
Down on the beginners' slopes, there was a much more relaxed air.
Toddlers were skiing without poles, doing snow-ploughs so controlled that one even came to a complete stop by leaning forward and planting his head on the ground, tripod style. Skiers and snowboarders whizzed in and out of people strolling around taking photos or teaching beginners. There were even people throwing snowballs or making snowmen and children climbing up the lava scree, exploring.
It all seemed incredibly laid back.
Cat and Richard honed their snow boarding skills: I tramped around in the snow, taking photographs and marvelling at the beauty around me.
Later, we left for Rotorua. Mount Ngaruhoe, The Mountain of Doom in the Rings saga, shone in the sunlight and even Mount Tongariro, after which the whole National Park (a world heritage site), is named, was clear.
Stopping again in Ohakune for coffee, Cat bumped into friends: firstly, the family with whom she spent her first Christmas, who live in a nearby town. Then she met a CAP money coach from Auckland, on holiday in the area for a few days. Small world.
We left reluctantly, taking the Desert Road in the rain shadow of the three mighty volcanoes, gazing our fill until they disappeared from view...