It's a good thing I do. The chill air soon becomes slick with rain and then pocked with hail. I jump at the chance to thaw out with a cup of hot coffee at Taihape, and consult some maps. It looks like there's no convenient path around the storm ahead so braving the elements is the only option. I had come ill-prepared for the elevations of North Island and New Zealand's frosty spring, and it's a lesson I'm learning the hard way. Crossing the frigid Rangipo Desert, I've since tucked away the camera and as the sun dips, sleet sets in. At the entrance to Tongariro National Park, the sight of three volcanic peaks to my left goes by unnoticed; I'm too busy focusing on the icy path ahead, blinking road signs warning me of dangerous conditions and snow plows parked along the road looking ominous. Of course this is the longest stretch of uninhabited road I've seen yet, not to mention the twistiest. With the DOT practically closing the road behind me, I poke my way to the other side of Mount Doom (Tongariro, in local-speak) by the skin of my teeth, and check into the first place l spot in Turangi. Whew.