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Rangipo Desert is a barren desert-like environment in New Zealand, located in the Ruapehu District on the North Island Volcanic Plateau; to the east of the three active peaks of Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Ruapehu, and to the west of the Kaimanawa Range.

Location of the Rangipo Desert

The Rangipo Desert receives 1500 - 2500 mm of rainfall per year, but resembles a desert because of a poor soil quality and drying winds. The vegetation is minimal and scrubby, and the headwaters of many small streams, later to turn into large rivers, gouge deep serrated valleys through the earth. The climate here is harsh and alpine, with close to 270 ground frosts per year in comparison with less than 30 in the coastal regions of Hawke's Bay, 80 kilometres to the east. Heavy snowfalls - rarely seen in the rest of the island - are also a common occurrence in winter.

Much of the desert lies at an altitude of over 600 metres, and a considerable proportion of it is over 1000 metres above sea level.

Typical Rangipo scenery, looking west from the Desert Road

Due to the unproductive nature of the land, the region is largely uninhabited. The town of Waiouru, with its army camp lies to the south, and much of the southern part of the desert is used for training purposes. To the north of the desert lies the Rangipo prison farm.

Many of the North Island's largest rivers have their headwaters in the area, particularly around the slopes of Mount Ruapehu, the North Island's highest mountain. These include the Waikato and Whangaehu Rivers, as well as major tributaries of the Rangitikei and Whanganui Rivers.

The desert is bisected by only one road, a section of State Highway 1 known as the Desert Road.

The Lord of the Rings films were shot in New Zealand, and the Black Gate of Mordor scenes were shot in the Rangipo Desert in 2000.

View of the Rangipo Desert showing the three active peaks: Snow-capped Ruapehu (left), conical Ngauruhoe (centre) and broad-domed Tongariro (right)

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