New Zealand warns hikers away from 'Lord of the Rings' volcano

A tourist takes pictures of Mount Ruapehu as it erupts on June 18, 1996 in Tongariro National Park on the central North Island of New Zealand. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo (Reuters)

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand has warned hikers and climbers to steer clear of a volcano in a national park whose jagged volcanic rock formations and eerie barren landscapes featured in "The Lord of The Rings" movies. Quake and volcano monitoring service GNS Science raised the alert for Mount Ruapehu, in the North Island's Tongariro National Park, which last erupted in 2007. "There are more signs of life at the volcano," said Volcanologist Brad Scott. The Department of Conservation warned trekkers to stay out of the Summit Hazard Zone, within two km of the center of Crater Lake. "Recent visits to the volcano have confirmed an increase in the output of volcanic gas," GNS Science said. The temperature of the lake has risen from 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) to 46 degrees Celsius (115 F)since mid-April. The volcanic alert level has been lifted to "heightened unrest" from "moderate". Each year, thousands of people trek the so-called Tongariro Crossing, a 20-km (12-mile) alpine crossing that passes all three volcanoes in the area. The landscape formed the backdrop for Mordor's hissing wasteland in Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. (Reporting by Rebecca Howard; Editing by Nick Macfie)