Rutted brown and white crevasses. Razor sharp peaks. Patches of illuminated white. Asphalt rocks unmarked.
As we near Mt Ruapehu's Crater Lake in Volcanic Air Safaris' Tauranga helicopter, the first signs of our lifeless alpine surroundings appear.
From our seats, myself, pilot Tristan Evans and Safaris' customers Geryl Archer and Robin Dutton, are level with the clouds _ rolling white masses that disguise some of the central North Island's most beautiful landmarks.
The Blue and Green lakes sparkle _ luminous static running their way across the surface of the water. Without the harshness of the lake's space-like surroundings, they could be tropical seas.
Billows of smoky clouds give way to blackened mounds, some with strips of white wedged between their mountainous crevasses.
As our helicopter, a Hughes 500, hovers precariously above the Crater Lake, we get our first glimpse of what we came here to see.
The afternoon sun has got here first, and is creating shifting patterns across the still grey and milky water.
An unusual thin green liquid swirling in the middle of the lake catches our attention.
The perfectly formed crater is protected by blackened mountain ledges and our helicopter lurches and sways in the wind as I attempt to focus my digital camera.
Thick slabs of untouched snow are seemingly iced around one side of the crater.
The entire scene reminds me of the start of one of the Lord of the Rings movies, where viewers are given a drifting and moving birds-eye-view of the majestic mountains, Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro.
To the left of Ruapehu we notice the crater's gaping wound.
Soft and dark volcanic rock torn from its body.
A drying trail of water leaving the rocky mountainside temporarily stained.
Tristan _ who occasionally teaches people to fly in this mountainous terrain _ circles the Crater Lake and we see the muddy, swollen Whangaehu River, swirling 8000 feet below us.
"It's made a mess of that river," he observes.
The sullen-looking river slithers like dozens of snakes in different directions down the valley, almost camouflaged by the soiled banks beside it.
Surprisingly though, the aftermath is not as bad as any of us had envisaged and the Crater Lake is fuller than expected.
Robin, owner of Tauranga's NZ Botanicals, makes the observation first.
The Tauranga businessman, along with Mount Maunganui retiree, Geryl, paid $850 each for the experience of seeing first hand the aftermath of the lahar.
Geryl sees it as an opportunity too good to miss. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity really," she says.
Robin agrees: "I enjoyed it all."
We do not travel as far as the famous Tangiwai Bridge. Two-and-a-half hours in the air reveals a stark contrast between the landscapes we see. To get here we have travelled over hundreds of perfectly aligned forest greens, paddocks that resemble different shades of green patchwork, glass houses, power plants and the majestic Lake Taupo _ a rippling panorama of ever changing blues and hues.
Travelling into a head wind, we are bounced around. Tristan comments: ``It's a bit like going over the judder bars at 100kms ... hills are the same as sand bars with water.'' Cocooned in the helicopter, our large glass windows act as insulators. Rainbow colours dance around the cabin. Our hot house gives views to some of the most spectacular scenery the North Island has to offer.
On our return journey we all have time to reflect on what we have seen at the Crater Lake.
No-one speaks for a while until Geryl comments "that was amazing".
We all nod in agreement.
#If you are interested in a flight to the Crater Lake, phone Volcanic Air Safaris Tauranga 0800 737 700.