In the spirit of the old adage: ‘always leave them wanting more’, Mount Taranaki’s appearances are flamboyant and fleeting
Perhaps, if you live with Taranaki all day every day, you can learn to ignore it, but as a weekend visitor to these parts you’re going to be spending a good proportion of your time simply gawping. It’s a view you never tire of: the shifting cloud, the change of light across its face, the wonderful symmetry and singularity of the lonely mountain.
There’s no shortage of vantage points to take in the majesty of Taranaki, but perhaps the best is from the nearby Pouakai Ranges, itself the blown remains of a volcanic cone ripped apart some 250,000 years ago. Looping around its ridge is one of Egmont National Park’s most celebrated tracks, the 2-3 day Pouakai Circuit, and contender for one of North Island’s greatest weekend walks.
It’s a more diverse route than you might expect. Day 1 takes you straight up the barren lower slopes of Taranaki from the North Egmont Visitor Centre, around under cliffs and slips before dropping to the wellappointed Holly Hut. Those on a two-day trip will wish to push on, but the area is a great place to linger. A recommended side trip plunges you into the park’s eerie “goblin forest” before descending to the 30m drop of Bells Falls, perfectly framed against a curious lava-bubble formation aptly named the Dome.
Trampers overnighting at Holly Hut may be rewarded with an early morning mist clinging to the Ahukawakawa wetland below, a wonderful carpet of sphagnum moss sheltering a multitude of hardy wetland plants. Traversing by a boarded route, once over the Stoney River the pull up the ranges begins through mountain cedar, interrupted by the unfolding view of Taranaki that just gets better as you climb.
From the ridge a side trip to the Pouakai Trig beckons on a clear day offering expansive views of the park, the Taranaki coastline, and even – if you’re lucky – Mount Ruapehu. Either way the popular Pouakai Hut is the usual overnight stop. From here it’s a short evening climb to the sub-alpine tops of Pouakai to watch the sun’s dying rays on the face of Taranaki, returning to the hut balcony to take in the distant twinkling lights of New Plymouth before bed.
Retracing the route to the tops the next morning you pass several tarns offering the obligatory photograph of a reflected Taranaki, before an abrupt, calf-bothering “up” and an equally knee-jarring “down” over Henry Peak. The Pouakai ridge continues to fall away taking you back below the treeline for the long descent through Kamahi Forest. A couple of scrambles down steep-rooted banks and a crossing of the Kaiauai Stream (a nearby shelter provides refuge if in flood) break the steady pace, which has you eventually emerging at a footbridge across the Waiwhakaiho River. From here it’s an hour’s gentle climb back to the vistor centre for well-deserved coffee and cake, the profile of Taranaki indelibly imprinted on your mind’s eye .
Above: The 2518m-high Mount Taranaki, pictured here from the Pouakai Ranges, is said to be one of the
most symmetrical volcanic cones in the world. Photos: Graham Stride
The Ahukawakawa Swamp contains a wide variety of plants that can survive at very low temperatures in acidic soils. The environment is extremely fragile:
a single footprint on its surface can remain visible for several years.