In the spirit of the old adage: ‘al­ways leave them want­ing more’, Mount Taranaki’s ap­pear­ances are flam­boy­ant and fleet­ing

Element - - Staycation - By Gra­ham Stride

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.

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