National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Discoverin­g the voice of a mountain

Mount Taranaki, the volcanic centrepiec­e of Egmont National Park, was legally granted personhood in 2017. And now a multi-day trek is set to confirm the revered peak as a sanctuary for hikers, too


The beads of sweat on David Rogers’ brow have crystallis­ed into frost by the time we get to the top of a steep trail aptly named ‘The Puffer’. Catching his breath, David points out an imposing bluff standing sentinel on Mount Taranaki’s eastern shoulder.

“That’s where I plan to have my ashes scattered,” says David. For a moment I think it’s because of the sublime sub-alpine wilderness or the quilted farmlands unspooling towards the horizon far below, but David has something else in mind. “It marks the border where my three tribal lands meet,” he says with a glint in his eye. “I want to keep an eye on all of them when I’m gone.”

The clouds that have dogged us since we started hiking suddenly sweep in, obscuring the bluff from view and limiting our visibility. We pick up the trail again and traverse a rust-hued ridgeline laden with golden tussock and stunted trees. A senior ranger with nearly five decades of field experience, David is intimately familiar with the trail. As we hike, he pauses to recite the names as well as the practical and medicinal uses of different plants.

The weather is constantly shifting around us, as if the 8,260ft-high dormant volcano were somehow alive and breathing. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise, because spirituall­y and legally, Mount Taranaki, the lofty centrepiec­e of Egmont National Park on the North Island’s west coast, is treated as a person.

The park has been officially protected since 1900, but in December 2017 the New Zealand government went a step further and signed an agreement with the eight surroundin­g Māori iwi, declaring Mount Taranaki to be a person. Coincident­ally, on the day I visit, a joint council of iwi elders and conservati­on officials meet to make decisions for, and speak on behalf of, the mountain.

“Māori believe everything has manna, with thoughts and feelings, and so does the mountain,” says David. “We revere him as a person.” These beliefs are shared by Phil Nuku, a Ngāruahine elder, who will tell me later that the mountain is considered whānau (family) to his tribe. He explains that hidden between hiking trails are sacred springs reserved for healing ceremonies or the blessing of children.

“You might not be a religious person, but something happens when people come here,” says Phil. “There’s a spiritual moment.”

The first signs of snow appear beneath mine and David’s feet as we arrive at Tahurangi Lodge, a private cabin belonging to the Taranaki Alpine Club. It’s locked, so we eat our sandwiches outside, exchanging banter, trail informatio­n and cake with fellow hikers passing through. Although it’s midwinter, the mountain attracts loyal devotees from all over the country.

Eventually, we shake the crumbs from our jackets and round the lodge to join a newly establishe­d trail. Neat wooden steps lead us downhill, mercifully reducing the load on my legs after the calf-burning ascent. The trail wends beneath craggy andesite rock faces and alongside gullies of ancient moss, with the gravel path occasional­ly becoming a similar consistenc­y to soggy biscuits.

As the ranger responsibl­e for track developmen­t, David dutifully inspects every upgraded section of track and grunts with approval. He explains these upgrades are part of the new 24-mile, multi-day Taranaki Crossing trek, designed to rival the famous Tongariro Crossing nearby.

The track should be completed by May 2023, but for now, sections remain unfinished. We arrive at a stretch where an avalanche swept the trail away years earlier, leaving behind a morass of boulders and rubble. A cable bridge will be installed soon, but we must make do and scramble down into the debris and up the other side. On the way, I realise the wind has finally torn a hole in the cloud, revealing a glimpse of Taranaki’s ivory crown gleaming in the afternoon sun. I can’t help but feel that someone is watching, guiding us as we pass.

HOW TO DO IT: Egmont National Park has single and multi-day walking trails, varying from easy to challengin­g. Hiking is an option year-round, but best done in the warmer months. Discover Taranaki offers guided day hikes on the Pouakai Crossing that include transport, meals and snacks, from NZ$325 (£170). discoverta­

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 ?? ?? Hiking at sunset at the foot of Mount
Taranaki, Egmont National Park
Left: Facial tattoos in Māori culture are a sacred marker of the wearer’s
genealogy and heritage
Hiking at sunset at the foot of Mount Taranaki, Egmont National Park Left: Facial tattoos in Māori culture are a sacred marker of the wearer’s genealogy and heritage
 ?? ?? A pouwhenua (land post), used by the Māori to mark boundaries and
important sites
A pouwhenua (land post), used by the Māori to mark boundaries and important sites

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