The magic of Taranaki

Mount Taranaki or Egmont National Park on the North Island is one of the oldest National Parks in New Zealand. Overlooking the Tasman Sea, this park in the…

Mount Taranaki or Egmont National Park on the North Island is one of the oldest National Parks in New Zealand. Overlooking the Tasman Sea, this park in the province of Taranaki offers a rich variety of adventure, history and natural beauty. Easily accessible by a direct flight from Auckland, Wellington or Nelson, Taranaki is about a 5-hour drive from Auckland or Wellington with plenty to see and do along the way. The drive from Auckland is particularly spectacular and passes through Waitomo, well-known for the magical Waitomo Caves. Vast mudflows, or lahars, from Mt. Taranaki leave deposits nine-kilometres thick. Maoris used some of the mound-like lahars as little fortresses.

Many local tour operators organize transport and there is a daily mountain shuttle operating throughout summer. Taxis are available for day-trips and excursions. Mount Taranaki or Egmont National Park (2,518 m) dominates the landscape and its symmetrical, almost conical shape is broken by one outcrop, a secondary cone to the south called Fanthams Peak. The Maori name, Taranaki, means ‘Barren Mountain’. A popular Maori legend describes how Taranaki was banished from the Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe cluster in central North Island, battered and bleeding, after an earth-shattering battle with Tongariro for the love of the beautiful female mountain, Pihanga. Legend has it that the Pouakai Range unfurled a spur to halt the flight, and the mountain remained in the centre of the Taranaki ring plain, surrounded on three sides by the Tasman Sea.

The mountain was named Egmont by James Cook, when he first sighted it in 1770, after Earl of Egmont, former First Lord of the Admiralty. It has since had the Maori name, Taranaki, reinstated as an option. The foresight of the administration prevented large scale destruction by European settlers, and they declared the area a National Park in 1900. In 1978, the mountain and park were handed to the Taranaki Maori Trust, which gifted the park to the Crown for all to enjoy. Today local Maori and the Department of Conservation work closely to maintain the park. The park is a large circle around the summit and extends 9 kilometres down the mountain.

There are numerous walks of different degrees of difficulty for all ages and Egmont National Park offers 33 thousand hectares of unspoiled beauty of the rain forests and exceptional flora and fauna. Your choice ranges from an easy 15-minute jaunt to a four-day trek on the Around the Mountain circuit. The latter reveals all the faces of Mount Taranaki and each is spectacularly different.

Despite its tranquil appearance, it is an unpredictable place. Don’t be tempted to hike in just a pair of shorts and a T-shirt on a hot day because it can suddenly drop several degrees and start raining and/or snowing. As Mt. Taranaki is very accessible, it is the most climbed mountain in New Zealand. The Department of Conservation can provide necessary information for climbers and there are mountain guide operations all round the year. The climb takes around 5 hours to reach the summit and 3 hours down. Guides can also take you rock-climbing and abseiling or on treks through the rainforest. There are camping facilities and cabins within the Park.

Dawson Falls, 900 m up the south-eastern side of the mountain is a main attraction. There are excellent lodges nearby access to which can be obtained from the Department of Conservation. From here there are numerous short walks and a unique short tramp is the Kamahi walk through the Goblin Forest, so-called because of the deformities of the trees and branches, bearded in grey-green moss. You can feel the magic in the air! From Dawson Falls there are a maze of walks, the most popular is to Wilkies Pools, a series of eroded rock pools connected with gentle waterfalls.

The best months to visit Taranaki are January to March when it is pleasantly warm-hot, though it rarely gets so hot as to sap all of your energy! The sun rises before 6 am and it is not dark until after 9 pm in the summer so you can pack a lot into a single day! When the day is over, you can sit back and watch the sun dip majestically into the Tasman Sea. New Plymouth, the nearest city ranks as one of New Zealand’s sunniest.

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