Around the Mountain Taranaki
Mount Taranaki (Mount Egmont) is a beautiful dormant cone volcano found on the Western tip of New Zealand’s North island. It is apparently one of the most perfectly symmetrical cone volcanoes in the world and the summit reaches 2,518m (8,261ft) in elevation. What I didn’t know until recently, was that it was used in the movie ‘The Last Samurai’ because of its resemblance to Mount Fuji.
There was still a fair bit of snow on the summit, so this time, we headed around the mountain, not up it.
Day 1 – North Egmont Visitor Centre to Lake Dive hut
We arrived at the North Egmont visitor centre at around 9.30am on a cloudy but warm mid-December morning. We took the Maketawa track, heading down the mountain. The weather hadn’t been great and we didn’t fancy the exposed upper routes. The track was in good shape and we got some decent views across the lower slopes.
The trail took us through low trees and bush. There were a couple of small river crossings and great views up the riverbeds. We walked downhill for a km or so before heading uphill to Maketawa hut, which we reached at 10.30am.
From Maketawa hut we took the Curtis Falls track to East Egmont. This was a nice section with a variety of scenery, rivers to cross, ups and downs, and ladders to climb. We met a local tramper who told us the track had recently been tidied up for the season and the dense foliage cut back – which we were really grateful for.
Upon arriving at East Egmont at 12.30pm we stopped outside the Stratford Mountain House for a quick lunch. We were pretty keen to be on our way again, and headed off towards the Waingongoro hut (which we weren’t staying at – merely ticking off #hutbagging) . This was a dream of a section and we reached the hut by 2pm.
We continued on the beautiful track through mossy forest and ferns, uphill to the Ridge Loop track. The river crossing nearby gave us a hint of its beauty, but we opted not to go to see the Wilkies Pools this time. It’s on the list for another day! We reached Dawson Falls Mountain Lodge at 2.45pm. Again we didn’t venture off to see the falls but left it as an excuse to come up again and have a proper look around.
We resisted the urge to have an ice-cream at Dawson Falls, and instead enjoyed a nourishing museli bar (sigh….). We were on our way again by 3pm.
Out of Dawson Falls we took the Hasties Hill track, then the Lower Lake Dive track. I didn’t enjoy this part quite so much as it hadn’t been cut back like the previous track, and we got drenched amongst the ferns as we pushed our way through the wet foliage.
The whole day had been full of ups and downs, but towards the end of the day they always seem worse. We’d covered about 27kms and to be honest the last hour or so was spent on autopilot… plod plod plod…
We reached Lake Dive hut (16 beds) at 5.35pm, got a fire going, hung up all our wet clothes and greeted Teresa and Justin our Kiwi hut buddies for the night. We got a little glimpse of the mountain as the clouds cleared for a few minutes. From here we got great views of Fanthams peak (a side peak at 1966m) and made a note to stay at Syme hut on the peak one day.
Day 2 – Lake Dive hut to Kahui hut
We woke at 6.30am to epic mountain views – what a treat! This was by far the best part of the day. We left Lake Dive hut at 8am along the Auroa track and it took us just an hour to walk the long downhill next to the river before connecting up to the Taungatara track.
To say I didn’t enjoy the rest of the day would be a huge understatement! I can’t remember which of the many river crossings it was, but it was before 10am when I slipped on a rock and went down like a sack of spuds onto my left hand. Thankfully I only bruised the fleshy pad of my palm and scratched up a few fingers. Thankfully too, I didn’t fall into the river itself for a soaking, but onto the rock I’d been standing on. Nevertheless I grumbled and complained my way through the rest of the day, sore and periodically bleeding as I opened up the scratches each time I scrambled my way up the steep river banks. Blair wisely walked 100m ahead of me.
The track was overgrown, seriously muddy, tree-rooty, up and down scrambling, crossed plenty of rivers and afforded no views of the mountain. This was not my idea of a good time. I generally like to be able to cover distance fairly quickly or at least be rewarded with a mountain view for my efforts, but alas. Anyway don’t let it put you off – plenty of people love this kind of tramping. It’s all part of the experience, and it did only last a few hours.
I wonder if on another day I might have enjoyed traversing the steep gorge down and then up to the Waiaua Gorge hut. There was a pretty cool ladder climb, but my bleak mood had well and truly manifested by then, so I huffed and puffed my way through it. We reached the Waiaua Gorge hut at around 12.45pm.
We stopped for about an hour – just enough time for me to feel a bit better about things. As it turned out the afternoon wasn’t so bad. We took the Oaonui track, and it was a breeze compared to this morning. We were still in the forest, but the trail was bridged with logs in the really boggy places, and many of the streams were bridged.
The best of today’s tracks was the last stretch – up the Kahui track to Kahui hut. It was all uphill, but was a beautiful trail. I enjoyed being able to cover some distance and felt good again. We reached Kahui hut (6 beds) at 4.15pm. This was quite an old tin hut, and although there was no fire, we were warm enough and had a nice evening, with the hut to ourselves.
Day 3 – Kahui hut to North Egmont Visitor centre
In the morning we left Kahui hut at 8.15am. The trail was a very pleasant up, over then down the Puhino track to drop into the Kapoaieia track.
This led to the Stony River Route, an aptly named track which took us up the stunning, Stony River valley. The views were amazing – one of those times where you feel dwarfed by the magnificence of the scale of everything around you. The river valley was huge – eroded quite badly in places, with great cliffs surrounding us cutting a deep gash into the mountain as we looked up into the distance. It was here that we really began to see the geology of the volcano with the different rock and ash layers, and the erosion of the different rock.
As we approached The Dome, we took a 20 minute detour up to Bells Falls. We had a brief stop, then continued along the Bells Falls track uphill to Holly hut (32 beds). We arrived at 11.45am and had lunch. There were great views from Holly hut across the Ahukawakawa (spagnum moss swamp) to the Pouakai ranges. We spent about an hour for lunch and got going onto the Holly hut track.
Compared to the past couple of days, this track was a breeze. The track itself was well maintained and as we climbed we got some epic views of the mountain, the Pouakai range and across to New Plymouth and the coast. The past couple of days were definitely worth it for this :-).
The Holly hut track usually joins the Razorback or Puffer tracks to go down into North Egmont, but unfortunately there had been a few slips around the Boomerang slip section of the Holly hut track, so we had to make our way down the Kokowai track, then meet the Egmont road. The Kokowai track was beautiful, and all downhill. It ran the length of the ridge overlooking the Kokowai stream.
We crossed a small swingbridge around 3.30pm and made our way out of the forest and onto the North Egmont road. From here we had 2km of winding uphill road to the North Egmont visitor centre car park. We had heard the thunder approaching as we walked down the ridge. Hoping it might miss us we tried to remain optimistic! But instead it unleashed hail upon us for the trek back back to the visitor centre.
We reached the visitor centre at around 4pm completely drenched. Unfortunately the centre wasn’t open as there had been a power cut, but we’ll definitely be back. There are numerous other long and short walks in the area, including the summit itself… but we’ll do that in summer when the snow melts 🙂