I need to start by apologising for falling off the face of the earth recently – I haven’t posted anything in a whole month! I have been very busy this June: jetting off to Bangkok, home to the UK, and to Spain to visit my sister – but that’s no excuse! But more on my travels later, I have something else to share with you for now.
There is a public holiday in New Zealand that I was quite bemused to find out about: the Queen’s Birthday. Not only is this not a public holiday in my home country of England, where the Queen lives, but it also takes place almost 2 months after her actual birthday (April 21st). Fortunately for me, the public holiday falls on the first Monday in June, and this year my birthday was on the Sunday.
Anyhow, public holidays mean a day off work (usually paid!) so I’m not one to turn that down!
Taranaki is the name for two things: the region that covers the western part of New Zealand’s North Island, and the dormant volcano that dominates the landscape. When visiting, most people normally stay in or around New Plymouth, the largest city in the region which – you guessed correctly – is named after the city of Plymouth on the south coast of England.
Home to the gloriously moody Maunga Taranaki, the region is dominated by the presence of the snow-capped volcano, which rises above the flat terrain in an almost-perfect cone shape. The volcano last erupted in the mid 1800s and the surrounding bush is known as the ‘goblin forest’, because the tōtara and kamahi trees, mosses and lichens make it mystical and just so green! James and I drove up to New Plymouth in a rental car on the Saturday morning, where we stayed in a motel for two nights; we drove back to Wellington on Monday afternoon. This was only a fraction of the time we would have liked to spend there!
Here is a guide of what to get up to in Taranaki – some of which we are saving for our next visit!
MOUNT EGMONT NATIONAL PARK
You cannot possibly take a trip to the region without visiting the national park dedicated to it. Captain Cook named the mountain Mount Egmont in 1770 after John Perceval, 2nd Earl of Egmont, who supported the idea of an oceanic search for Terra Australis Incognita, the “unknown land of the south”. The peak is more commonly known by its Maori name, Mount Taranaki, and is a very sacred place to the local iwi. The number one thing you’ll want to do in the park is see the scenery of course, and luckily there are many free walking tracks offering spectacular views of the mountain, the surrounding forest and many waterfalls, plus much more. For more information on any of the below walking tracks see the Department of Conservation website.
Manganui Gorge Track (1 hour return) – Accessed from the Plateau car park at the top of Pembroke Road, this track ascends the gorge, past the flying fox to the Manganui ski field. It provides beautiful views of the coastline on a clear day, and looks quite spooky if it’s cloudy. Equally as eery is the view of the ski field without the snow!
Kapuni Loop Track (1 hour return) – This easy loop walk begins on Manaia Road, a short walk from Dawson Falls visitor centre. The track passes through the greenery of the forest before descending to the base of Dawson Falls/Te Rere o Noke, and then continuing to a lookout with a good view of the waterfall.
Connett Loop Track (40 min return) – Another easy loop track that travels through the bush, this walk offers a beautiful view of Mount Taranaki through an opening in the trees – unfortunately it was extremely cloudy for us! The track starts at Taranaki/Egmont National Park Visitor Centre on Egmont Road; even the view of the mountain from the car park is simply stunning!
Mangorei Road to Pouakai Tarns (4-5 hour return) – This walk is a quick, moderately steep hike up to the 16-bed Pouakai Hut, from which it is a further ten minute walk to the stunning Pouakai Tarns. Well, the tarns themselves aren’t particularly special, but the reflection of Mount Taranaki in the water is breathtaking. From the end of Mangorei Road, Pouakai Hut is signposted as 2 hours 15 mins away, but in reality the walk can be done comfortably in around 1 hour 45 mins, and takes even less time to walk back. The track can be quite slippery when wet/muddy as most of it is on wooden steps.
Top Tip: Leave extra early and catch the sunrise at the tarns.
Summit Track (8 – 12 hours return) – This is a hike that James and I are saving until summer: climbing Mount Taranaki! The 6.3km steep track apparently takes up to 6 hours one way, starting at North Egmont Visitor Centre. The track is unmarked and should only be attempted by experienced trampers in good weather; ice axe and crampons may be necessary even in the summer months as there is always snow at the top. Mount Taranaki has great spiritual significance to the Maori this should be respected: do not stand directly on the summit and do not litter or camp on the summit. We wanted to do this hike while we were there in early June, but I am glad we decided against it as a number of trampers were rescued and a 25 year old experienced climber died the same weekend we were there.
Pouakai Circuit (2 – 3 days) – This multi-day hike passes through forest, alpine tussock fields and the Ahukawakawa Swamp. The 25km track is broken up with two backcountry huts, the Holly Hut and Pouakai Hut, neither of which need to be reserved in advance – you can just turn up! It can be walked in either direction and features a number of side trips to the enormous Bells Falls/ Te Rere o Tahurangi and to the Pouakai Trig, which offers extensive views of the Taranaki coastline. The track also passes the Pouakai Tarns, as mentioned above. This is a track on our to-do list!
How to get there
By car – There are three entrances to the park which are all easily accessible with your own vehicle. These are at Manaia Road, Egmont Road and Pembroke Road.
We used Budget Rentals to rent a car for the weekend away, but if you are travelling extensively in New Zealand I really recommend buying your own vehicle. For more info on buying a car or campervan for your travels in NZ, read this post.
By bus – I haven’t been able to find much information about buses to Egmont National Park, though apparently there are several shuttle services that run from Stratford, Inglewood and New Plymouth. Check at an isite in Stratford or New Plymouth to find out.
New Plymouth is a large town situated on the coast and is a great place for shopping, dining or going out. If you fancy a delicious authentic Italian pizza, head to Pekaren, 25 Bell Block Court. The coastal walkway is a must-do if you have the time, as is a look at the famous Te Rewa Rewa bridge, which has become an attraction in itself as its shape perfectly frames the backdrop of Mount Taranaki. The surrounding areas of New Plymouth contain gems such as Lake Mangamahoe. New Plymouth is also a great place to base yourself in order to explore the region; we stayed at The Strand Hotel and 100% recommend it!
How to get there
By plane: New Plymouth sees direct flights daily from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch with Jetstar and Air New Zealand.
By car: New Plymouth is around 5 hours drive from Wellington, 4.5 hours from Auckland and 3.5 hours from Taupo. You can rent a car from many companies in the city, or to explore further I recommend buying your own vehicle.
SURF HIGHWAY 45
This isn’t a highway James and I have had the chance to explore yet! Our itinerary for the weekend was so full that we didn’t manage to fit this in. The SH45 is known not as a State Highway but as the Surf Highway because of how good the waves are here; Taranaki’s hemispherical coast collects 180 degrees of ocean swells. There are a number of surf schools along the coastline, so if you are a beginner you are able to learn here. Here are some ideas on what to get up to, courtesy of Backpacker Guide – don’t those beaches look awesome?!
How to get there: Exploring the region with your own wheels is your best option. Buses are available, check with the nearest isite or see the Taranaki Regional Council website.
If your schedule will allow it, aim for at least 3-4 days to explore the region. The weather in Taranaki is interchangeable and chances are the mountain will be covered by clouds for part or all of your stay, so aim to visit in summer or a clear winter’s day for views with more snow.
Personally, I could have stayed in Taranaki for at least a week. I would love to do one of the multi-day treks in Mount Egmont National Park, as well as reach the summit – though I wouldn’t dare attempt it outside of the summer months. I’d also liked to have had more time to explore New Plymouth and Surf Highway. Oh well – next time!
Have you visited Taranaki or hiked any of these walking tracks? Are you more of an outdoors person or a city-dweller? Have you ever learned to surf?
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
Note: All of the photos used in this post are my own unless otherwise stated with their rightful source linked below. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links and help run this site.