The mountain with two names
Mt Taranaki or Mt Egmont, is a volcano in the center of one of the most popular wilderness areas in New Zealand – Egmont National Park. Standing 2.518m above the sea level gives it a status of the second-highest volcano in the country, just after Mt Ruapehu (2.797m).
Taranaki is a Maori name consisting of two parts: tara means “mountain peak”, and naki (coming from ngaki) means “shining”. The shiny mountain peak clearly relates to the snow covering its upper sloper all year long.
The second name was given by James Cook on 11 January 1770. Yes, this guy is really all over New Zealand and this time the name was given in the honor of John Perceval, 2nd Earl of Egmont, who was one of the supporters of search expeditions for the new continent – Terra Australis Incognita.
The way to the summit is challenging 12.6 km hike (there and back) with 1.6 km of vertical climb. However, it doesn’t discourage adventure seekers.
Distance: 12.6 km return
Time: 7-10 hr
Best time to go & safety
The best chance for good weather and higher temperatures is from December to April. In other months, the mountain will most likely be covered in snow and ice. Therefore, tourists without experience and proper equipment should not try their luck there.
The last major eruption occurred around 1655, meaning there is an extremely low risk of any volcanic activity going on in the area. However, it doesn’t mean that you should underestimate the mountain. More than 80 people have died since 1891 when records began. Weather can change quickly at any time of the year and even though it’s not a very high or difficult mountain, pay attention and make smart decisions on the way.
Check weather conditions on MetService prior to your summit climb.
How to get there?
North Egmont National Park Visitor Centre is only about 30 min (29 km) drive from New Plymouth. Take a turn off at Egmont Village and continue straight until you reach the parking. When driving from the south, it takes about 2 hours (160 km) from Whanganui.
Where to stay overnight?
Climbing Taranaki Summit is a full day hike so if you stay overnight in New Plymouth, I recommend departing early in the morning.
If you have a self-contained vehicle, there is awesome parking just in front of the visitor centre. In the high season, it gets full pretty quickly so try to arrive in the early afternoon. By doing so, you will secure your place, have time for a nice dinner in the shadow of the mountain and even the chance to tackle some easy and short hikes around the area as a warm-up.
Other than that, there are couple of camping sites or lodges along the way from New Plymouth.
What I did was to stay a night prior to the hike in a self-contained vehicle just next to the visitor center and after the hike, I drove to Ariki Hostel in New Plymouth to take advantage of a hot shower. After a tough hike, it always brings me back to life 🙂 Such a plan was really optimal for me, as I had the chance to enjoy the evening and morning right at the foot of the mountain and then relax in a warm and cozy place.
The legend has it…
There is a legend that connects all the volcanic summits in the central area of North Island, which adds an extra flavor to the experience. Apparently both Mount Taranaki and Mount Tongariro were in love with Mount Pihanga and the fierce fight between them started. Tongariro won and Taranaki escaped to the west coast where he was trapped by Pouakai Ranges in the place he stands now. It’s often covered in clouds, hiding the tears shed after his lost love. Therefore, be gentle and show compassion when walking on Taranaki’s slopes 🙂
Did you know that Mount Taranaki is an actor too? Due to its similarity to Mount Fuji in Japan, it played in the movie The Last Samurai. Reason? Much more space for filming crew than around actual location in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Day 1 – Dawson Falls and Kapuni Loop Track, North Egmont Visitor Centre
As I was approaching Egmont National Park driving along West Coast, the second-highest volcano of New Zealand’s North Island was hidden in thick clouds and I just trusted my map that it’s really there. The road was gaining altitude and after a while, I was in the clouds as well. It was still early afternoon so I took a detour to visit Dawson Falls and make a warm-up on a short Kapuni Loop Track (45-60 min round trip).
The path leads through the so-called ‘goblin forest’, which indeed looked like a separate fairy tale world, especially in misty weather conditions. I didn’t spot any actual goblins, but twisted trees that grow over the remains of the previous forest destroyed by the volcanic eruption made create the atmosphere of mystery.
Turn off from the main track takes you down to 18 m high Dawson Falls. Like many places in New Zealand, they were named after the first European explorer that reached them in 1885 – Thomas Dawson.
Moving to the other side of the mountain brought significant weather improvement. Strong winds chased the clouds away and once I parked my van next to North Egmont Visitor Centre, the first rays of the sun timidly broke through. Or was it Taranaki itself that stopped hiding his bad mood and decided to present its beauty? I used the remaining time of the afternoon to explore short walks around the place and admire the sunset with a perfectly blue sky. It filled me with confidence that tomorrow I will be lucky enough to go up the summit and enjoy spectacular cloud-free views over North Island.
Day 2 – Taranaki Summit Track, New Plymouth
I departed 8 am sharp and the track was rather empty. Though, it didn’t take longer than 1 hour when I stopped for the first time and saw lots of people down there following my steps. The weather was horrible last days and it seems that everyone was waiting for this perfect sunny window which happened on that day. The way up is definitely a challenging one. It has nothing to do with the zig-zag style that gains altitude in a moderate way. Instead, it’s a straightforward climb first along the wide gravel road and then up the steep slope of the mountain. Tahurangi Lodge was a perfect spot to boost my energy and get rid of the second breakfast. As I pushed forward to the summit, there was more and more snow lying around, the wind blew stronger in my face and the temperature dropped down.
Orange poles, the same as on many other tracks in New Zealand, guided me towards the destination. It was extremely helpful to support myself with hiking poles, especially on the snow around the crater and when going down the mountain. I recommend taking at least one with you to keep the balance. Otherwise, you have a high chance to slip and land on your ass. Not a big deal, but could be painful on some bigger stones 🙂
Finally, I put my feet in the crater. There are ice and snow all year round which makes tourists very happy when they play around and slide down on their shoes or ass down the path. But the crater is not the end. From there, it’s another final short climb up to the summit rock.
I got two things as a reward for reaching the summit. The first one was the chance to admire 360 degrees panorama across the south-west area of North Island. With good visibility, it was possible to see as far as volcanic summits in Tongariro National Park one side and the Tasman Sea on the other.
The second one was the ultimate satisfaction that I conquered the second highest volcano in New Zealand. Believe me, that was a great feeling. Moreover, Taranaki is one of these places that I’m already dying to visit again as soon as I’m back to the kiwi country.
The way down was significantly easier than the way up. It took me only 2.5-3h to reach the parking lot, comparing to 4-5h that I spent pushing to the summit. Why is it like that? I was basically sliding down on loose stones, very often simply running all the way down as it was the easiest way to keep the balance. I saw many hikers struggling and falling down. I landed on my ass twice, even though I had my hiking poles for support. It was a really fun experience though 🙂 In the afternoon, more and more clouds started to cover the mountain and when I was halfway down and turned around, I couldn’t see the summit anymore. Taranaki started crying after his lost love once again.
Climbing Mt Taranaki was certainly one of the most memorable hikes on North Island. Be patient and attempt it when the conditions are good. In the end, it’s not only about reaching the summit, but also about enjoying panoramic views. And if the conditions change or you don’t feel well, just listen to Bas and make it back home. The mountain will be always there. Have fun and stay safe!
Other tracks in the area
If the weather is not on your side or you just think that tackling Taranaki Summit Track is too much, don’t let it discourage you! There are several other options in Egmont National Park ranging from the very short and pleasant ones to more challenging multiple days hikes such as Around the Mountain Track. Check the website of the Department of Conservation and select the one that fits you best.