Ode to the mountains – The magic of Mount Taranaki

Ode to the mountains – The magic of Mount Taranaki

As long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by mountains. Especially those of the fire-spewing kind. 😉 Perhaps it’s because of the total absence of them in my home country The Netherlands. Or perhaps it’s something more…

The awe-inspiring beauty and majesty of them. The mysterious lure of hidden valleys and adventurous trails beyond. Or the sheer natural high that ensues when you immerse yourself into their surroundings. That is what Wilderness Coffee & Natural High is all about.

This is an ode to the mountains, triggered by Mount Taranaki in New Zealand.

Where is Mount Taranaki?

Mount Taranaki looms majestically over New Plymouth, on its own peninsula in the west of the North Island. It doesn’t show itself easily; often hiding in the clouds and obscured from view. There are many beautiful mountains in the world, all majestic in their own way. But with some I have a special connection.

Have you ever felt that with a certain place? You aren’t looking for it, yet it presents itself. You stumble upon it by sheer coincidence, and you are inexplicably drawn to it. It calls out to you, and you have to go. For me, Mount Taranaki is one of those.

@ Another one is Eyjafjallajökull.

Mount Taranaki summit track, New Zealand.
The irresistible call of Mount Taranaki…

Returning to New Zealand

New Zealand is one of those places I will never get tired of bumbling around. I have cried when I left there, and it truly hit me when I cried tears of joy, just at the thought of going back there again. After more than a decade, when I boarded a plane going to Auckland.

This time I had only 14 days to visit a small portion of the North Island. And I was running out of time wherever I went. There were just so many places I wanted to explore or revisit. I had to do the Rangitoto-Motutapu track, and camp overnight on the island.

Rangitoto-Motutapu island track, North Island, New Zealand.
The walking track from Rangitoto to Motutapu, two interconnected volcanic islands in Auckland harbour.

Auckland harbour, New Zealand.
Auckland harbour and Hauraki Gulf.

Geological wonderland

The Tongariro track was another one I wanted to do. I would have loved to climb Mount Tarawera as well, and happily bumble around in its formidable fissure. But it turned out that Tarawera is closed to the public.

There are so many things in the Taupo-Roturua volcanic field alone to keep you occupied and blown away for weeks on end. And then I haven’t even mentioned the steaming White Island, let alone some truly awesome places on the South Island of New Zealand…

Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, North Island, New Zealand.
The towering volcano-shaped Mount Ngauruhoe in Tongariro National Park.

Geothermal river, Taupo volcanic field, North Island, New Zealand.
Steaming geothermal pool and river between Taupo and Rotorua.

Hot water beaches

I definitely wanted to return to Kawhia, one of those magical places I discovered when I had a working holiday visum for New Zealand, and the luxury of exploring the country at length.

Kawhia is a little off the beaten track. A hidden seaside gem at the end of the road, tucked away in a huge bay of many coves, and visited mostly by local people. I accidently ended up there, immediately loved it and decided to stay there for a couple of nights. I met some locals and had a wonderful time.

Kawhia has a hot spot underneath its beach, which is accessible only at certain times during low tide. Then you can actually dig a hole in the sand and it will fill itself up with hot water. And thus create your own temporary natural hot tub on a beach in the wilderness. It’s pure bliss!

Kawhia beach, North Island, New Zealand.
Kawhia hot water beach.

West Coast Wilderness

After Kawhia I decided to take the back road to Marokopa and Awakino. As I was bumbling along the North Island, I heard about these beautiful places on the west coast. And I’m always interested to take the roads less travelled. 😉

The west coast of the North Island is indeed spectacular. This whole coastal area is a geological wonderland!

Geological formations at Marokopa beach, North Island, New Zealand.
The geological wonderland of Marokopa beach.

Marokopa beach, North Island, New Zealand.

Change of direction

From there on, I intended to make my way to Tongariro National Park. Until I was distracted again… There had been a solid spell of warm & clear weather going on, and just when I was about to set forth from Awakino towards the east, it suddenly came into view. The mountain that is hardly ever visible.

The elusive Mount Taranaki, shrouded by its own mysterious low-hanging clouds for most days of the year. I had been there before, and saw nothing but fog.

The magic of Mount Taranaki

But now it stood there, clearly visible, beckoning in all its glory. It took my breath away, and I couldn’t resist. It was calling me and I had to go. I literally skidded to a halt when I saw it, and changed my already drifting itinerary on the spot. So I continued on south towards Taranaki instead, determined to climb it the next day.

Mount Taranaki rising up in the distance, North Island, New Zealand.
Distracting view of Mount Taranaki, majestically rising up in the distance.

Not to be underestimated

Mount Taranaki isn’t for the faint hearted. People have died going up there. The altitude gain is nearly 1600 metres from the start of the track to the summit, at a lofty 2518 metres. It takes about 8 to 10 hours to go there & back again, along a very steep stratovolcanic path. Weather conditions are fickle and can change at any time without warning.

But if things are starting to look grim, and if there’s any doubt whatsoever, you need to have some straightforward survival instinct. And most importantly, the common sense to turn back. You don’t want to risk your life just for the sake of some ill-defined compulsive need to conquer the top.

Steep stratovolcanic paths, Mount Taranaki, New Zealand.
Steep stratovolcanic paths on the upper slopes of Mount Taranaki.

When she comes to greet me

As I didn’t have any proper gadgets, I really missed listening to music sometimes. The local radio stations were mostly out of reach while I was driving on backcountry roads. Of all the songs I missed, the one I most eagerly longed to hear at the time was ‘Hard sun’ by Eddie Vedder. It had been in my head for days.

I looked for a place to stay, and ended up camping in the back garden of a restaurant at the foot of Mount Taranaki. It was owned by a Dutch couple who emigrated to New Zealand a few years before. That evening I treated myself to the luxury of a nice cold glass of New Zealand chardonnay and talked to the restaurant owner about the practical things of climbing Mount Taranaki.

And suddenly the entire soundtrack of ‘Into the wild’ came on playing in the background. Including ‘Hard sun’, while we were looking out over Mount Taranaki looming on the horizon, silently casting its irresistible spell.

Sunrise on Mount Taranaki, New Zealand.
The magic of Mount Taranaki. Sunrise on the completely cloudless volcano.

Climbing Mount Taranaki

The next morning I got up at ridiculous o’ clock, and saw one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen, on a majestic and completely cloudless Mount Taranaki, straight from the front of my tent. Things were looking good for a trek to the top of the mountain.

Happily and full of optimism I set off from the North Egmont Visitor Centre, where the hiking route begins. But then I got lost on my way up, and wasted about 1,5 hours of valuable time to get back on the right track. I cried tears of frustration – because I might not have enough time left to reach the top and be back down before sunset. But in the end it didn’t matter.

Mesmerizing circling clouds

At some point I turned around and looked down a dizzifying slope, and saw clouds forming and dancing in circles around the top. Tongariro and Ruapehu were shimmering in the distance. I just stood there gazing at them, as they gracefully made their rounds.

It was an utterly mesmerizing moment.

Clouds circling around Mount Taranaki, New Zealand.
As I walk through the valley of the shadow of clouds, I shall fear no heights… 😉

Force of nature

I continued on and made it a fair way up the notorious scree slope, but there I reached the point of no return. Heavier and darker clouds were gathering at the top, and an icy wind started to pick up. It was getting too late to go further up and back down again, and reach the end of the track safely before darkness. Even though I was only 200 or 300 metres or so below the summit, I decided to turn around.

It didn’t matter.

Something must have happened on Mount Taranaki that made a deep impression. It was like a force of nature that can’t be explained.

Mount Taranaki, North Island, New Zealand.
The point of no return. But a natural high nevertheless!

Powerful connection

According to Maori legends, the mana – the spiritual power – is especially strong at Mount Taranaki. I’m pretty sure I felt there & then what they were on about.

Every time I hear ‘Hard sun’, images of Mount Taranaki appear in my mind. The thought of this beautiful hike alone instantly sparks the natural high I felt, and still triggers tears of joy. It touches me more than I am able to explain in words. The connection is that strong.

When she comes to greet me
She is mercy at my feet

The top of Mount Taranaki, New Zealand.

When I go across that river – She is comfort by my side
When I try to understand – She just opens up her hands

Sparkling joy of life itself

I wholeheartedly disagree with the defining statement in the movie ‘Into the wild’. The famous quote that ‘happiness is only real when shared’. I have felt insanely happy at moments like this, even though I was completely by myself. That doesn’t make sharing happiness with others any less valuable or important. But there was nothing unreal about the intense feeling of euphoria flowing through me on Mount Taranaki.

It’s being able to find the sparkling joy of life and appreciate the happiness within yourself that makes it real.

Tongariro and Ruapehu shimmering in the distance, New Zealand.
Tongariro and Ruapehu shimmering in the distance.

How to get to Mount Taranaki

The coastal city of New Plymouth sits at the base of the Taranaki peninsula. From New Plymouth it’s about 30 kilometres to the DOC Visitor Centre at the North Egmond end of the road, where the Mount Taranaki hiking route begins. Take State Highway 3 from New Plymouth to Egmond Village and turn right onto Egmond Road towards Kaimiro.

It’s worth staying in this area, where you can enjoy fantastic sunset and sunrise views of Mount Taranaki – if it’s visible. 😉

Mount Taranaki upper slopes, New Zealand.
The rocky upper slopes of Mount Taranaki.

Mount Taranaki Summit Track

The summit track starts behind the North Egmond Visitor Centre, at an altitude of 946 metres. It winds up an astonishing 1572 metres on the 6,5 kilometre route to the top, at the lofty heights of 2518 metres. From the Visitor Centre there are several other tracks and shorter circuits looping around the lower slopes.

Be careful not to take the wrong one – like I did… and lose valuable time on your way up.

Hike summary

Distance: 13 kilometres return.
Time: About 8 to 10 hours.
Start & finish point: North Egmont Visitor Centre at 946 metres.
Summit: 2518 metres above sea level.
Difficulty: Very challenging. Extremely steep sections and unpredictable weather.

Mount Taranaki hiking track, New Zealand.

@ This is one of the most popular stories across all Wilderness Coffee & Natural High pages, and one of the top-5 reader’s favourites of 2024 (up to now).

What is the best time to climb Mount Taranaki?

The best time for the Taranaki Summit Track is between mid-January and mid-April, during the New Zealand summer. There will be less snow on the higher slopes and probably a greater chance of stable weather windows of opportunity. In February and March it’s also less busy than the popular summer holiday period between Christmas and the end of January.

Daylight and hiking time

Keep in mind that you need at least 8 to 10 hours to go up and down again from the North Egmont Visitor Centre. Sunset is between 20:00 and 20:50 hrs during summer – so you will need to start early in the morning. Between May and November it’s only possible to climb Mount Taranaki with full-on mountaineering equipment and skills.

See the DOC Mount Taranaki Summit Climb brochure for more information & practical details.

@ Did you make it all the way to the top of Mount Taranaki? Let me know in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you! Your questions, comments and suggestions can also be helpful for other readers. Thank you for sharing.

Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High

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Sunset road, North Island, New Zealand.
Sunset on the winding road between Marokopa and Awakino.

More to explore & discover

Tongariro – The track across Middle Earth

Thórsmörk – Rjúpnafell and the hidden valley

Haleakala – The House of the Rising Sun

The walking track to Blátindur – The dazzling heights of Dalfjall

Vierdaagse of Nijmegen – Four days of long-distance trials & tribulations

© All photos and content on this website are my own, and subject to copyright (unless credited otherwise). Please contact me if you want to use a photo or quote a text from one of my articles. You’re welcome to share a link to my blog articles and photos on social media, with a tag and mention to Wilderness Coffee & Natural High.

Last update: 28 January 2024
First published: 7 June 2016

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