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.
Mount Taranaki, New Zealand
Mount Taranaki looms majestically over New Plymouth, on the west coast of New Zealand’s 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 stumble upon it by sheer coincidence, and you are inexplicably drawn to it. It called out to me, and I had to go. Taranaki is one of them.
Eyjafjallajökull is another one.
Auckland harbour and Hauraki Gulf.
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.
When I arrived, 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.
The walking track from Rangitoto to Motutapu, two interconnected volcanic islands in Auckland harbour.
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 was prohibited.
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…
The towering volcano-shaped Mount Ngauruhoe in Tongariro National Park.
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 wanted 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 hot water beach.
West Coast Wilderness
After Kawhia I decided to take the backroad to Marokopa and Awakino. I heard about these beautiful places on the west coast of the North Island during my trip, and I’m always interested to take the roads less travelled. 😉
It’s indeed spectacular. This whole coastal area is a geological wonderland!
The geological wonderland of Marokopa beach.
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 was 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.
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 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 that 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 backyard 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 practicalities 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.
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.
But then I got lost on my way up. I 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 dizzying 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.
As I walk through the valley of the shadow of clouds, I shall fear no heights… 😉
Force of nature
I 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.
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.
Natural high! and a Wilderness Coffee on the side. 😉
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
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.
Sunset on the winding road between Marokopa and Awakino.
How to get to Mount Taranaki
Mount Taranaki looms majestically over New Plymouth, on its own peninsula in the west of the North Island. It’s about 30 kilometres from New Plymouth to the DOC Visitor Centre at the North Egmond end of the road, where the walking track to the top begins. Take State Highway 3 from New Plymouth to Egmond Village and turn left onto Egmond Road towards Kaimiro. It’s worth staying in this area, where you can enjoy fantastic sunset and sunrise views of the mountain – if it’s visible. 😉
Mount Taranaki Summit Track
The track starts behind the North Egmond Visitor Centre, at an altitude of 946 metres. It winds up an astonishing 1572 metres on the 6,3 kilometre route to the top, at the lofty heights of 2518 metres. There are several other tracks and shorter circuits looping around the lower slopes.
Distance: 12,6 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.
Be careful not to take the wrong one – like I did… and lose valuable time on your way up.
This is one of the most popular stories across all Wilderness Coffee & Natural High pages.
I published it originally on my own Facebook page in June 2016 and on this blog in February 2017.
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 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 Track brochure for more information & practical details.
(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
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Last update: 22 May 2023
First published: 7 June 2016
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