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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

New Zealand: Taranaki

Mt Taranaki
The perfect cone of Mt Taranaki

I'd been looking forward to getting back to the North Island, because I had a plan: to explore the amazing volcanoes of Taranaki and Tongariro. I thought I'd start with the Around the Mountain Circuit (AMC) at Taranaki, with a trip up to the top of Mt Taranaki itself if possible, because there was an Acorn dealer nearby whom I'd arranged to meet for some post-walk work; so I didn't waste any time in driving straight from the Catchpool Valley to Egmont National Park on the western coast of the North Island.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Lava gorges on the side of Mt Taranaki
Lava gorges scar the sides of Mt Taranaki

Day 1 started well, as would most of my days on the trail, but it soon started clouding over and it wasn't long before the rain set in. I'd decided to follow the higher alpine route because of the better views (the other route was mainly through forest), and after climbing up the aptly named Puffer – a really steep track that I thought would never end – I clambered around the mountain to Dawson Falls and started heading downhill towards Lake Dive, and that's when the cloud kicked it. I could see it approaching from the west, in a big thick rolling mass, and before ten minutes was up I was surrounded by cloud, with a visibility of about 20 metres and a temperature drop from boiling down to seriously cold; the weather rolls in pretty quickly when you're this close to the west coast, and it's particularly noticeable when you're up in the mountains.

Mt Taranaki from Waiaua Gorge
Mt Taranaki from Waiaua Gorge, with Fanthams Peak visible on the right

To the Top!

The summit of Mt Taranaki from two-thirds of the way up
The summit of Mt Taranaki, as seen from two-thirds of the way up

Sunday morning was very cloudy, but Jacek and I got up at 6am to try to get to the base of the summit track nice and early. Luckily the cloud was mainly round the northern side of the mountain, and as we came round to the northeastern side (where the AMC begins) the sky cleared slightly, showing a huge billowing mass of cloud pouring off the mountain towards the north; as with the Southern Alps, winds come in from the west and get forced upwards by the mountain where they condense into rain clouds, but slowly the cloud cleared from the peak until it was all blue skies, so I decided I just had to go up. Jacek's knee had been playing up and he sensibly decided to give it a miss, so we said our goodbyes and I started the long haul up to the 2518m (8261 ft) peak, complete with a full pack and my trusty old boots.

Clouds at the top of Taranaki
The top of Mt Taranaki is buffeted by freezing winds, creating some very odd but very beautiful cloud patterns
Strange lava shapes on Mt Taranaki
Strange lava shapes like these 'organ pipes' crop up throughout Taranaki