Mt. Taranaki was on our list for the absolute must-do's and must-see's - of which we only had very few. Pictures of the iconic symmetrical cone had caught our interest early on, so we made it our first stop on the North Island. And of course we didn't just want to see it, but really experience it so we planned a two day hike on the Pouakai Circuit. Even though we probably would have been easily able to walk the crossing, maybe even the circuit, in a single day, we really wanted to stay in a hut again. Also the overnight stay would allow us to walk up to the Puakai Tarns early in the morning – hoping to catch one of these perfect pictures of the Taranaki mirrored in the lakes.
We spent the night before our hike in New Plymouth and then drove up to the North Egmont Visitor Center in the morning. It was nice packing our bags again like we had done so many times before - only this time we even left a few things out. At the visitor center we were advised that it was a busy time, but we should be fine finding a bed if we left this early. So we even left our tent in the car.
The beginning of the walk led through thick forest along a nice little trail. The longer we walked the more washed out the trail looked, and once we reached the beginning of the ascent towards Henry Peak, suddenly instead of a trampled path we came across wooden stairs and boardwalks.
We took a short break and had a cereal bar once we got to a little shelter, then continued up.
Once we started climbing, the wooden stairs didn't even end anymore. Obviously they had been put here to protect the sensitive environment from the many people hiking this trail. But it was the first time we had gotten across boardwalks like this on a regular walking track, and we weren't sure if we liked it. The very even spacings in between the wooden steps made our legs hurt faster compared to a normal climb up a mountain, as always the same areas of muscles get worked with each step. But some of it might also be attributed to the faster pace that we managed, since we didn't have to look out so much for our feet.
As walked up the stairs, the vegetation started to change from thick forest to low shrubs, like we had seen many times before. Then the wind picked up, and we fought our way up to the Peak, fighting our aching muscles and the wind that kept throwing us off balance.
On Henry Peak we found a wooden platform, that probably provided a sublime view in good weather conditions, but unfortunately we saw mostly clouds and fog racing by with with quite some speed. Every once in a while we were able to catch a glimpse of Mt.Egmont/Taranaki, but we never saw the whole mountain and it's symmetric shape.
After a short lunch break on Henry Peak we followed the boardswalk down the other side. Then I had my only real fall of our whole trail. Walking down the wooden steps, lost in thought, I probably missed one uneven piece of wood, and fell down the stairs. For one tiny moment I though I probably broke my arm, it felt completely numb. Fortunately the feeling came back a while later and I just probably hit a nerve. So afterwards I did pay more attention to the path, even though it seemed oh so easy to walk along.
It was still very windy and cloudy when we reached the Pouakai Tarns – and Mt. Taranaki was completely invisible. We were a little bit disappointed, but on the other hand it was just what we had expected. From the tarns it was just a little bit further to the hut, so we just walked on and set our minds to come back the next day.
We arrived at the hut shortly after noon. Which was way too early. So we had half a day to kill and since we didn't really bring anything to keep us busy we ended up sweeping the floors, wiping all surfaces and doing all the hut housekeeping that is often neglected in the bigger, busier huts because somehow none of the hikers seem to feel responsible.
Later in the day, two hut wardens showed up, as well as a few other hikers. The hut didn't get very busy though, and we all had more than enough space.
Once dawn came, it was still wet, windy and foggy outside and in the end we didn't get up to see the tarns during sunrise. After a quick breakfast we did continue on our way though, and realized that once we got over the ridge towards the tarns, we had walked out of the clouds and there was actually perfect view of Mt. Taranaki. So we did get our volcano-mirrored-in-mountain-tarn-picture after all.
We then continued on, first on towards the Pouakai Summit, and then turning onto the Ahukawakawa Track leading into the Ahukawakawa Swamp. The expectations we had had of the swamp weren't quite fulfilled. While it was a nice area and we finally had the honor of wet shoes again, it wasn't as exciting as we had imagined. The swamp sports a lot of vegetation that is very rare or can only be found in this particular swamp, but since we are no botanists, we couldn't quite figure out which were the special ones. We had hoped for the area to be more colorful, but the vegetation consistet mostly of weeds, grasses and the only real colorful thing we saw was some Harakeke (New Zealand Flax) with red petals.
The boardwalk through the swamp ultimately led us to Holly Hut, and from there on the trail started to be more a "traditional" track, and less wooden structures. Since there is still a slip detour in place, we couldn't followe the original Pouakai Circuit below Boomerang Slip and the Dieffenback Cliffs, but instead walked down the Kokowai Track to get back to the parking lot where our car stood.
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