Mount Taranaki is one of the most stunning mountains of New Zealand, with its elegant narrow cone pointing straight to the sky. In fact, it looks so much like Japan’s Mount Fuji that scenes of The Last Samourai were shot with Mount Taranaki in the background…
Located at the Eastern corner of the North Island, it’s only the last in line in a series of older volcanoes that extend to the North-West. The reason is that the Indo-Australian plate is slowly moving compared to the magma source. The oldest volcanic activity in the area dates back to 1.75 million years ago. The second to last, the Pouakai complex, was active between 500 000 and 240 000 years ago, before Mount Taranaki started 135 000 years ago. Nowadays, the latter reaches 2 518 meters above sea level, almost a perfect cone but for the low bump of Pouakai on its North-Western side.
My girlfriend Vivien and I arrived from Wellington, in the South-East. On the road, I longed to see the volcano’s silhouette on the horizon, but a mediocre weather kept it concealed for long. Then, as it was getting dark, it showed itself, surrounded by clouds. A few pictures later, night had set and we still had quite a lot to drive to arrive to Oakura, on the other side of the mountain. Driving at night under the rain is never fun, but I found it particularly unpleasant in New Zealand, unable to see the white lines on the soaked asphalt, blinded by the lights of excited kiwi drivers coming from ahead and behind… but we made it.
In the morning, the sun shone… well, on one side of the mountain! At the Dawson Falls visitor center, the slopes of the mountain were blanketed in thick fog. Thus, it’s without seeing Mount Taranaki that we took the track to the Wilkies Pools, a series of bowls cut in the rock by a stream. It wasn’t raining hard at all, but humidity saturated the atmosphere, plunging the “goblin forest” in a mysterious atmosphere.
We were alone among bearded trees and tall ferns, and it felt good. Then we exited the national park and thus the forest, and back on the Western side of Mount Taranaki, we were right on time for sunset.
On the second day, we visited Rotokare Scenic Reserve, an inland sanctuary surrounded by a predator-proof fence that offered shelter to numerous native birds. It was sunny again, definitely not a good setting for bird photography in the middle of the day, so I simply enjoyed the moment. I must say I didn’t have many expectations for this place, but it turned out to be brilliant, with numerous North island saddlebacks (Philesturnus rufusater) and North Island robins (Petroica longipes) as stars of the show. Highly recommended!
We enjoyed another brilliant sunset from the North Egmont visitor sunset, again on the slopes of the mighty mountain but this time with a much better view. Think of it, in the East we could see the Tongariro range!
That was the end of our short time in the region. The mountain is stunning, but much of its surrounding are desperately cultivated. When one sees the national park, which is centered on Mount Taranaki, from above, one can wonder about the perfect circle formed by the forest… when I got there, I realized, without being too surprised, that the mountain was surrounded by farming deadlands, and that this perfect circle was but the boundary of another isolated island of wilderness in a sea of stinking cattle…
Further reading: The Silent World, a short intro to the state of nature in New Zealand
Want to know where I went? Check out the map!
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