These are photos of our July 2020 New Plymouth journey. This is my first travel to Taranaki. My image of this city is farmland, dairy cows and Mt Taranaki. I managed to see this image after descending from our Puoakai Crossing hike in glorious sunset light.
In mid-July , my family and I did the Pouakai Crossing in Egmont National Park in New Plymouth. It was an epic 9 hours walk through refreshing temperate forest, alpine swamps, volcanic formations, alpine tarns and ‘Goblin Forest’. All in the shadow of the mighty Mt Taranaki. These are my photos of that one day hike.
Off the coast near Taranaki Port, lies is a collection of islands – remnants of an ancient volcanic crater. In the past, these islands were used for mining, fishing and hunting. These eroded, now, uninhabited sea stacks and five islands (Mataora, Motuotamatea, Pararaki, Motumahanga and Moturoa) form the Sugar Loaf Islands (Ngā Motu). The rest of the coastline is exposed to the wild sea. Below the water – reefs, cliffs and canyons attract a variety of marine creatures. On the protected islands, is the domain of birds and mammals. The “sugar” is the bird guano that used to be collected from these islands.
There is a wonderful view point just past Paritutu Rock on the coastal road towards Oakura. A wooden step can be used to descend onto the beach (Back Beach). Just be aware of the tide. Today’s wet, windy and cloudy weather was challenging.
After I abandoned my walk along the Coastal Walkway, I drove to the port and to Paritutu Rock. The sky was dark and the rain continued. I abandoned the idea of climbing. The port was busy with incoming truck mostly loaded with pine logs. We continued out drive southbound to a lookout, at Paritutu Centennial Park, of the Sugar Loaf Islands. I noticed some people walking on the black sand beach below. The waves were still pounding onto its shores but the tide was receding. I continued to drive further south and eventually found a car park, close to a beach. This is Back Beach.
I was quite excited to walk on this beach. The roar of the waves was furious but a narrow patch of beach was exposed. The sand was still soaked in sea water. The wet and cold wind made walking uncomfortable. We weaved past rocky outcrops and avoided our feet from getting wet. Although, dark a gloomy, the sight of the Sugar Loaf Islands was inspiring. I could almost walk across. Paritutu Rock , like a sentinel overlook these scattered rock islands. With the poor weather, I decided to return later. Hopefully, the weather would improve.
I returned later around 1530. The beach was flat, wide and the sea calmer. several local people walked their dogs here. It stretched for a 2 – 3 kilometres. I loved the open space knowing that this space is only temporary before the tide come in. A great spot for jogging, I thought. There was a beauty about today’s dark landscape. With the ebb and flow of the tides, the sand shifted constantly. Wonderful glossy sheen sculptured patterns were created and never repeated. Occasionally, when the sun managed to shine through, the trapped sea water reflected like a glass. In the distant, over the water, a funnel of rain poured. All the islands were just silhouettes on the horizon. More sea stacks were exposed. Suddenly, the sun broke through. It lit up Paritutu Rock. The outlook was transformed. The colours of the volcanic black sand beach and Sugar Loaf Islands changed with the shifting storm clouds. I stayed for the impending sunset under a bleak weather. It fizzled out. I left as the tide was beginning to come in at 1700.
This was my first visit to New Plymouth. The major draw card was near perfect conical and symmetrical – Mt Taranaki (similar to Mt Fuji). My mental picture of Taranaki region is dairy cows on a pasture with snowy peak of Mt Taranaki looming in the background. I had flown over Mt Taranaki several times and was mystified as the base is dark green disk shaped. As though someone had drawn a circle to demarcate Taranaki’s boundaries. Beyond that boundary of forest tress lies the lighter green pastures of dairy farms.
When we arrived at Stratford, it rained and visibility was poor. This continued all the way to New Plymouth. I could sense the base of the mountain though. On a clear day, at 2518 meters, Mt Taranaki is visible from almost anywhere in the region. In Māori, ‘tara’ means mountain peak, and ‘naki’ is thought to come from ngaki, meaning shining, in reference to the snowy/icy upper slopes. A dormant free standing volcanic mountain with lush temperate rain forest of Kamahi and Totara at its lower base. With frequent rainfall, the forest tress are covered with liverwort, lichens and moss. Sometimes referred as ‘Goblin Forest’. Gradually transformed into alpine vegetation on its upper slopes. Beyond that, it is the bare.
Taranaki is not always seen as I had experienced. One day out of five! The reason is perhaps in legends – Taranaki rested here after fleeing from the central plateau. When the clouds covers the mountain, Taranaki is hiding his tears. Broken-hearted after losing – Pihanga, his lover.
I want to climb its slopes to the peak but certainly not in winter. Taranaki can be climbed by anyone. Hence lies the problem. Not everyone can summit this iconic mountain. I climbed Kilimanjaro 8 years ago and know its dangers. Poor physical, mental and attire – all contribute to bad decisions. For now, having hiked the wonderful Pouakai Crossing, on a clear sunny day, with my family, was comforting. I did manage to get ‘that iconic image of Taranaki’ that was in my mind, after I completed the Pouakai Crossing. There are several tracks in Egmont National Park.
For more information, please see DoC – North Egmont Walks , DoC – East Egmont Walks and DoC – Mt Taranaki Summit Track
(4) White Cliffs
On our return from Tongaporatu to New Plymouth, we detoured towards a small village of Waiiti (reached from the main road via Pukearuhe Road). At the end of this road is the Pukearuhe boat ramp. This is the beginning of the White Cliffs Walkway. It was late evening, around 1700, when we arrived here. Beyond this ramp are private farmlands. The White Cliffs Walkway continued through the farmlands and beach walk , around 6.5km (return). Be aware of the tide as there is no exit along the beach. Today, it was closed due to lambing season.
Fortunately, the tide was still out and the sun just above the horizon. From the black sand beach, the soft white, brown and creamy cliffs towered above. Towards the north, a small water fall cascaded from above the cliff where the hardy vegetation steadfastly held on. Moss colonised the wet surface walls below. The constant pounding of Tasman Sea eroded the soft walls. In places, it looked like someone had cut the cliff wall with a knife. It is all temporary and a matter of time before the landscape is changed forever.
We stood at the river mouth amongst wet shifting sand and rounded rocks. The white wall extended south. The cloudy sky created some dramatic coastal views at sunset. Within 30 minutes, dusk engulfed this wild coastline against a surreal but captivating horizon. The surrounding landscape became gloomy and dark.
We arrived at Tongaporatu at 1400. I love planning and organising my travel. However, on this occasion, I callously failed to obtain one critical information – the tide timetable. We went past neat arranged wooden baches along the Tongaporatu River. Walked down into the shallow river over rounded rocks and black sand with puddles of silt. I could hear the ocean nearby. At the river mouth, water flowed out fast and was impossible to get across. The glittering and velvety black sand was inviting. Fortunately, the tide was just going out. As a guide, two hours before and two hours after the low tide is the safest option to walk in this beach. Beware, if the weather is stormy, take caution as the waves can reach the cliffs. There is nowhere to go.
Soft limestone coastal cliffs, layered with hues of brown, beige, orange and cream, held their ground but losing everyday from the continuous lashing of waves of the Tasman Sea. Cliff walls have been stripped and battered to create dramatic sculptures with each ebb and flow of the tides. The sea was calm but the sky was dark and rain was imminent. Towards the south, the cliffs with prominent sculptured caves, archways, stacks and islets that resembled pinnacles, separated from the parent cliffs. Far beyond that, Mt Taranaki, apart from its wide base, remained obscured. The receding sea glowed and reflected the cliffs and cloudy sky. It was an incredible. It was addictive. It was captivating. It was picturesque. I was lost – what to see and where to go.
Over time, with natures creations – the locals began naming these eroded stacks – famously the Elephant Rock and Three Sisters. Due to the constant natural erosion, the elephant’s trunk and one of the sisters had disappeared into the sea. However, this phenomenon had also created newer forms of arches, caves and perhaps another pinnacle. The views constantly changed as I walked around. I even saw four pinnacles at one point! Therefore, the allure of this dynamic and spectacular coastline will never cease.
Further north along the coastal road is a small village of Mokau. At the right time, whitebait fritters are dished out in the two cafes’ here.
(6) Coastal Walkway
At 0730, it promised to be a dry day in contrast to the weatherman. One of the delightful things to do in New Plymouth is walking along the 13km paved Coastal Walkway, from Port Taranaki to Bell Block Beach. It was close to my accommodation. The rising sun was obscured by dense black clouds casting a dark shadow on Fitz Roy Beach in the east. Tasman Sea pounded onto its black sand beach. In the west, I had clear views of the port, Paritutu Rock and two Sugar Loaf Islands.
The sun reflected strongly from a nearby glass clad building. Unexpectedly, a rainbow developed above the water as the visibility of the islands gradually deteriorated. Extraordinarily, another rainbow developed. It was stunning. The situation was very fluid. Pleasantly, a 180° rainbow evolved. The islands had disappeared. Then , the inevitable happened. The havens opened up and it rained. The weatherman got it right. I had only walked 0.5 km. It was 0800.
One evening, on the south, sunset views of Paritutu Rock and Sugar Loaf islands is rewarding.
(7) Pukekura Park
This 52 ha. delightful and premier botanical garden, established in 1876, is in the middle of New Plymouth. It rained this morning and the gloomy cloudy day continued. It was quite refreshing walking amongst lush vegetation accompanied with birdsong. Many sections with themes and features like fernery, Japanese inspired gardens, tea house, bridges and lakes is inspiring. it is a great place to wander at leisure. A place of learning as well as relaxing. A people’s park indeed.
(8) Fitz Roy and Bell Block beaches
At low tide, walking along this black sand beaches is uplifting. As the sea water breaks just meters away, the sound is soothing. Drift wood, rounded rocks of different shapes and sizes, and people are fascinating to look at.
(9) Paritutu Rock
Paritutu Rock, overlooking the busy Taranaki port on the mainland, act a sentinel over the Sugar loaf islands. I arrived here in rain and the track uphill was soaked. I decided not to climb it today. The climb is uphill and steep. Can be tricky in wet and windy weather. howvever, it promised a fantastic vies of the sea, land and Mt Taranaki. If the weather gods are kind.
(10) New Plymouth City
Located on the west coast of north island, it is a compact city. Surrounded by farmlands and the omnipresent Mt Taranaki. It is not a “tourist” town. I asked the locals where the people are? There are hardly any traffic, both people and vehicles. The residents seem to like its underdog status compared to the Tongariro Crossing (National Park) and Queenstown. There are no high rises along the coast. Yet, the coastline is a magnet for walkers, surfers and “to get away”. Personally, this town is overlooked by many as “it out of the way of the tourist trail”. The are street art, wonder and quaint cafes and eateries. A great place to retire too, I thought. Then, there is the interesting Len Lye building, amongst others. In mid-March, this sleepy town becomes alive with WOMAD (music) festival. If you are planning to to come here, why not take The Forgotten World Highway.
Taranaki region is gaining popularity through publicity by a major travel guide. The key question, however – is New Plymouth ready to cope with influx of visitors? Are they ready or want to change the look and feel of the city? For now, I like it the way it is right now.
It was mid-July, just after a month long Covid 19 lock down. We arrived late in New Plymouth after taking the long The Forgotten World Highway from Tamaranui to Stratford in wet and cloudy weather. However, today promised to be a fine day. We decided to do the 17km Pouakai Crossing – Mt. Taranaki’s (Mt Egmont) epic 9 hours day walk that circumnavigated the north eastern and western face. Please see my Pouakai Crossing photos
This is a great alternative to the often crowded Tongariro Crossing. Like the central plateau mountains, Mt Taranaki created its own weather – temperatures can drop and rise with adverse wind and rain conditions at any time. Preparedness in any weather is critical. No booking is required, except when huts are required. Please refer to DoC – Pouakai-Crossing
We drove to the Mangorei Road end car park. The dawn sky turned red with streaks of clouds. This is a one-way track. We organised a shuttle with Taranaki Mountain Shuttle. We were picked up promptly at 0730 by Rob and transferred to North Egmont Visitor Centre. This one-way option allowed us to complete the hike at our own pace (the return). Transport is available for both ends (start and finish). Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe mountains, with a blueish hue, in Tongariro National Park were visible from here.
The first part of the track is to Holly Hut. The hike began from the North Egmont Visitor Centre and goes uphill through cool montane forest – mixed forest with trees covered in epiphytes, moss and lichens. A thick layer of clouds obscured any mountain view. This steep hike continued for about an hour before emerging onto a razorback ridge with sub-alpine bush and scrub landscape. As the lower clouds burnt off with the rising sun, some snow covered mountain views emerged. The track continued uphill with sweeping views of the Taranaki plains, lime green scrub forest, Tasman Sea and the distant central plateau icy Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe mountains. The morning sun lit up the landscape, warmed our bodies and further revealed more of the mountain. On the left slope was a transmission antenna.
The track skirted along the eastern face towards formidable but magnificent lava columns of the Diffenbach Cliffs. Parts of the lower slopes were covered with snow. Short parts of the track was flooded. We passed the towering cliffs which looked imposing but at the same time striking. We continued and negotiated some climbing over rocks at the Boomerang Slips. A series of wooden steps eased the crossing. The next major obstacle was past the Boomerang Slip. Due to recent poor weather, a major landslide had occurred. This prevented the track to continue along this path to Holly Hut. Fortunately, repairs had been carried out and now passable. It was basically a 30cm line across a steep loose rock face slope. Slowly but surely we crossed with fears of any mishaps. There is no time to stop and wonder. There was a bit of relief once we passed this point. Small streams of water fell over the rocks. We reached the Kokowai and Ahukawakawa Track junction at 1100. Finally, the whole symmetrical mountain was visible, including the snow peaked summit (2518 meters). A (near) perfect conical mountain similar to Mt Fuji. Today, there were about six hikers on the track. With sunshine and cool air, it was a perfect day for this hike. The mountain god was kind with us today!
From hereon, we took the Ahukawakawa Track which descended with views of the Pouakai Range and Ahukawakawa swamps in the valley below. The expansive views of the sea, and north eastern and north western plains were stunning. As we descended, the mixed forest returned and the vegetation became taller. After an hour of winding down steps and track, we arrived at Holly Hut after crossing the slow flowing Minarapa Stream. Having climbed several mountain tracks, in torrential rain, streams can rise meters within a short period and become violent. This stream is no exception. We stopped at the empty hut for a well earned rest and lunch. The sun shined brightly and the dormant Taranaki conical peak was clear. From the hut, there is a track towards Bell Falls. We skipped this one hour return track to save time, energy and daylight (short days in winter) for the crossing.
With the body refuelled, we retraced out steps over the stream and continued on the Ahukawakawa Track. Within 20 minutes of walking on water saturated wooden planks, we entered the swamps covered with red tussock grasses, sphagnum moss, flax and aquatic plants. This unique micro-climate is home to some endemic plants and animals. The god mountain Taranaki was fully exposed. It was magnificent. A raised wooden viewing platform was the ideal place to stop and take in the stunning views – Taranaki, the 3500 years old alpine wetland – the Ahukawakawa swamps and the Pouakai Range. All in one gentle sweep. A long boardwalk, underwater in places, brought us to a bridge over the clear Stony River. The 30 minutes wetland walk continued towards Pouakai Range. It was scramble to climb up as the path is wet and muddy in places. However, the ascend presented fantastic views of this ancient landscape. It is so quiet.
The track climbed steeply through moss covered mountain ceder (kaikawakawa) and mixed forest, we reached the Pouakai Track junction. Turning right towards Pouakai Hut, the gentle climb reached a 1400 meter high plateau strewn with rocks. The track is over wooden boardwalk. Within 20 minutes, we reached another junction – one leading downhill towards Pouakai Hut and Mangorei track. The other continue downhill on the Pouakai track towards North Egmont Visitor Center. An iconic tarn is also located along this track , within 20 minutes. Continuing on boardwalks in this pleasant landscape led us towards a tarn (alpine lake). Iconic because, it presented a chance to capture a reflection of Taranaki! However, your faith must be even stronger for the pool to be still with no breeze and off course, Taranaki to be exposed. This is a fragile environment and only walk on the boardwalks. It was crowded when we arrived here. We had taken 6 hours to get here. However, this tarn can be accessed via the Mangorei Track ( our trail end), perhaps within 2 hours. Some people looked like they have just arrived here after a shopping spree in the city. Poor attire and footwear can be disastrous should the weather turn for the worse. Furthermore, not many understand the fragile and scared nature of the environment (walking onto the ground and water). One Kiwi couple told me that they are waiting for sunset to capture ‘that Instagram photo’.
We could not linger anymore. We retraced out walk back towards Pouakai Hut. Once we began descending on the eastern slope, Taranaki was no more. The expansive sight of the plains, Mt. Ruapehu and Tasman Sea was still clear. Initially we descended the dark, humid and twisted Kamahi trees covered with moss and lichens. There were hardly any birdsong. The sun could hardly penetrate through the dense canopy. This has been labelled the Goblin Forest. The track is now only boardwalks. Ground and tree ferns appeared together with a broad leafs, including beech forest, as we descended on the Mangorei Track. Continuous walk on the hard material was tough of the feet. After two hours, we emerged out of the forest and reached the trail end.
The wonderful but demanding Pouakai Crossing had taken 9 hours of hiking through temperate and beech forest, sub-alpine bush, ancient swamps, Goblin Forest, rugged and wild landscape, expansive views and past volcanic formations. All, in the shadow of the mighty Taranaki.
Legends say that – Taranaki once lived in the central plateau with male mountains – Tongariro, Ruapheu and Nagurhoe. A scuffle broke out between Tongariro and Taranaki when the latter began flirting with a female mountain, Pihanga. Taranaki carved the land as he fled with tears – now the Whanganui River and rested in New Plymouth (Ngāmotu). He continued to cry, hence the frequent incidence of rainfall. He hid his tears, hence the mountain is often obscured in clouds.
Today, Taranaki gifted us with a rare ‘good’ day. We stayed in New Plymouth for five days, we only saw it for one day.
One of New Zealand’s most scenic drives – the 155km long Forgotten World Highway (state highway 43), from Taumarunui to Stratford. It has also been labelled as one of the most dangerous roads.The road took 50 years to complete and was opened in 1945.
This scenic route winds over mountain saddles, spectacular gorges with lush native vegetation and refreshing rivers; a rock-cut tunnel; undulating hills and mountains with mainly sheep farming and historic settlements. The road was used by pioneer farmers and traders. Unexpectedly, intermittent distant views of the the snowy peaks of Taranaki, Ruapehu, Ngāuruhoe and Tongariro float above the green landscape. To accompany this lonely road is a rail track, now unused, that weaved alongside and through the mountains.
We decided to take this route for our family road-trip from Auckland to New Plymouth. Taumaranui is a compact town with the main road separating the town and the railway tracks. We stocked up on food and importantly, as warned by several signage, to fill up the fuel tank. Heed the warning as there are no fuel stations for the next 150 km. This certainly indicated the highway’s remoteness.
Maori myth and legend on the Whanganui River –
Four brothers – Tongariro, Ruapehu, Taranaki and Ngauruhoe adored a lovely maiden – Pihanga. Eventually she choose Tongariro. However, Taranaki had an affair with her. A fierce battle ensued. In defeat, Taranaki fled to the west, gouging a deep scar. A clear stream from Tongariro flowed and filled the scar to heal – becoming the Whanganui River.
We departed at midday with a dark overcast. A highway information road sign indicated that the road to Stratford is open. It began alongside the fast flowing Wanganui River. The road twisted and turned along sheep farms and the river. A few farmers tended to their stock with dogs to assist. It was too early in the season for lavenders as we passed Lauren’s lavender field. At 1330, we arrived at Tangarakau Gorge. The next 16km is a windy and unsealed road. However, there is no difficulty with safe driving. This part of the drive is especially scenic – high cliff walls with dripping water, lush green tree ferns and evergreen broad leafs (podocarp forest) and a winding road. Just past the refreshing Tangarakau River bridge is the rest stop. Not only for the travellers but also for Joshua Morgan – a pioneering surveyor in this road’s construction whom died here. His grave is resting amongst the bush, a short walk from the bridge.
We detoured off the Highway into Moki Road towards one of new Zealand’s highest waterfalls – the Mount Damper Falls. The road wound through farmlands until we reached the end. The road continued further towards new Plymouth. The initial walk is over private farmlands and eventually through bush. The final walk is a series of wooden steps and two viewing platforms. The views were stunning. At 74m, it is quite spectacular against a barren gray wall. We retraced our 15km drive back towards the Forgotten Highway. Along this route, a farmer had rounded up his sheep and cramped together in the yard ready to enter the shed.
The road continued its ebb (on the crest of the mountains) and flow (in the valleys) with the undulating hills. The highway intersects with the Whanganui National Park. The old railway track appeared on the landscape. It too, like the road, wound itself around the contours of the mountains and sometimes through them. Sheep grazed on steep conical hills. The landscape sometimes seem unearthly. We passed through a 180-metre-long, single lane Moki tunnel. Also known as ‘Hobbit’s Hole’. It was cut by hand. On Tahora Saddle, there were fantastic views across the farmlands, hills and valleys including the glistening but partially obscured central plateau snow covered mountains – Mt Ruapehu and Mt. Tongariro. I loved the trees with some colourful autumn leaves still attached to the tress that lined the winding road.
We entered the self-declared Republic of Whangamomona, one of the North Island’s remotest townships. First settled in 1895, it still retained and looked like a frontier town. The centre of this historic town is the iconic Whangamomona Hotel. A must stop place to refuel the body. A wonderful place to stay as well. We stopped for scones and coffee. An adventure company, for a unique experience, operated from here to take tourists with modified golf carts on the old railway tracks to Stratford.
Light was fading fast. It rained intermittently too. We continued our wonderful drive over Whangamomona and Pohokura Saddles and passed through several small isolated collection of homesteads. The were very few vehicles on the road today. perhaps everyday. Winter may not be the best time to travel in these parts too. Several places offered camping sites and accommodations along the road. At Stratmore, there is a detour to see the Bridge to Somewhere. We did not. Our final uphill climb to overcome is the Strathmore Saddle. On a good day, unlike today, fantastic views of the snowy peaks of Ruapehu and the neighbouring mountains is visible from here.
It was already twilight when we arrived at Stratford, named after Shakespeare’s birthplace, is a scenic town. With wet weather and light drizzle, there were no views of Mt Taranaki today. In the centre of the main street, a unique looking New Zealand’s only glockenspiel clock tower which performs scenes from Romeo and Juliet at certain times daily. Another iconic building is King’s Theatre. It has a unique cinematic history – the first theatre in the Southern Hemisphere to play talking movies with sound. Furthermore, Stratford is ideally located as the gateway into the Egmont National Park. From here we headed to New Plymouth. We had taken about 5 hours to travel on the rugged, scenic and very nostalgic highway. This wonderful drive is a passage through a bygone era. A living museum piece indeed.
Several activities can be organised by operators including canoeing on the Whanganui River, Cycling, Hiking and Rail Cart adventures.