Egmont National Park encompasses the huge volcano Taranaki and offers lush waterfalls, rainforests and mossy swamps.
Mount Taranaki is New Zealand's most perfectly formed volcano. It is around 120,000 years old and last erupted in 1775 and volcanologists agree that the mountain is 'dormant' rather than extinct. Often described as ‘New Zealand’s most climbed mountain’, Mt Taranaki provides non-mountaineers with an achievable summit challenge.
At lower altitudes you'll walk through tall rimu and kamahi trees; higher up the volcano, sub-alpine shrubs and herb fields are found above the snow line. Lush rainforests can be found on the mountain’s slopes and are a result of the area’s high rainfall and mild coastal climate.
The walking track network in this national park is extensive, ranging from a 15-minute stroll along the Kamahi Track to the three-day Pouakai Circuit. There's a veritable maze of tracks around the Dawson Falls area, including the walk to Wilkies Pools, a series of eroded rock pools connected with gentle waterfalls.
Taranaki is linked by legend to the mountains of the central North Island. As the story goes, Taranaki once lived with the other volcanoes of the central plateau - Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. When he made flirtatious advances towards a pretty hill named Pihanga, Tongariro erupted in a jealous fury. Taranaki fled to the west, gouging out the Whanganui River on his way. Today Taranaki is still venerated and its summit is sacred to the Maori people of the area.
There are three entry points to the park - Manaia Road, Egmont Road and Pembroke Road.
The snow-capped cone of Mt Taranaki lures visitors who appreciate geological phenomena. Apart from one small bump - a subsidiary vent called Fantham's Peak - the mountain's cone is beautifully symmetrical. Climbing to the summit is achievable for experienced hikers in all seasons – although winter is more difficult – and is best done with a guide.
For those interested in botany, Egmont National Park makes it possible to observe the progression of plant species from surf to summit. The lowland forest is scattered with rimu and rata trees, which gradually make way for kamahi, totara and kaikawaka. The 'Goblin Forest', on the mountain's middle slopes, takes its name from the gnarled shape of the trees and the thick swathes of trailing moss. Above the forest you'll find sub-alpine scrub and alpine herbs. A comprehensive network of walking tracks provides access to the unique beauty of the park.
Within the park there are eight Department of Conservation hikers' huts linked by the excellent track system. DOC also provides two hikers' lodges - Konini Lodge at Dawson Falls and the historic Camphouse at North Egmont. Two privately owned lodges also offer accommodation inside the park - Dawson Falls Mountain Lodge and Mountain House Motor Lodge.
The towns of Stratford, Opunake and Hawera provide a choice of affordable motel and hotel accommodation. More luxurious options can be found in the city of New Plymouth.
The Egmont National Park has 13 entrances, making it one of New Zealand's most accessible wilderness areas. The 'Around the Mountain Circuit' takes 3 to 5 days to complete. The two-day Pouakai Circuit, starting and finishing at North Egmont, crosses over the Ahukawakawa Swamp and the remnants of the old Pouakai volcano. A variety of short walks can be found around Dawson Falls and East Egmont. Don't miss the Kamahi walk, at East Egmont, through the Goblin Forest.
The main climbing route to the summit starts at North Egmont, and you need to allow 6 to 8 hours for the return trip. During winter, summit climbs are for experienced snow and ice climbers only. Climbers need a good knowledge of the mountain’s unique snow and ice conditions, a high level experience, the right equipment and knowledge of how to use it. The first ascent of Mt Taranaki is attributed to Tahurangi, who lit a fire on the summit to prove he had taken possession of the mountain for the Taranaki tribes.
The ski field on Mt Taranaki's eastern slopes is operated by the Stratford Mountain Club, but visitors are always welcome. The season runs from June to October.