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Egmont National Park
The volcanic mountain Taranaki, also known as Mt. Egmont, dominates the landscape, the weather, and the history of the region. New Zealand's second oldest national park, Egmont, was created in 1900 to protect the mountain, the forests of its lower slopes, and the great outdoor recreation opportunities these provide.
From a distance the landscape of this national park looks simple; a perfect, cone-shaped mountain draped white with snow in winter and flanked by a near-perfect circle of forest. Look closer, or try walking on the park trails, and a different picture emerges. Thousands of years of volcanic buildup and erosion have crafted steep gullies and rivers, immense lava bluffs, unstable slips, and forests of everything from moss-covered "goblin" trees to tall, ancient forest giants. It makes a fascinating place to explore, and thankfully there are many ways of doing this no matter what your level of fitness.
Best Time to Go
Summer is the best time for walking, hiking, and viewing alpine flowers (best in December and January). Snow-climb in winter.
Although often described as dormant, few believe that Taranaki's volatile volcanic life has ended. Both scientists and Māori elders hold the view that, one day, the mountain will again erupt in volcanic upheaval.
Best Way to Explore
Climb the Mountain
The steep climb is a serious undertaking, especially with frequent bad weather. The summit itself is regarded as sacred, and local Māori ask climbers to avoid the very top rocks. The main summer route (7–8 hours return) follows the northeast ridge. When there's no snow, it's all rock underfoot—slippery shingle or big tangled boulders. In winter, climbing the mountain requires snow- and ice-climbing gear and expertise. Mountain guides can be hired in both winter and summer.
The two- to three-day Pouakai Circuit explores all the park's landscapes: subalpine terrain, lava cliffs and gorges, the vast Ahukawakawa wetland, the broad tussock tops of the Pouakai Range, and lichen-covered montane goblin forest. Hiking around the mountain (4-5 days) is another option, if you're keen to climb in and out of steep gullies and through a lot of mud. A second mountain loop above the tree line (3-4 days) can be stunning in summer, but icy in winter and exposed to extreme weather at any time.
Take a Scenic Drive
Three main access roads lead into the park, climbing quickly (allow 10 to 20 minutes) up the mountain's steep slopes before opening up stunning views. Short walks along these roads enable you to appreciate the plants, trees, waterfalls, and streams. The interesting displays and photos at the main North Egmont Visitor Centre will enhance your experience—as will the taste temptations in the café!
Take a Short Walk
Several gentle, well-signposted, short walking trails leave from the three main park entrances. Some top examples are Wilkies Pools (mountain stream, sculpted rocks, goblin forest, 1½-hour return), Patea Loop (mountain cedar forest, stony riverbeds, 2 hours), and Potaema (giant rimu and rata forest and a vast wetland, 20 minutes).
If you stay in the park, rather than driving in and out from your city accommodations, you'll give yourself a better chance of being at one with this magnificent natural place. Check out the sunset or sunrise. Watch the light change across the summit snows, and hear the birds waking in the forest. The Camphouse, at North Egmont, offers self-catering, backpacker-style accommodations in a grand vantage spot, just above the tree line. At East Egmont, you can absorb the forest freshness at Anderson's Alpine Lodge, or even cooler air at the Mountain House, 850 meters (2,625 feet) up the mountain.
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