Four Reasons to Include Taranaki in your New Zealand Vacation

Mount Taranaki

Ah, New Zealand. At just twice the size of Florida, it’s packed with diverse natural beauty. As a tourist there, you’ll be challenged to choose among the mountains, lakes, rain forests, glaciers, gardens, and seascapes.

Consider Mount Taranaki. The second highest mountain on the North Island, the volcano, also known as Mount Egmont, towers at 8,261 feet. Like its taller cousin in Japan (Mount Fuji), Taranaki can hide so successfully in clouds that you can’t see the mountain’s outline against the sky.

So, play hide and see with her, even if you only have a weekend. This area on the west coast of New Zealand is a natural feast for the senses. Check it out:

The booklet “Taranaki: A Walker’s Guide,” (free at visitors’ centers in Mount Egmont National Park), states that there are more than 200 km of hiking trails (that’s 124 miles for Americans). Choose two or three short treks in separate locations to enjoy different views of the volcano.

Begin your morning at Lake Mangamahoe to watch ducks and swans splash and cackle in the water. You can gain a vista of the volcano as you walk through a cool pine forest, then up a hillside of native brush. Next, drive to the North Egmont Visitors Centre, enjoying beautiful views of the summit en route. There you’ll find well-marked short trails to enjoy the “goblin forest” of lichens and moss-covered twisted tree trunks while catching glimpses of the mountain summit.

Proceed to the Wilkes Pools Loop Track, a 45-minute drive from the North Egmont Center, and hike the Loop, but be prepared! We had to ford over a small waterfall and cross Kapuni Stream. We laughed at each other as we braved the chilly water and took selfies to prove our “bravery” to our friends.

If you love the sound of rushing mountain streams and waterfalls, this short trek is a must-do. A bonus near this walk is the short hike to Dawson’s Falls, a 60-foot waterfall.

After mountain hikes, head for sea level in New Plymouth. It’s the major town in the Mount Taranaki region, renown for another walking opportunity. The beautiful Coastal Walkway includes the uniquely designed Te Rawa Rawa Bridge, reminding viewers of a breaking wave or whale skeleton.

Save this trek for the end of your day, and you can enjoy the red hues of the sunset lighting both the sky and the shimmering water. After a brisk walk with plenty of sea air, go into town and enjoy one of the many restaurants’ snapper or other fresh fish of the day!

After a full day of walks and sights, you’ll be ready to relax. You can savor the region’s rural lifestyle with a stay at a farm or a cottage near the sea. I found a large, rustic Airbnb that produced its own energy. We enjoyed the warmth of a wood stove in the evening as well as two calves looking in our windows in the morning to a backdrop of snow-capped Taranaki.

Beyond the pleasure of a pond and farm animals, we had the rare pleasure of enjoying a “dark sky” before lying down to a well-deserved sleep. A dark sky area has low light pollution, allowing you to see far more stars than is typical to view in a lighted community.

We happened to be there during a new moon. The Milky Way glowed white and dusky from one end of the sky to the other. Everyone should have this experience at least once in a lifetime.

The staff woman at the Dawson Falls Visitor Center encouraged us to visit Pukeiti as we left the area the next day. It was out of the way, reached on VERY winding, narrow mountain roads. Hidden within a mountain rain forest, this garden hosts one of the world’s largest and most diverse plantings of rhododendrons.

Other plantings such as camellias, bulbs, lilies, and hydrangeas provide year-long color and scents along the trails. On clear days, you can view the Tasman Sea from trail lookouts. The forest hums with the songs of tui, bellbirds, fantails, and other native New Zealand birds. Overlooking a main part of the garden, Founder’s Café offers great light fare and coffee.

Aside from glaciers, you won’t have to choose between mountains, lakes, rain forests, gardens, and seascapes. Taranaki has it all. Imagine what you can do:

  • splash your hiking buddy with cold, clear water as you make your way around a waterfall on the side of a volcano.
  • enjoy the scent of lush gardens and see the vivid magenta and delicate pink blossom petals made velvety by morning dew.
  • envision the vastness of the Milky Way glowing in the dark sky.

What are you waiting for? Don’t neglect Taranaki as you plan your trip of a lifetime to New Zealand!

A writer for 45 years, my expertise includes travel, education, and social justice.

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