It may not be the tallest peak on the North Island, but it’s arguably the most picturesque. Perfectly cone shaped and spreading out from the crater rim like a flawlessly laid out wedding skirt, it closely resembles the volcanic model I made for science class back in grade school. Fast-forward 30-odd years, I found myself at the foot of Mount Taranaki, getting excited to hike my science project.
It was a gorgeous summer weekend in early February and I knew I had struck it lucky with the weather. The climb to the summit can be done in a day – information centre to summit and back, in 8 to 10 hours. To get the most of my time on the mountain, and to theoretically ease myself into the climb, I chose to break it up into two days, staying overnight in a hut less than 2 hours in from the car park on the first day. This allowed me to start walking early, taking advantage of a crisp and clear morning.
A UNIQUE LOCATION
Whether visiting or living in New Zealand, trampers can’t help but place this dormant volcano on their climbing must-do list. On a clear day, the views from the summit include the North Island’s other famous peaks, Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe. On an ideal day, you can even wave to your South Island neighbours. Like any mountain though, Taranaki is not to be taken lightly, regardless of experience level. Snow sits on the mountain for most of the year, even into the summer months. The Department of Conservation will warn trampers to stay off the snow-covered portions unless they have (and know how to use!) crampons, ice axes, etc. With its proximity to the shoreline, it can almost be said that the mountain extends down to New Plymouth’s beaches. This coastal location, paired with the sudden changes that are so characteristic of alpine territory, catch many people off guard. Even during the summer, it’s safest to be prepared for anything.
The wonderful part about climbing Mount Taranaki is its varied terrain. The track starts with a gravel road, and is followed by naturally formed steps. A scree wall, boulders requiring use of your hands, and possibly snow, finish things off. These sections are not physically marked but it’s not difficult to see where the terrain changes, offering a rough indication of progress to the summit.
PACKING THE ESSENTIALS
Anyone planning to take on this hike is encouraged to wear hiking boots that sit above the ankles, and to add a pair of gaiters to their packing list – keeping rocks out of your boots is key for comfort! The entire hike is fully exposed to the elements, making sunscreen, a hat, and a windbreaker some of the other essential items for this track.
UP, UP AND … UP
To be completely honest, there actually isn’t much ‘easing into it’ with this climb, as it’s an uphill battle from start to finish. You don’t have to be a professional mountain climber to take on this track, but I do believe my fitness level helped. The toughest section of the track was the near-vertical wall of scree (read: loose rocks and pebbles). ‘One step forward, two steps back down’ was on repeat all the way up this section. Taking plenty of breaks, and staying focused on my goal of reaching the next section, went a long way to getting through this challenging terrain.
REACHING THE SUMMIT
I was extremely lucky to climb on a clear and stable day, surrounded by 360° views and a temperature just shy of ‘too hot’. Conditions on the summit can vary and will determine how long you can stay to take in the views. Thanks to ideal conditions, I was able to take my time to admire my effort, re-fuel, and soak up every bit of the sprawling scenery. I even got the chance to watch the extents to which people will go for their perfect Instagram photo – I’m still confused about the suit-clad tramper who posed for photos with an ironing board he carried to the top. There wasn’t a dull moment on the summit that afternoon.
As you can probably imagine, the walk down was also no piece of cake. Slow and steady was my strategy for the majority of the descent, helping me stay in control. This worked until I hit the scree portion, that is, where the best thing was to let loose and enjoy the ride. Part of the fun came from watching other climbers tackle the scree. Everyone’s technique was a bit different, with mine involving landing on my heels while slowly jogging down. I definitely wished I had invested in a pair of gaiters!
By the time I reached the bottom, the muscles in my legs were giving off some hard to ignore pain signals, but I already knew that this adventure was going to be one of my favourites in New Zealand. Why? Because it required a full-on physical effort with arguably the best North Island views accompanying me the entire way up. I wish you the same luck and a similarly epic climb, muscle soreness included.
Susan Czyzo is an outdoor adventurer, photographer and physiotherapist who lived in New Zealand for a few years, spending countless weeks exploring the many day and multi-day hikes on offer. Along with Mount Taranaki, Susan has hiked Cape Brett, the Routeburn Track, and Lake Waikaremoana, to name a few. When not in the mountains, you can find Susan in the ocean waiting for the perfect wave.