At 2581 metres, Mount Taranaki is the second highest peak on the North Island of New Zealand. Mount Taranaki looks the part of the perfect volcano, often mistaken for Mount Fuji in photos and films. The mountain resides in Egmont National Park with hundreds of kilometres of track and many DOC huts, shelters, private lodges, and even a ski field that can only be reached on foot.
BK (before kids) and WK (without kids), we've reached the summit and spent a night in the stunning Syme Hut on Fantham's Peak, the secondary peak 550 metres below the summit. Mount Taranaki is beautiful spot with some great tramping so with the school holidays coming we planned a multi day tramp with the kids, Dan (8) and Sadie (6).
Day 1 - Pouakai Hut from Mangorei Road carpark via the Mangorei Track.
Day 2 - Holly Hut via the Pouakai Track and Ahukawakawa Track.
Day 3 - Pouakai Hut, same route as day 2.
Day 4 - Back to the Mangorei Road carpark via the Mangorei Track.
Mountain conditions are changeable and unpredictable. Given it's winter in New Zealand, we watched the forecast and picked a route with options for an easy exit. On a frosty Saturday morning, the mountain peaked out at us as we drove the 20 minutes from New Plymouth to the Mangorei Road carpark. The route to the Pouakai Hut is relatively easy tramp, just 5 kilometres of steady incline. It can be very muddy, but much of the track is covered with a series of boardwalks that looks a little bit like picket fences laid on their sides. Fun fact: There are about 3720 steps from the Mangorei Road carpark to the Pouakai Hut.
This brings me to Tramping with Kids Tip #102: Counting. When the going gets tough, the tough distract themselves into a state of meditative zen. This works best in situations of incessant steps. Dan was frustrated with Sadie's meandering pace, so we counted and he was happily distracted. Sadie was dwelling on the fatigue in her legs, so we counted and she perked up focusing on the challenge. Forget hiding M&Ms along the track, counting is the new motivational diversion.
Below Mount Taranaki's bush line is lush native rainforest where moss drips off the trees creating a feeling of enchantment, especially in the wet weather. If you're quiet you will hear the native birds calling and you might even spot a fairy or a goblin. Just as you begin to tire of the 3720 steps and boardwalk, the track becomes a bit more rugged with larger rocks and roots to clamber over and puddles to hop around. A little further on it's Graylings Clearing and your first views of the Pouakai Hut to the right. In high winds, this is a good time to run the last few hundred metres to the warmth of the hut.
Pouakai Hut is like a shopping centre with people constantly coming and going. Even in abominable conditions in the middle of winter, it's the busiest hut I've been to. While there were still a couple of spaces in the 16 bed hut on the nights we stayed, there was a continuous procession of day walkers popping into the hut to fuel up and warm themselves by the fire. Most of the crowds are inspired to push on 20 minutes beyond the hut to the Pouakai Tarn, made famous by gorgeous photos of Mount Taranaki reflecting in it's still waters. Unfortunately, there are two key variables needed to get the desired shot: 1. Still conditions and 2. A view of the mountain. After setting up our bunks, we rounded the top of the hill to get our own legendary picture only to discovery cold wind knocking us off balance and a fluffy mushroom cloud hugging the top of Mount Taranaki. Double fail.
The sound of the wind roaring in our ears was a wee bit frightening for the smallest in our group. Together we practiced stretching out our arms like wings and leaning into the wind. Soon the concern lead to giggles as everyone tried to catch a gust. A lesson that would serve us well on this trip.
On day 2 of our multi day hike, we travelled 4 kilometres down the ridge line and across the Ahukawakawa Swamp to Holly Hut. As it was mostly downhill with some easy uphill, it was a chatting, singing, and story-telling kind of day. We shared the 32 bed Holly Hut with three other trampers doing the Round the Mountain track. They'd been shower-less a little longer than us so we didn't get too close. Overnight the cloud closed in and the wind picked up and the next morning we bundled up to make the trek back to Pouakai Hut. There is a stream crossing next to the hut that can be impassable after heavy rain and we were relieved to find that the water level had not noticeably risen from the previous day. Over the bridge and up the ridge we counted 2617 steps from Holly Hut back to Pouakai Hut.
We used our newly honed soaring technique as the wind picked up close to the Pouakai Hut. Behind us, the mountain was undetectable beneath the cloud. Three keen trampers left the hut as we arrived, continuing along the Pouakai Circuit past the Pouakai Tarn, then onto Maude Peak, Henry Peak, and their destination at North Egmont. Over the rest of the chilly and dismal day, dozens of keen day trampers sheltered in the hut, finally clearing out and leaving the hut and the raging fire to the overnighters.
On the last day, we tramped down the 3720 steps and back to our car, destination cafe and hot shower before heading back to the mountain to bag another couple of huts. On the list another two kid-friendly stops: Waingongoro Hut and Maketawa Hut.
Mount Taranaki, Egmont National ParkPouakai Hut via Mangorei Track
Time: 3 hours
Difficulty: Moderate. Lots of steps.
Holly Hut via Pouakai Track and Ahukawakawa Track
Time: 3 hours
Toilets: Long drops at the hut.
Dogs: Definitely not. There are giant signs advertising the $100 000 fine for bringing dogs into the park.
Barefoot: Not tested, but my barefoot coach could definitely do it.