We were four friends who met after we became mothers. We'd gotten to know each other in a state of sleep deprivation and regularly interrupted conversations over afternoon play dates, which gradually made way for evening walks, and sometimes even wine and chocolate. We’d dreamed of a mother's tramping adventure in the past, but finding a time to gather everyone together was rare with our various commitments, made more difficult when attempting to coincide availability with good weather.
Then one day, it was decided - this is the date, this is the place. Who’s in? We headed to Mount Taranaki, our destination the Syme Hut, perched atop Fanthams Peak, 1064m above the visitor’s centre in Egmont National Park. We set out early, intent on getting a bunk in the popular 10 bed hut. After tramping steadily upwards in the dark through the forest for an hour or so, we emerged from the bush line at Hillary Seat in time to see the sunrise over the clouds next to Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Tongariro, over 200km away in the Central Plateau.
The four of us struggled and thrived in different sections of the track. The stairs were hard on your knees, the scoria was hard on your mind. Going up felt like going nowhere, as the non-mountain goats among us slipped back with each step. On the way up, we met a woman in her seventies, a local who had made the climb countless time before, but this time decided to turn back just short of the top. We admired her for her previous accomplishments and her decision to turn around when it wasn’t right for her to keep going. Perhaps it was her influence that made us stay around the hut for the day instead of continuing onto the peak of Mount Taranaki. More likely though, it was the wine in our drink bottles and the prospect of more of the challenging scoria that held us back.
A strong, harsh wind greeted us upon reaching the top of Fanthams Peak and we made our way quickly into the hut to enjoy a second breakfast and a warm up with a cuppa. We sat facing the window looking northwards toward Mount Taranaki another 552 metres above us. Gradually, we began to see specks proceeding slowly, almost imperceptibly, down the scoria slopes. As they got further down, we were able to identify them as people, though it wasn’t always clear how many there were. The specks soon disappeared into the dip between Fanthams Peak and the summit only to reappear at the door of the hut as full-sized people. Taranaki TV was glorious entertainment.
As the wind died down and more trampers began to arrive, we left the hut to explore Fanthams Peak. Rotating our picnic spot among the boulders, we gazed at the sea to the west, the forest far below us, and the clouds floating out ahead. It was a perfect day for anyone who loves tramping, but for the four of us who are normally busily planning, preparing, coaxing, discussing, working, listening, supporting, mending, creating, or cleaning, it was a day of bliss. The packing was done, the meals were made. All we had to do was nothing.
That evening, we were grateful to the wind that had blown the clouds away for the sunset over the sea was stunning and the stars were twinkling. The next day we were up before the sun so we could welcome her as she broke through the darkness. As we headed down the mountain, we again fought our individual battles with the scoria and the stairs. Too soon we were back at the truck and on our way home, ever so thankful for our girls' night up the mountain, re-energised, and more than ready for the chubby-handed cuddles awaiting us back at home.
Syme Hut, Mount Taranaki, Egmont National Park
Distance: ~4 kilometres. 1060 metres up.
Time: 3 hours.
Difficulty: Hard. Moderate if you're fit and experienced with scoria.
Buggies: No. I wouldn't do this one with a baby in a backpack either.
Toilets: One long drop at the hut. Maybe be iced over in winter.
Dogs: Nope. There are giant signs featuring an adorable shitzu in a car with cross over it. $100 000 fine.
Barefoot: Not tested. Not recommended. Mini gloves are recommended for protecting your hands from the scoria when climbing up and down. At a minimum, you want to be wearing some tough socks.