Mount Taranaki—Up and Around

30 March – 6 April 2011

Two cars headed to Picton at the ungodly hour of 4am to catch the 10am ferry to Wellington

Kristi was able to leave home a little later from Murchison and meet us. Leo’s and Kerry’s car rolled off in our capital city and headed north. Our first stop was Paraparaumu Barnacles YHA to book a room for six at the backpackers for use on our return journey. This backpackers is located right on Paraparaumu Beach directly beside where the Kapiti Island boat trips depart from. Driving on through Manawatu and Wanganui, then Taranaki we enjoyed seeing unfamiliar territory and then our quest, Mt Taranaki came in sight. In Stratford Wayne joined our group, we bought food at a supermarket and then had a sit-down meal at a Stratford pub before driving off to North Egmont Visitor Centre where we got a key to the Camphouse which Leo had booked well in advance. The Camphouse is a large old iron-clad hut with backpacker-type accommodation. It has lockable bunkrooms that groups can stay in, a good modern kitchen and large dining/living room. A convoy of boy racers painted a proportion of their tyres onto the road on the last part of the drive up the mountain all the way to the locked gate near the Camphouse.

Thur: The day dawned fine and clear so we prepared day packs for the ascent of Taranaki/Egmont. The track starts in nice forest with mountain cabbage trees and cedars and climbs moderately as a vehicle track to the scrub-line and then straightens up a steep section called “the puffer”. By the time the front-runners (walkers) got to Tahurangi Lodge, a private hut, our group was getting spread out. A woman on the upstairs balcony was the sole occupant of the lodge. She had stepped out to admire the sunrise over distant volcanic cones when the breeze closed the door and locked her out. While we were there an alpine club guy arrived with a key to rescue her. The time was around 11am so she was very relieved. With a rest and snack we set off together again. From the lodge the track goes up a rugged rocky gully with long stairways on steep or loose rock sections. Going up the long scree section we got strung out. There were lots of other groups on the mountain lured perhaps by the absence of snow on upper slopes. People with walking poles seemed to manage better on the loose gravel. It was a relief to get onto a solid lava flow—well cooled now—since no eruption has occurred for 300 years. In the crater there was some solid snow which we crossed to climb to the high-point of the crater wall. We spent time taking lots of pics of each other, Syme Hut, Mt. Ruapehu in the distance and the dappled cloud effects well below us. Back at the Camphouse after the long descent the more motivated few set to, preparing a lavish dinner which Leo had assembled. We ate our fill and settled in for our second night in this pleasant lodge.

Fri: This was to be an easy day—return the key to DoC, move a car to the other side of the mountain and set off on the round-the-mountain walk. On this fine day we had lunch and set off, climbing to a good contour-track which goes from gully to gully above the scrub line. We enjoyed looking up at impressive blocks of rock as we crossed dry streams. As we walked opposite a swampy lowland our track headed down and eventually we arrived at Holly Hut with its solar panel lighting system and 500 breadboards. The boards were actually 3cm thick, neatly cut slab firewood, a bit bigger than a paperback book. The last rays of sun on the mountain gave us another photo-opportunity. We lit a fire as the day got cold after sundown and chatted to a Singaporean couple who were doing a the Pouakai Circuit on the north side of the mount.

Sat: Westside Story. We set off in frosty, fine weather for Waiaua Gorge Hut. The track descends quite a way and crosses many sizeable streams which judging from their beds can swell to be very respectable. We made a ten minute diversion to Bells Falls. In the dim early morning light they were impressive but hard to photograph. Walking down a river it seemed we were going to leave the park but a big triangle beckoned us up into the forest where we saw lots of tawa and kamahi and even a group of trampers out for a day walk. We set a pattern of walking through forest for 20 minutes then coming to an incised river where we’d have to descend a ladder, cross the minimal river and then climb up into the trees again. We had crossed the Kahui track which joins a road and Kahui Hut, higher up the mountain when we came to an awkward washed out clay section with few hand-holds. Alas Mary fell almost 2m and landed badly with a cracking sound. She was able to stand but said her arm felt out of place. It didn’t take a doctor to diagnose a broken arm. Mary could walk without too much discomfort so we retreated back to a stream bed and pulled the pin on our emergency locator beacon. We stayed in the trees where it was warmer, had a brew and waited. In a bit more that an hour a big yellow TSB rescue chopper circled us and landed with three medics and a pilot. They eased Mary on board and offered to take Leo to North Egmont to retrieve the car. Those of us left standing walked back to the Kahui Track and in an hour we were out at the road as the sun went down. Leo in the meantime drove to New Plymouth and booked two cabins allowing him to off-load gear from the car so it could carry five people. He then drove to where he knew we’d emerge and whisked us off to the comforts of civilisation. The camping ground is right on the NP shore and when the sun shone in the morning proved a very attractive spot. Mary, with her arm in plaster was kept in hospital for the night, her boots, still plastered in mud, and pack beside her.

Sunday: In the morning we took Mary to the airport and the rest of us headed for the hills again. A “track closed” sign at the road-end thwarted our plan to go to Lake Dive Hut so we went to Dawson Falls visitor centre where the other car was parked. Hiking again, we had an easy walk to comfortable Waingongoro Hut. A long way below was the river in a tree-shrouded gorge.

Monday: With gear for a day walk we went to the Stratford Mountain House, a classy new lodge for a cuppa, then up a road which serves the local ski field. At the car park on The Stratford Plateau the weather was threatening so we headed down a little to find a warmer spot, had lunch and then bolted for Waingongoro Hut as rain started. The rain set in so we were happy to spend the whole afternoon reading the paper and jointly doing a general knowledge crossword. There were quite a few we couldn’t get.

Tue: With rain all night we were pleased we hadn’t tried to get to Lake Dive Hut. On our way to the cars the nearby Dawson Falls were a compulsory stop. Back in our street clothes we motored off towards our island. The Barnacles YHA backpackers is a rambling old building but comfortable enough. We had a bunkroom for our group.

Wed: An early start, allowing extra time for rush-hour congestion got us to the ferry comfortably. The day was fine and sunny, the ferry crossing enjoyable. Both cars stopped at Kekerengu for a late lunch and then on to Chch.

This was a memorable trip and well worth a re-run to do the full circuit. The good news is that Mary’s arm has healed well. A big THANKS to Leo for his meticulous planning and execution. We were: Leo Manders, Kristi DuBois, Mary McKeown, Yvette So; Wayne Thomas, Kerry Moore (KM)