This recently established track on the slopes of a famous movie mountain is poised to become one of the country's most popular day walks.
The Pouakai Crossing - Taranaki, New Zealand
Steeped in Maori legend, the picture perfect volcanic cone of Mount Taranaki has lent its name to a whole region, and even stood in for Mount Fuji in the movie The Last Samurai. The 18.4 kilometre-long Pouakai Crossing takes in some of the mountain's best scenery, from a swampy wetland to the moss-laden Goblin Forest.
At the beginning of September 2017, technically still winter in New Zealand, I hit the track along with local guide JJ from Top Guides. The average walking time is around eight to nine hours, which meant an early start for us. Rob Needs, one of the Directors behind Top Guides, picked us up in his Mountain Shuttle and ferried us to the start of track at the visitor centre in North Egmont.
The road pictured above cuts through farmland until it reaches the lower ranges of the mountain which is covered in dense native bush. A large carpark marks the end of the road at around 1,000 metres above sea level. Good news for the coffee addicts amongst us: Part of the North Egmont visitor centre is the Mountain Café, serving drinks and food from 9am in summer (and 10am in winter). JJ and I attached our gaiters and set off, only to be greeted by a green-and-yellow warning sign a few hundred metres from the start.
The first leg to Holly Hut takes about 3 to 4 hours and gently climbs up through montane forest and sub-alpine scrub.
The three people in the shot above (JJ is on the right) and I were the only people on the track that day. Compare that to an average of 600 hikers per day on the Tongariro Crossing, the country's signature day walk, and you can guess which track I'd rather be on.
Up and up we went until we hit a small pocket of snow, carried down the slopes by a late-winter avalanche. Little streams trickled over the track everywhere and JJ assured me that unlike many water courses in New Zealand, it would be perfectly safe for me to quench my thirst here.
From here, the track started to sidle along the northern flank of the mountain, with the impressive Dieffenbach cliffs towering above our heads. On our right, the views over the Taranaki plains became increasingly spectacular.
We made good progress and reached the highest point after 1.5 hours instead of the estimated 2 hours, so we decided to allow for a short break and a snack.
From here, it was a steady and easy downhill leg. We skipped both the Holly Hut as well as the 30 minute-long detour to the (apparently impressive) Bells Falls, as we had to keep within our time schedule. In September the sun in New Zealand disappears at around 6pm. Also, the weather forecast for the afternoon was not too promising.
An hour later, we reached the extensive Ahukawakawa Swamp. This alpine wetland is home to many rare plant species, which is one reason why the track crosses hundreds of metres of boardwalks.
After another 300 metres through the flats, the track started to ascend a steep ridge through a sub-alpine forest with stands of mountain cedars.
This leg was a bit of a slog: it was steep - climbing hundreds of steps - and very muddy. I was grateful once we came out of the bush and onto a ridge on top of the Pouakai range, which we followed for about 30 minutes.
Shortly after the boardwalk pictured above, we reached the turn-off to the mountain tarn famed for magnificently reflecting Mount Taranaki.
Our last stop for the day was the Pouakai Hut. We stepped inside and brewed some coffee while outside it started to rain.
From the hut, the Mangorei Track descends through mixed kamahi forest for about 1.5 hours before it ends at the park boundary at Mangorei Road. It was a bit of a slog to carry on downhill through the rain. Also, the entire track consists of wooden boardwalks and steps which makes it quite hard on the knees after a long day of walking. Yet, there was still one more highlight waiting for me: the Goblin Forest.
Unfortunately, the water from above discouraged me from any photographic lingering. We almost ran down the hill and one hour after leaving the Pouakai hut, we were back in civilisation. I have to admit that I was pretty happy with myself when JJ told me that this was his fastest tour to date. What I was even more proud of was the fact that the next day, I did not even have sore knees, my usual weak spot after a hike.
My good form could also be credited to my after-walk soak and massage at the Taranaki Thermal Spa, one the country's oldest mineral hot pools dating back to 1910. For me it was the perfect way to end an amazing day out.
Some useful tips and resources:
- What to bring on the hike: suitable clothing, a raincoat, sun protection, enough food and sturdy shoes.
- The weather up on the mountain can change quickly. Make sure you check the forecast before setting off.
- Cell phone coverage is available on the first leg (North Egmont to Holly Hut) and the third leg of the track (Pouakai ranges to Mangorei Road) but not in the basin of Ahukawakawa Swamp.
- The Department of Conservation provides a website with a good overview and description of the track.
- The guiding company Top Guides offer both guiding services and transport to and from both ends of the track. Also, they are the sole licensee for taking visitors to the top of the mountain, even in winter.
- For more information on the region of Taranaki, visit Venture Taranaki's official visitor website.
The Pouakai Crossing - Taranaki, New Zealand
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