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Taranaki, New Zealand’s most underrated region

I have already mentioned it briefly in the blog post on the Must-see to visit in the north island, the Taranaki region is a must on a trip to New Zealand. That’s why I decided to dedicate a full blog post to this beautiful region. Located on the west coast, halfway between Auckland and Wellington, Taranaki is full of all kinds of activities. From the cultural museums of New Plymouth to the sometimes very sporty hikes of Mount Taranaki, via the popular “Surf Highway 45”, this region has everything to please everyone. And yet it is often forgotten by tourists and travellers and is, therefore, in my opinion, Taranaki is the most underestimated region in New Zealand.

At the end of 2020, I was able to (re)discover this beautiful region for about ten days and I literally fell in love with this part of NZ. So what could be better than a blog post to share with you my advice and tips around Taranaki. 

Practical information for visiting the Taranaki region 

Before I tell you about Mount Taranaki and the best spots to observe it, here are some practical information to help plan your trip. Which season is best to visit? How to get there and how to get around? How much time should you spend? I’ll tell you everything. 

When to visit Taranaki region in New Zealand?  

Taranaki region can be visited all year round. Summers are hot and winters are cool. As you’ll have access to both the mountains and the sea in this region, it is up to you to see, according to your preference. If you are rather cold, I advise you to opt for summertime. Especially as Mount Taranaki likes to play hide-and-seek and it may be difficult to see it on cloudy days and impossible on rainy days.

lake mangamahoe

Moreover, it is important to remember that, like any mountainous region, the weather can change very quickly around Mount Taranaki (Egmont National Park).

Fun fact: Mount Taranaki is one of the rainiest places in New Zealand. While New Plymouth, only 50 km away, is one of the sunniest cities. I told you the weather can be capricious! 

So it is VERY important to check the weather conditions before you travel there. Or if you are on a road trip, be flexible with your itinerary and allow a few extra days in case the weather change. It would be a shame to travel and not be able to see the famous Mount Taranaki! 

Little misadventure

This is what happened to us the first time we visited the area. In June 2019, during a 3-day long weekend, we thought it would be great to finally visit Taranaki. Not having really done any research, we thought 3 days would surely be enough. And that the small clouds/precipitations expected would not prevent us from seeing the Mount.

Big beginner’s mistake! I think this is our worst weekend so far in New Zealand: after more than 8 hours of driving back and forth, some gravel roads under the rain, a whole day looking for waves that were definitely not there and an “incredible view” on Mount Taranaki, we went home to Auckland, washed out of this weekend that will remain in our memories for a long time. I can tell you that since then we double-checked the forecast before leaving for the adventure.

With this little misadventure, I would personally recommend going there in the summer or at least when you are sure the weather will be clear. To be honest, before I went there recently (during summer this time), I wasn’t sure about the idea of going back there but finally, it was a revelation! So it’s good not to stick with your first impression and retry experiences that may have disappointed you at first sight. You might be pleasantly surprised the second time around. 

How to get there and how to discover the region? 

-Road trip by campervan

As you all know, I’m a real fan of van life. New Zealand is one of the best countries to experience van life. So my first choice to visit Taranaki is definitely a road trip by campervan.

New Zealand is a land of adventure and a van trip to the Taranaki region will, I’m sure, take you through some beautiful scenery. Especially as you will find many free campsites to stop on the road for the night.

Distance to reach Taranaki from the main cities:
Auckland – New Plymouth~ 360 km (4h50)
Wellington – New Plymouth ~ 355 km (4h45)

Also, a road trip by campervan is probably the most economical option for travelling in New Zealand.

campervan taranaki

– Flight/hotel/car rental

If you do not have a vehicle or do not wish to drive there, the option of taking a flight is also available. However, take into consideration that you will also need to book your accommodation (strongly advised to book in advance if you are going there in summer). And also probably rent a car once you get there to get around, as the points of interest are quite scattered.

This decision is totally up to you, depending on your budget and how you like to travel!

How much time should I plan to visit Taranaki? 

I would recommend spending at least a week if you want to have time to do an overnight hike (or 2 short day hikes) and visit the surrounding area. 

If you are a surfer, or a slow traveller like us, and like to travel without hurrying, I would recommend you to spend at least 10 days in the area to see the main points of interest (viewpoints, walks, museums,…) as well as having time to surf and relax on the beautiful beaches. 

Let’s get to the heart of the matter right away and you’ll see that there’s plenty to do in the area. From discovering the beautiful Mount Taranaki to the many towns, beaches and points of interest in the surrounding area, there is something for everyone.

Discovering Mount Taranaki, the second highest peak on the North Island of New Zealand

As you may have guessed, the Taranaki region is named after Mount Taranaki (also known as Mount Egmont) located in Egmont National Park. The region is centred around this volcanic peak. Mount Taranaki is a dormant volcano that peaks at 2518 metres above sea level. Its conical shape with regular slopes is considered to be one of the most symmetrical in the world.

The main activity of the region is therefore to discover the famous Mount Egmont (or Mount Taranaki by its Maori name), several options are available to observe it.

Fun fact: Mount Taranaki is often compared to Mt Fuji in Japan because of its strong resemblance to it. Because of this, Mt Taranaki has also been chosen to film the movie “The Last Samurai”

Hiking in the Egmont National Park

Several hikes ranging from a few hours to several days are available in this national park. There are views of Mount Taranaki, waterfalls, ‘goblin forests’ and natural rock pools.

– Day hikes available :

These are some of the easiest day hikes to explore Egmont National Park and Mt Taranaki.

Dawson Falls walking tracks

Two walks, ‘Kapuni Loop Track’ (1.4km) and ‘Ridge Loop track’ (1.9km), will take you to the Dawson Falls, an 18-metre high waterfall. The third hike called ‘Wilkie pools loop track’ (1.9km) leading to beautiful natural pools is probably my favourite.

The level of difficulty for these 3 walks is easy, so they are accessible to all. 

Kamahi Loop Track

A small loop of 600 m (approx. 20 min) to discover the lush tropical forest also known as the “Goblin Forest”.

North Egmont short walks

A few short hikes at the foot of Mount Taranaki ranging from a few hundred metres to 1.2 km. Accessible to all and not exceeding 1 hour walk.

– Mount Taranaki Summit Track

This one is also a day hike. However, its level of difficulty is high. This 13 km hike, with an altitude difference of 1600 m, is considered dangerous due to the changing weather conditions. It requires special equipment and a guide. Between May and November, the mountain is covered with snow and ice, so previous alpine experience is preferable, as well as the correct equipment.

Even in summer, it is important to check the weather forecast before leaving and to check-in at the information centre at departure and arrival. Only try to climb on good clear days, as temperatures at the summit are usually below 0 degrees. And don’t forget to have the necessary equipment; there is snow all year round at the top of Mount Taranaki. 

Count between 8 to 12 hours return to complete this hike! You can find all the info about this track here.

– Overnight hikes over several days : 

Even if the ascent to the summit seems to be THE hike to discover Mount Taranaki in New Zealand, it is not the most popular. Indeed, many people prefer to enjoy the mountain over several days with these hikes, which are much more accessible than the ascent and offer breathtaking views.

Around the mountain – 4 to 5 days – 52 km

The longest hike in the Egmont National Park is the one around the mountain.

This loop of 52 km (4-5 days) passes through forests, rivers and spectacular alpine scenery. However, this hike is only suitable for experienced hikers with a good sense of direction, as the markers will sometimes be difficult to spot. A topographical map is essential. The best time for this hike is between October and April. 

Pouakai Circuit or Pouakai Crossing – 2 to 3 days – 25 km

If you are looking for a hike that is not too long, but which will allow you to discover the splendid views on the Mount, the ‘Pouakai Circuit/Crossing’ hike is surely the one that will suit you best. 

This hike brings together a mix of everything the national park has to offer: waterfalls, goblin forest, incredible views of Mount Taranaki at the Pouakai Tarn (a small lake that reflects Mount Taranaki). This is one of the best hikes I have ever done in New Zealand. 

You have two options: 

  • Completed the whole loop (25 km), starting and finishing at the North Egmont Information Centre. Count 2 to 3 days with 2 huts to stay overnight on the way: Holly hut (first come, first served) and Pouakai Hut (booking required). 
  • Crossed the Pouakai Crossing (19km), starting at the information centre and ending at Mangorei Road. The 2 huts are also available so you can also choose to make the crossing in 2 or 3 days. I did it over 2 days sleeping at Pouakai Hut. A blogpost is coming soon with all the details of my experience. 

Tip: Remember to book the shuttle if you choose Pouakai Crossing. You can park your car on arrival and the shuttle will take you to the departure. I have booked it via this website

For more information, you can find all the hikes in the Egmont National Park directly on the official DOC website.

Best viewpoints to observe Mount Taranaki

Some of them will surely have been mentioned above in the hikes, but here are my best spots to observe Mount Taranaki, from near or far. 

Pouakai tarn 

Probably one of my favourite viewpoint. And with good reason! This lookout was THE reason why I wanted to discover the region. I’ve seen this cliché so many times on social media that I thought: “I want to have the chance to see this wonderful spot too. I can’t dwell on my first Taranaki defeat in the rain”.

And apparently, my wish has come true! Because despite a few clouds the first few days, the rest of our stay was fantastic. Great sunshine, clear skies with a view of Taranaki almost every day.

view from tarn
Ahukawakawa Wetlands

This viewpoint is accessible during the “Pouakai Crossing” hike. This wetland was formed 3500 years ago and is home to an unusual/rare fauna and flora. And what a magnificent view of the Taranaki summit! 

Wilkies pools

Mentioned in the ‘day hikes’, the Wilkies Pools can be reached in about 20 minutes. You can take a swim (beware, the water is rather cold, even very cold) but also admire the view of the Taranaki summit. 

If you don’t have time to travel to Egmont National Park, but still want to admire Taranaki from afar, no problem. The two following viewpoints are within easy reach.

Lake Mangamahoe

One of the most accessible and surely one of the best known viewpoints! Lake Mangamahoe is located 15 minutes from the main city, New Plymouth. 

To get to this exact location, once along the lake, continue to the end of the road (the road will become a gravel road but continue to the last car park). Once parked, start climbing up following the sign indicating “viewpoint”. From here you can go up to the official viewpoint or turn at the dam (path turning left a few minutes before the last stairs to reach the official viewpoint)

The viewpoint at the top is really amazing, but the one at the dam also has something special with the reflection of the mountain on the lake. 

Te Rewa Rewa Bridge

Another spot I was looking forward to discover. I love the composition that can be created there with the architecture of the bridge and the mountain in the background. Fellow photographer, what do you think? 

This spot is very easy to access, as it is in the heart of New Plymouth and is probably one of the most visited viewpoints. And it is easy to see why. 

Tip: for those travelling by campervan, there is a free camp 2 minutes walk from the bridge along Lake Rotomanu. You are allowed to stay there for a maximum of 3 nights and toilets are available. The best free camp in the area without any doubt. 

te rewa rewa bridge

Scenic flight for a panoramic view of Mount Taranaki, New Zealand

Unfortunately, I have not yet had the opportunity to do so, but it is possible to observe Mount Taranaki from the sky. In addition to having a view of this sublime mountain, you will also discover the surfing beaches from above. 

The view from the sky is really surprising, as you can see with this satellite photo from Google Maps.

aerial view on Taranaki New Zealand

The surroundings not to be missed

New Plymouth 

New Plymouth, mentioned several times in this blog post, is the main city of Taranaki region. The city is known for its sunny climate, art galleries and beautiful parks. It is also the closest city to Egmont National Park on the north coast. This makes it a good base for visiting the surrounding area.

What to see/do in New Plymouth?

  • Visit the many galleries and museums: Puke Ariki, Art Gallery museum
  • Stroll along the Coastal Walk 
  • Photographing Mount Taranaki at Te Rewa Rewa Bridge 
  • Climb Paritutu Rock and enjoy the superb view of the city with Mt Taranaki in the background.
  • Stroll through Pukekura Park and enjoy the Festival of Lights (December-January every year). 
  • Admire the sunrise or sunset at Lake Mangamahoe.
  • Surfing/Learning to surf on Fitzroy or Back Beach.
  • Pukekura Park
  • festival of lights new plymouth
  • view from Lake mangamahoe
  • view from Paritutu Rock

Surf Highway 45

You probably haven’t explored the Taranaki region if you haven’t taken the legendary “Surf Highway 45”. Stretching from New Plymouth to Hawera (south of Taranaki), this 105 km road is a mythical route for surfers with some of the best waves in New Zealand (when conditions are right)

In addition to deserted surfing beaches, this route passes through many small towns with character and historic Maori sites to visit.

What to see/do on Highway 45 surfing?

  • Surfing of course: Kumara Patch, Stent Road
  • Relaxing on the many beaches in the area: Oakura being the most famous one.
  • Visit the Cape Egmont lighthouse.
  • Explore the Koru Pa (remains of the oldest Maori village)
  •  Stop at the charming little town of Opunake
Surf highway 45

Forgotten World Highway

The “Forgotten World Highway” is a 150 km road between Taumarunui (Waikato region) and Startford (Taranaki region). A remote and mysterious road in the heart of New Zealand, it is also the oldest heritage road in New Zealand. Venturing along this intriguing route will take you through quirky villages such as Whangamonoma (which proclaimed itself a republic in 1989 – it even has its own passport, which you can pick up at the hotel), through tunnels dating back to the 1900s, waterfalls and gorges and through vast areas of rolling farmland.

Whangamonoma

Even though the road is only 150 km long, plan a good day out to explore the surrounding area. As there will be many stops and detours along the way.

Three sisters and Elephant Rock

Just 1 hour north of New Plymouth is the beautiful Tongaporutu Reserve. The rugged coastline of the Taranaki region is made up of steep, high cliffs where the waves come crashing in. Tongaporutu beach is impressive for watching these cliffs. Only accessible at low tide, you will discover the “Three Sisters”, huge rock formations in the open sea. As well as the famous “Elephant Rock” which, unfortunately, no longer looks like an elephant after losing its trunk in an earthquake. 

Tip: If you travel by campervan, spend the night at the free camp along the river. And enjoy the incredible view of the cliffs at sunset or sunrise.

  • elephant rock and the three sisters
  • tongaporutu

Feel like discovering Taranaki in New Zealand? 

Here we are! This is now the end of this blog post. I hope this will have made you want to discover this fantastic region too often forgotten on New Zealand itineraries. Taranaki region has so much to offer that it’d be a shame to miss it on your next trip. 

So tell me, which facet of this region makes you most want to go and discover Taranaki?


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Taranaki Region, New Zealand’s most underrated region

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