I’m out of breath, my muscles are screaming at me, and my left knee is twinging rather painfully. Behind me is a long steep stretch of scoria, and ahead, a seemingly endless slope of boulders. A guy comes clambering down the rocks towards me, and I pause so he can get by me safely. He smiles as he passes.
“You’re nearly there!” he yells enthusiastically in an American accent. “It’s just up this bit of rock, then over the ledge and you’re in the crater.”
“Oh cheers!” I shout back, the pain and irritation somehow disappearing, my energy renewed.
Five minutes later, I’m standing on snow in the crater of Mount Taranaki, a 2,518m volcanic peak in the western part of New Zealand’s North Island. And about ten minutes after that, I’m atop the summit, gazing out across the Tasman Sea towards Australia (hi, mum!)
If you’re fortunate with the weather, hiking up Mount Taranaki is an unforgettable experience. It’s definitely in my top ten New Zealand adventures, along with the Routeburn Track, The Pinnacles and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking of tackling this mountain yourself.
Where to stay
My friends and I stayed at “The Camphouse”, a DOC hut situated at the base of the mountain at the very start of the Summit Track. For those wanting to hike this track, The Camphouse is probably the best place to stay in terms of convenience, as you can wake up in the morning and get a good indication of what the weather’s like, and simply set off straight away, knowing you’ll have showers waiting for you when you return.
It cost us $25 a night and was equipped with toilets, hot showers and a well-stocked kitchen with utensils and boiling water.
There are a number of other DOC huts situated in Egmont National Park for trampers undertaking some of the longer hikes. There are also accommodation options in New Plymouth and nearby Stratford. You’ll just need to get up a little earlier in the morning to account for the drive up to the start of the track itself if you’re staying in one of these places.
What to take on the climb
When hiking anywhere in New Zealand, it’s always best to be prepared. A light daypack will suffice for the Summit Track, as you won’t need to carry overnight camping gear. However, there are some things you’ll need to remember to take:
- Clothing: We got incredibly lucky with the weather – it was blue skies and sunshine all the way up and most of the way down – but the weather can be highly changeable on Taranaki’s slopes. So make sure that even if you set out in shorts and a t-shirt that you pack wet weather gear and warmer layers in case the conditions turn for the worse.
- Food and water: Carry plenty of fluids and high energy snacks for the way up. Trail mix and chocolate bars are good options. I always like to take a thermos of tea with me on hikes like this to help me when I’m getting low on energy. Depending on how quickly you make it up and down the mountain, the hike could take anywhere from 7 to 10 hours, so make sure you have enough sustenance and fluid to keep you energised the whole way.
- Hiking boots: This is not a hike you should do in trainers or Converse. While I saw some people wearing them, the climb is very steep and unstable most of the way, and you’ll risk injuring yourself if you don’t have proper hiking boots. Make sure you’ve worn them in first, though.
- Sun protection: Protect yourself from those strong rays by lathering on that sunscreen.
What is summiting Mount Taranaki like?
Hiking Mount Taranaki isn’t a walk in the park; it’s a challenge even for the active and healthy. So if you’re not used to walking and hiking, especially uphill, I’d recommend preparing your body for this climb by getting some short hikes in on your weekends and doing some stair walking.
The track is uphill from the get-go, but eases you in with gentler inclines for the first section. There’s a TV tower and toilets about an hour or so in, so you can pause for a bathroom break and a snack. Then you’ll get to enjoy a very steep climb up to Tahurangi Lodge. My advice is to take this slowly but try not to stop too often, as you probably won’t want to keep going!
After this section, you’ll be well warmed up, and (hopefully) ready for what’s to come: a mountain of stairs. I thought this was my least favourite part of the climb, until I reached the next part: a long and very steep scree slope. Fun fact: the word “scree” comes from the Old Norse word skriða, meaning “landslide”.
READ MORE: A Quick Guide to Swedish Place Names
You’ll be walking up the landslide (and often sliding back down again if your footing isn’t on point), so as you can imagine this is a bit of an arduous section of the track. You’ll spend most of your time mentally telling yourself to “just keep going to the next orange pole”, only to reach the next orange pole and look ahead at the five thousand ones in the distance and wonder why on earth you came out here in the first place.
It’s a good idea to set off on the climb early in the morning (we left around 6.30am and I’d probably suggest this as the latest time to leave – it’s probably better to leave at around 5.30am or 6am). This is because as you make your way further up the mountain, you’ll encounter people heading back down, and on the scree slope this can be a bit dangerous, as they’ll be sliding all over the place and sending pebbles flying into your face. If you’ve climbed Mount Ngauruhoe, you’ll know exactly what this feels like.
READ MORE: Trekking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
At some point, the scree slope will end. It will feel like a lifetime, but once this part is over, you can look forward to a bit of childish rock climbing over boulders. I packed gloves with me for this part, and I’d recommend you do the same, as you’ll be using your hands to grip onto the rocks and pull yourself up. After this section, you’ll climb over a ridge and descend into the icy crater of the volcano. From here, it’s just another short climb up another wall of rock to the summit.
Enjoy the rest and the views up here, because the way down is just as – if not more – challenging as the ascent. If you have bad knees like I do, prepare for them to hurt like hell on the way down. The scree slope is where you’ll likely face the most difficulty, as you’ll be tensing your quads the whole time to make sure you don’t fall over (though you probably will anyway) while avoiding people who are coming up the mountain.
What are the highlights of the Mount Taranaki Summit Track?
The biggest highlight is summiting Mount Taranaki itself! And of course the incredible views on the way up and down. You’ll be able to see New Plymouth and the surrounding farmland, as well as out to the coastline and across to the Tasman Sea. If the skies are clear around sunrise, keep an eye out for beautiful views out towards Tongariro National Park, where you’ll be able to see the peaks of Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro.
I found the people doing the track were incredibly friendly. Lots of people gave encouraging words as we were ascending, and we did the same when we were coming down. It is a hard climb even if you are fit, so having people around to offer some verbal support was wonderful.
How to reach the mountain
If you’re driving from Auckland, head for the town of New Plymouth, which will take around 5 hours or more depending on how often you stop for breaks. From here, it’s about another half an hour to The Camphouse, where the Summit Track begins.
Lonely Planet, Hiking and Tramping in New Zealand.