On the first of January 2020, with the sun slowly rising, lighting up the sky in hues of red, my partner and I started our summit hike to Mount Taranaki. With our one-year-old on my partner’s back, a 30L pack full of food, water and layers on mine, we excitedly walked on hopeful for the day ahead.
Summiting Mount Taranaki is not to be taken lightly. It takes between eight and 10 hours to complete and the weather is known to be unruly. The trail consists of steep scree (loose gravel rock), bouldering up the lizard (its nickname), crossing an icy crater and finally one more steep climb of scree to the top. The insanely challenging climb made my legs ache both up and down, but I can promise you the reward is worth it. If you are interested in this hike, then read on as I share how to summit this magnificent mountain.
First step, choose your summit day wisely
Before travelling to the Taranaki region for the first time, I had no idea of the mountain’s infamous disappearing trick. As a standalone stratovolcano, it towers above its neighbouring lands and creates its own weather system, one that is often unfriendly to those on the summit track. In New Plymouth, the biggest city in the region, one can be walking in the bright sunshine along the sea yet 30 minutes away, lies Mr Taranaki hidden in the clouds with deep fog, wild winds and frequent precipitation ridiculing those who try to get a glimpse of him.
It took me four visits until the mountain finally revealed itself and when it did, its sheer size took my breath away. The main point I’m trying to make is that you must choose a clear day with low wind to hike the summit. Weekdays will be less busy and, as the Department of Conservation advises, you should stick to hiking in between the months of December and April. I’ve heard many stories of hikers needing to turn back due to weather and if the weather does change while on the mountain, please don’t risk it.
The first of January was the perfect day, sun with zero cloud and almost no wind. In fact, we were sweating most of the trip, thanks to the challenging incline and direct sunlight. Which brings me to my second point, packing correctly for the summit.
What to pack for your summit trip
While my partner, Ryan carried an extra 20 kilos thanks to our little one, plus a bit of camera equipment, I carried almost everything for the three of us.
I highly recommend taking a supportive backpack with hip and chest straps. I used Ryan’s 30L Kathmandu daypack and stocked it with the following: extra layers for each of us, windbreakers, hats, mittens, water reservoir, baby supplies and food. Bring as much water as you can. There is no water on the trail and on a hot day like ours we regretted not bringing additional water bottles (we carried around 3L plus Lia’s bottle).
Also, be sure to fuel up on food the day before, the morning of and constantly on the trail. Protein bars and nut mix are handy while you hike and we packed sandwiches for the summit as well as plenty of fresh fruit. I also carried nappies, wipes and plenty of my daughter’s favourite snacks.
Layers are important especially because there is always snow on the crater and it will be much colder at the summit. We were crazy lucky with the weather and only needed windbreakers at the top. Also, be sure to wear proper hiking boots and gaiters, which will keep the scree from filling up your boots. Cover up or slather strong sunscreen on any exposed skin. Hiking poles are super helpful for getting up the scree and controlling your speed on the way down. I was also grateful for my hat and shades due to the harsh sunlight.
Another tip, there is only one bathroom on the trail just below Tahurangi Lodge (a private lodge non-accessible to hikers).
Where to begin your hike
Egmont National Park provides multiple access points, however, there are only two I’d recommend in order to summit: North Egmont entrance or Stratford entrance. From the North start, expect a one to two-hour steep hike to Tahurangi Lodge or from Stratford Plateau parking lot, start at a higher elevation, following signs for the Around the Mountain Circuit to meet up with the trail at Tahurangi Lodge.
On the latter, continue straight under the ski fields and chair lifts to continue on the trail and expect it to take 90 minutes to two hours. This is the way we chose to start the hike for two reasons: one, we stayed in Stratford Kiwi Holiday Park, only 25 minutes from the parking rather than a 40 minute drive to the north entrance. The second reason is, thanks to our phone call to the DoC, we were advised that this is the less-steep option. Choose what works for you.
If you are freedom camping with a self-contained vehicle, check your Campermate app to see where to sleep. Each starting point offers a limited number of vehicles in multiple parking lots in the national park, otherwise book a night at the Stratford Mountain House or Stratford Holiday Park.
On the track
Start your hike early. I’d recommend watching the sunrise as you climb for an extra incredible way to begin the gruelling, long day. Eat a big breakfast, drink a decent amount of water and use the bathroom before you begin.
Take your time. There is no reason to rush and waste your energy. Stop often, drink water and eat your snacks. With our little one, we took about a 25 minute stop at the lodge to let her stretch her legs, enjoy a bite to eat and use the last bathroom we’d see until we returned to this spot.
Follow the markers as you wind up from the lodge, crossing boulders and streams until reaching an unfriendly amount of stairs. These lead up to the scree trail which takes around an hour to complete depending on your pace. Somewhere at this point, we had a diaper change and another short break. Next is ‘the lizard’ where it’s best to have both hands free as you’ll climb over what feels like endless rocks for at least another hour.
Next, you’ll come around a tight corner to find the crater covered in snow. You’ve almost made it. From here, cross the crater and find a clear, safe path up the last part of scree to land on the summit.
At the top, there is plenty of space to explore and flat ground to sit on and enjoy the views. We hung around for over an hour, letting Lia explore, snapping photos and eating. We saw families sharing tea and others simply enjoying the 360 panoramic vistas.
Take it in, spend some time up there if weather permits, give your body a good stretch, then head back down the treacherous trail. The way down is just as challenging. Move slowly on the scree and be aware of loose rocks if any hikers are near.
If at any point, you feel unsafe, please listen to your gut. Signs are placed throughout the tramp, asking you to question the weather and your safety. Turn back if needed. The risk of your life is not worth it and unfortunately, this mountain has claimed many lives.
Last piece of advice, do not stand on the true summit
In words from the Department of Conservation, “respect the mountain: Do not stand directly on the summit peak, and do not camp, cook, toilet or litter in the summit area. Mounga Taranaki is a mauri, or life force and a spiritual tupuna or ancestor for Taranaki Māori.” And kindly please remind your fellow hikers to do the same.
The sense of accomplishment is a wonderful feeling and one I hope you experience for your summit. Please feel free to reach out with any questions about Mount Taranaki.