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February 2012 Issue
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Two days around Mt Taranaki

On tussock tops between Pouakai Hut and Henry Peak. Photo: Stuart Bruce
Egmont Visitor Centre to Holly Hut, 3-4hr; Holly Hut to Pouakai Hut, 2hr; Pouakai Hut to Egmont Visitor Centre, 5-6hr
From SH3 turn onto Egmont Road, and follow to Egmont Visitor Centre
Topo50 BJ29

Pouakai Circuit, Egmont National Park

My previous visits to Mt Taranaki have historically been to climb the mountain. My modest four ascents over the years pales into insignificance beside the 1500 one extremely keen local climber has accomplished.

My most recent visit, however, was to walk the Pouakai Circuit, on the north-western flanks of Mt Taranaki, accessible via Camp House, just above the DOC visitor centre at North Egmont.

We headed off along the track under stunning volcanic rock buttresses. Each of these buttresses stood 60m tall with fluting that resembled organ pipes. The track was wide and generous, and the weather fantastic in late autumn.

Cameras were constantly snapping as a new view presented itself around every corner and Mt Egmont/Taranaki was never far away. It took us about three hours to reach Holly Hut, located near Ahukawkawa swamp. This swamp developed after lava flows blocked the Stony River, preventing it from draining.

We had lunch at the hut and then strolled on a side track for 20 minutes to admire the 30m Bells Falls which takes water from the swamp. They are an impressive sight and well worth the diversion.

We then set off on a board track across the wetland toward the slopes leading to Pouakai Hut on the range of the same name. It was a steady two hour climb to reach the hut, overflowing with trampers and providing a cosmopolitan flavour. We spent the rest of the afternoon swapping stories and travel experiences with the other occupants.

One topic of conversation was the plentiful mountain cedar – an outstanding hardy and smallish tree with a distinctive fresh green foliage – on this subalpine range. Many skeletal remains of this tree lace the area and much conjecture arose to the reason for their demise.

The following morning we stood on the hut’s verandah and admired the amazing views of the Tasman Sea and New Plymouth. It was another beautiful day as we set off along the Kaiauai Track. Above the bushline, constantly visible to the south was Mt Taranaki, with only a feather of snow lacing the tops. A short sharp climb to the top of Henry Peak gave us unrestricted views back towards the swamp and the meandering Stony River.

For the first time on the tramp we entered forested country and enjoyed the verdant full understory of plants. The bush in Egmont National Park is distinctively complete due mainly to the lack of any browsing deer.

The track traverses some deep gullies through the forest and along the way crosses a couple of swingbridges over Kai Auahi Stream and Waiwhakaiho River

After five hours we reached Egmont Road with the choice of taking the Ram Track or road back to the Egmont Visitor Centre. This trip can be extended to three days by staying a night at Holly Hut. Overall, we were thoroughly happy with the trip; a real surprise in terms of the natural beauty on offer.

– Stuart Bruce