Hiking to the Pouakai Tarns, Mount Taranaki + Other Things to Do in New Plymouth, New Zealand
When it came to creating mountains, the North Island got a little short changed. It’s mostly flat, which is in complete contrast to the mountainous South Island. There are some mountains (or, more accurately, volcanoes) to explore though, and Mount Taranaki is one of them. There are various tracks in the vicinity of Mount Taranaki (including a gruelling climb to the summit) and after a decent amount of research I settled on the hike up to Pouakai Tarns. This walk features some of the best Mount Taranaki views and is pretty easy. Keep reading for more information about this scenic walk and a quick look at some of the other things to do in New Plymouth (the closest city to Mount Taranaki).
The Pouakai Tarns
The track to the Pouakai Tarns starts at the end of Mangorei Road, around 30 minutes from New Plymouth. The first part of the track takes you up through the forest and eventually to some viewpoints where you can see out to the coast. It’s a good start, but the real highlights are still to come. After a couple of hours (depending on how fast you walk) of mostly uphill hiking you’ll arrive at Pouakai Hut. This is a good place to stop for a rest before tackling the final ascent to the top of the hill and then down to the Pouakai Tarns.
At the top of the hill you’ll get your first unobstructed view of Mount Taranaki. You’re probably thinking it looks a bit like Mount Fuji (especially if you’ve seen The Last Samurai recently), and you’d be right — it does a bit, (and it stood in for that famous mountain in the aforementioned movie). There are lots of places to enjoy the views up there — I would have enjoyed them a lot more if there weren’t so many flies though. I felt like King Kong constantly swatting away annoying little planes. Still though, great views (which would be even better in winter or spring when there’s more snow).
From there it’s a quick walk down to the Pouakai Tarns. These small mountain lakes (that’s what a tarn is, in case you had no idea what I was on about) are perfectly positioned for views of Mount Taranaki. If it’s a calm day you can get great reflection photos, making it easily one of the best places to view Mount Taranaki. All up the hike should take between four and five hours. There’s quite a bit of uphill hiking involved and once you’re at the top there isn’t any shade, so make sure to prepare for that.
Another great place to see in Egmont National Park (Mount Egmont is the other name for the mountain, although it’s not commonly used these days) is Dawson Falls. It starts at different car park (around 20 minutes’ drive from the one for Pouakai Tarns) and is only 5-10-minute walk through the forest away. It’s a nice waterfall (seemingly the most impressive waterfall in these parts) and it was very quiet when we visited.
This is another short walk (starting at the same car park as Dawson Falls) and is nice enough without being amazing. It’s another walk through the forest, eventually reaching a river area with some small waterfalls and views of Mount Taranaki. As you can see by the photo, it sounds better than it actually is.
I recently read an article going on about how amazing the “Goblin Forests” around Mount Taranaki are. Sure, they are nice (thick forest with a generous helping of moss covering almost everything) but this kind of scene is common in the South Island and if you’ve been down there you will have already seen these multiple times already. You can see the Goblin Forests on most of the tracks around Mount Taranaki (including the ones I mentioned earlier) so there’s no real need to specifically seek them out.
Things to Do in New Plymouth
New Plymouth isn’t known as the most exciting city in New Zealand but there are a few things to do in town (and the surrounding area). Check out these things to do in New Plymouth:
Te Rewa Rewa Bridge
For a different (far more zoomed out) view of Mount Taranaki you can head to Te Rewa Rewa Bridge. It’s a cool looking bridge and the backdrop is interesting.
New Plymouth Coastal Walkway
There’s a 12 km coastal track in New Plymouth which is apparently quite nice. We did about 1 km of it (around Te Rewa Rewa Bridge) and didn’t see much, but don’t let me put you off it. Honestly though, we’ve done most of the top coastal hikes in New Zealand by now and this didn’t seem like it’d be one of them, so we (mostly) skipped it. If you’ve done the whole thing and can convince me to change my mind, leave me a comment at the end of this post.
Explore the City Centre
Devon Street, the main shopping and eating street in New Plymouth, is a cool place to walk around. There are some old buildings, a few interesting street art murals, the trippy Art Gallery (which was closed when we visited) and an old clock tower. Some of the bars and restaurants have outside seating and we liked the vibe (and old-world look) of the place. Our kebab dinner at Cafe Turquoise was the highlight of our short stay in New Plymouth. These were the best kebabs we’ve had in New Zealand so far (and probably the best meal we had on our North Island trip – hence the mention) and I highly recommend you try one.
There’s a little viewpoint / car park looks out over the tiny Sugarloaf Islands and a nice little pocket of coastline. There’s also a hill you can climb (Paritutu Rock), which looked pretty dodgy from where we were sitting. It turns out it’s a pretty common thing to do in New Plymouth and the views do look pretty awesome from up there.
There’s a waterfront area in New Plymouth. I’m not going to rave about it because it seemed pretty average but it’s there,
Parks and Gardens
There are various parks and gardens scattered around (and outside) the city. We stopped by at Lake Rotomanu (which is near Te Rewa Rewa Bridge) and it was a peaceful spot. Not amazing, but we were kinda scraping the barrel at that point.
Things to Do Near New Plymouth
Elephant Rock and the Three Sisters
About an hour up the coast from New Plymouth (near Tongaporutu Bridge) sits a beach with some interesting rock formations. It used to be famous for “Elephant Rock”, until its trunk fell off and it stopped resembling an elephant. One of the Three Sisters set of rocks disappeared as well — this place has had a rough time! The beach is nice though and there is still heaps to see. The whole trunk falling off thing is a bit annoying but don’t let that put you off visiting — it’s definitely one of the best things to do in New Plymouth (or near New Plymouth to be exact).
Beaches near New Plymouth
There are a few beaches between New Plymouth and Elephant Rock — we stopped at a couple and they were nice without being amazing. I’ve also heard Surf Highway 45 is home to some good beaches — probably better if you’re a surfer though!
The Forgotten World Highway
This road connects Stratford (close to New Plymouth) with Taumaranui in the Central North Island and is a longer (and less popular) way to continue your journey north (assuming your continuing on to Waitomo, Rotorua etc). It’s billed as a scenic drive and there are some nice bits, but it’s got nothing on some of the South Island scenic drives. The old town of Whangamomona is an interesting place to stop — it was declared a republic in 1989 (as a bit of a joke / protest) which means you can get a passport stamp there (very unofficial of course). There are some nice old buildings in town and it’s a good place to break up the journey.
New Plymouth (and the entire Taranaki region) might not be the first (or 20th) place you plan to visit in New Zealand, but it does have its charms. Mount Taranaki is a stunning sight in anybody’s eyes and the walk up to Pouakai Tarns is great way to spend a few hours. Don’t linger too long, but definitely stop in Taranaki for a day or two!
Are you planning a road trip around New Zealand? Where are you most excited to visit? Let me know in the comments below!