You want a nice, classically shaped volcano? Well, look no further.
Along with Japan’s Mount Fujiyama, Taranaki is about as close as you can get to the ideal of volcanic beauty – almost perfectly round, its nearly perfectly symmetrical cone rising to a pointed summit, with a single crater.
Indeed, Taranaki so closely resembles Fuji that a production company made a film called The Last Samurai, set in Japan, starring Tom Cruise and featuring Taranaki as Fuji’s stunt double. And it could be said that our maunga made a far better fist of his role than Cruise did.
The boundary of Egmont National Park was created by literally scribing a circle on the map with its centre on the mountain’s summit. Seen from above, the dark green of the beech forest on the mountain’s lower slopes is sharply defined against the lighter green of the surrounding dairy country.
Taranaki is an ancestor, a source of mana and a protective influence for the local iwi. Wherever you are in the Taranaki region, the mountain rises serenely on the horizon.
There’s a skifield high on the slopes of Taranaki, where you can go boarding and skiing. And Taranaki is reputed to be New Zealand’s most-climbed mountain. It’s a steady eight- or nine-hour haul to the summit, depending on your fitness, the conditions and which side you tackle it from. There’s no special difficulty involved beyond the usual rigours of alpine ascents, and even the snow and ice are negotiable without specialised equipment in summer.
Why, then, does Taranaki see-saw in the stakes with Aoraki Mount Cook as our deadliest peak?
It’s because the mountain is playing Kate Winslet to the North Island’s Titanic, perched prettily there on the bow of the land as it ploughs into some fairly turbulent weather systems. Mountain weather always changes quickly: Taranaki’s mood swings are as dramatic as they can be deadly. But with the relevant precautions observed, it’s a terrific climb, and the views from the summit are gorgeous.
There are few places in the world where you can round off a day’s mountaineering with an hour’s surfing in a swell turned to amber glass by the setting sun.
Well, here you can. The 105-kilometre road south from New Plymouth around Cape Egmont has been cannily designated the Surf Highway. There are several top-class breaks along here, such as the Kūmara Patch, Stent Road, Weld Road and the evocatively named Graveyards.