Published in NZ Herald

Taranaki maunga might look imposing but is surprisingly easy to explore on a weekend getaway. 


There’s all-seasons hiking through ethereal goblin forest, a small ski field and the choice of two charming European-style lodges for wining and dining at day’s end. Down the mountain, artsy New Plymouth has an attractive waterfront, galleries and gardens or you can explore the region’s coastline on scenic drive Surf Highway 45.

Photo Egmont

With its classic cone shape and 2518m peak, Mt Taranaki lords it over the region. Forming part of the legend of the central North Island mountains, it’s said Taranaki fled his ancestral home, broken-hearted, after losing the battle for beautiful Pihanga and his tears carved the Whanganui River.

Today Mt Taranaki is the centrepiece of Egmont National Park, New Zealand’s second-oldest national park (after Ruapehu). There are three main entrances to the park with sealed roads that lead to altitudes, making it one of the country’s most accessible parks. Visitor centres are located at Dawson Falls, North Egmont (plus a cafe) and there’s a small family-friendly ski area, Manganui, at Stratford Plateau.


There is a plethora of hiking trails with something to satisfy every tramping wanderlust from strenuous to forest bathing. A highlight is the “goblin forest” – swathes of twisted, gnarled kāmahi trees, which are dripping in mosses and will make you feel like you’ve entered another realm.

The “goblin forest” features swathes of twisted, gnarled kamahi trees, which are dripping in mosses. 

The “goblin forest” features swathes of twisted, gnarled kamahi trees, which are dripping in mosses. 

A popular walk to get your bearings is Dawson Falls itself. From the visitor centre it’s a 250m stroll to see the crystal-clear 18m falls surrounded by frothy green forest.

Another well-trodden walk is the 90-minute Wilkies Pools Loop. From Dawson Falls Visitor Centre, walk through delicate goblin forest to lava-formed rockpools with mountain views and in summer the chance to cool off in the (always icy) pools and miniature waterfalls.

At Stratford Plateau is the 6km Enchanted Track, which really is as lovely as it sounds, if tough on the knees with plenty of steps. But to experience the supernatural goblin forest without raising a sweat, opt for the 600m Kāmahi Loop Track.


Perched on the side of the maunga are two alpine lodges, which are both easily accessible by road and, thanks to their high altitude, have a faraway feel.

On the east side is Ngati Ruanui Stratford Mountain House, an iwi-owned lodge and award-winning restaurant with inspiring maunga views. Today it is managed by Ngāti Ruanui who renovated it with a modern alpine vibe and re-opened in 2011 with a focus on Aotearoa cuisine. It strikes the right balance of casual luxe, with its welcoming open fire, local artwork and friendly staff. There are 10 simple yet tasteful rooms, each with spa baths, a welcome treat after a day’s activity. Open Wednesday to Sunday.

A popular walk to get your bearings is Dawson Falls, a 250m stroll from the visitor centre. A popular walk to get your bearings is Dawson Falls, a 250m stroll from the visitor centre. 

On the south side of the mountain, there exists Dawson Falls Mountain Lodge. Albeit currently closed (the owners have utilised the quiet period for development), when it re-opens, you’ll want to book in. You’ll feel like you might bump into the lonely goatherd at every turn. Alpine touches like daisy woodcarvings and an alphorn further set the scene at this historic lodge with a big backstory. Built in 1896, it was transformed into a European alpine lodge between 1973 and 1983 by artist Keith Anderson and his Swiss wife, Berta. Each of its 12 wood-panelled rooms is decorated with Swiss motifs and there’s a range of different room configurations. There are dinner, bed and breakfast packages available plus a small cafe. Keep an eye on their website for updates.


Ngāti Ruanui Stratford Mountain House offers breakfast and lunch in the cafe and dinner in the elegant Alpine Room. The menu focuses on innovative and delicious local cuisine. Think tender free-range pork belly with baked apple and kumara fondant or alpine merino lamb rump doused in spiced pumpkin, confit potato, exotic mushroom and blackcurrant jus. Be sure to save room for the gingerbread-based Bombe Alaska dessert.

Around the other side of the mountain, in Dawson Falls Lodge’s cosy dining room, it is all about Kiwi classics done right, like lamb rump with red wine jus, smashed potatoes and greens or a herby stuffed chicken breast. Desserts are perfect apres-hike fodder – it’s hard to pass up lemon crumble and cream after a day’s activity.


Down the mountain in New Plymouth, you’ll find galleries, gardens, cultural activities and more good food.

Start with a walk or cycle on the waterfront’s 13.2km New Plymouth Coastal Walkway and ogle at the iconic Wind Wand – a 48m tall kinetic structure that sways in the breeze – and Te Rewa Rewa Bridge, which is designed to look like a whale skeleton. Puke Ariki, a waterfront i-SITE, and exhibition centre are worth visiting as is Pukekura Park – don’t miss the stunning light show in summer.

There’s a definite boho streak in New Plymouth, with loads of small galleries, artist studios, jewellers and craft shops, as well as Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre, New Zealand’s leading contemporary art museum with its futuristic stainless-steel facade. If you fancy a drink afterwards, head to Snug Lounge in the buzzing West End dining precinct.

Explore the countryside on Surf Highway 45, a 105km scenic drive from New Plymouth to Hāwera, dipping in and out of surf spots. Highlights are Back Beach, hip Ōakura Beach (visit Lemonwood Eatery for their buckwheat pikelet stack with lime curd – yum!) and rugged Ōpunake Beach. Finish at the Tāwhiti Museum at Hāwera, widely regarded as the country’s best private museum, with life-size and miniature figures depicting the region’s history and culture. Then spear inland towards the panoramic Forgotten World Highway, stopping at Strathmore Saddle for one last view of the mountain.

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