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Robin John’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 24 Sep 2011

Location: Near Mount Taranaki, New Zealand

MapThe Pouakai Circuit - a great tramp (see photos).
Over the past 3 days I walked the Pouakai Circuit, which is a route around mountains to the west of Mount Taranaki, an extinct volcano with the classic cone shape and a height of 2400m. The trip involved an overnight stay in two of the mountain huts set up and maintained by the NZ Department of Conservation (DOC), which is responsible for providing and maintaining access to all NZ outdoor spaces.
The walk ascends through sub-tropical forest and then emerges into scrubland above the tree-line.
It took about 5 hours to get to the Holly Hut at about 1000m, which sits on the base of the mountain. The hut is very basic, no cooking facilities or electricity, although there were solar-powered lights which came on when it got dark outside, cold running water (outside) and a wood-burning stove, which I could not get lit. The hut is not much used at this time of year (I was the only one there) and everything was a bit damp. Anyway, after a hot dinner I was able to spend a quiet evening reading my trusty Kindle (a retirement present from my family) before bedding down. It turned out I was sharing the hut with the resident rat, which I could hear off and on through the night gnawing away at something in the kitchen next door.
So I had an early start for the next leg, which crosses an ancient swamp on a well-built path of wooden rafts installed by DOC. En route I passed two French guys and an Irish girl walking the circuit in the opposite direction, and similarly following the fortunes of their respective rugby teams. It took just 3 hours to get to the Pouakai Hut at 1200m, which is in a superb spot with clear views out over New Plymouth to the west and back to Mount Taranaki to the east. This hut is smaller and has no lighting, but I was able to get the fire lit so it was quite warm and cosy. Also the candle given to me by the helpful lady in the DOC Visitor Centre was very useful! I was again in the hut on my own (no rat for company here) and slept well.
I woke early to a brilliant blue sky, with the sun just coming up over the nearby hill - a perfect setting. The final leg of the walk passes some small tarns, giving the opportunity for the classic Mount Taranaki photo. The track soon descends into forest again and, after crossing multiple streams, some of which are bridged, and another crossing back over the swing bridge, I was back to my car.
It was a lovely walk and I was lucky with the weather, no rain and many hours of clear blue sky. Any rain would have made crossing some of the streams a lot trickier. The walk is not particularly long - about 25 km with a few extra km to get to and from the start point - but most of the route is through forest which makes for difficult terrain, clambering over tree roots and up and down steep banks. There are definite advantages to coming here off-season - the mountain is still covered in snow and there is no competition for hut bunks!
I can definitely recommend the Pouakai Circuit.
I am staying again in Stratford in Taranaki Backpackers for the weekend, doing some local sightseeing before moving on to New Plymouth on Monday in time for the next Wales game.