For a lot of visitors, the Taranaki region is a little too far out of the way to include on their itineraries. With places such as National Park and Taupo taking the spotlight and all located conveniently in a line down the middle of the North Island, most people will simply drive by the entire region on their trip down the Thermal Explorer Highway and beyond to Wellington. What the locals know, that perhaps the visitors don't, is that they are really missing out.

Dominating the entire West Coast is Mount Taranaki, also known as Mount Egmont. This almost perfectly symmetrical stratovolcano, on a clear day, will absolutely take your breath away. Maori legend says that Taranaki used to belong in the middle of the North Island with the other three main peaks, Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe, but Tongariro and Taranaki were having a love affair and so Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe banished him to the West Coast. The Maoris also use this legend to describe the bad weather on the West Coast, as Taranaki is always crying about the loss of his lover, hence all the clouds that usually linger around the top of the mountain. What this does mean is that those who are travelling to the region often spend their entire stay without seeing the top of the mountain.
But when you do see it, it's really special. It bears a similarity to Mount Fuji in Japan, and the Tom Cruise film “The Last Samurai” was actually filmed at Taranaki and not in Japan, with Taranaki playing the role of Mount Fuji. The mountain has been declared a national park and is a great location to immerse yourself in the native bush, as well as one of your best opportunities to hear wild kiwis calling to each other after the sun has gone down.
There are a number of hikes on and around the mountain. The summit is a challenging 8-10 hour return, and should only be attempted in good weather and by competent scramblers. Always check the mountain conditions with the DOC before you start your ascent. There is also a three day hike around the circumference of the mountain, and a 3-4 hour return to the iconic reflection pool which features in a lot of promotion for New Zealand tourism.
One of the most unique features of the Taranaki region is that this rather large stratovolcano is so close to the ocean. In winter, given the right conditions, it is extremely easy to be skiing or snowboarding in the morning and surfing by lunchtime. And this is just the beginning of the diversity that the West Coast has to offer.
Just to the North of New Plymouth there are some fantastic black sand beaches that straddle a white cliff face and only emerge at low tide. When visiting these, it is important to take note of the tide times to ensure that you can actually see the beach, and also to ensure you don't get caught out or put yourself in danger.
There are also a number of reserves in the area. Towards the South is the Rotokari Scenic Reserve. This is a small space that is completely dedicated to restoring the natural world of New Zealand before colonisation, and the wildlife is extremely well protected by overground and underground fencing systems and controlled entry in and out of the park. Here, a large number of kiwi birds are protected amongst other native species such as the pukeko and the weka. Here, you can also find some gentle hiking and plenty of information on the conservation and progress of the project.
One of the greatest things about Taranaki is that it is so quiet and free from the busy crowds of tourists and vacationers that you find everywhere else on the North Island. For anybody who loves mountains, hiking, nature and conservation, this is one of the best places you can visit in New Zealand. If you do decide to visit and fall in love with the region, do a better job at keeping your love affair with Taranaki a secret than Taranaki did with his affair with Tongariro, so that not too many people swarm this stunning part of New Zealand and ruin the peace and quiet.


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